28th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 15, 2017
Homily by Fr. John De Celles
St. Raymond of Peñafort Catholic Church
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if somehow everyday we could go to heaven,
and not have to die?
If we could be with our friends and family one minute,
and then with God in heaven the next?
And then back with our family again the next?
But the thing is, we can do that—and we do do that
every time we come here to enter into the mystery of the Mass.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.”
Throughout the Old Testament one of the primary symbols
God uses to explain his relationship with Israel is the image of marriage:
over and over again God calls Himself the Bridegroom,
and Israel His Bride,
using the image of husband and wife to explain
His deep and undying love for His people.
In fact, there are two Old Testament books
that are almost entirely dedicated to this theme:
the Song of Songs and the book of the prophet Hosea.
So, we can see that even your average pious Jew listening to Jesus
would have clearly recognized something very important
in the parable in today’s Gospel.
For months they’d been hearing Jesus specifically calling God his “Father”,
and Himself “the son of the father”.
And now they hear Him say:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son.”
Not only would they understand that God was the father in the story,
and that Jesus was the son,
but also that Jesus was making Himself
the Bridegroom at the heavenly wedding feast.
And to the pious Jew, the Bridegroom of heaven was God!
–so what they hear is Jesus calling Himself God!!
This imagery of the Bridegroom and Bride continues to show up
in the Gospel and the rest of the New Testament.
Two important examples are found
in St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians and St. John’s Book of Revelation.
In Ephesians St. Paul tells husbands:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church
and gave himself up for her.”
At every wedding the groom is supposed to give himself to his bride completely,
to enter into an attitude of loving her that is at its heart self-sacrificing.
On a daily basis he’s supposed to sacrifice his whole life,
giving himself even bodily
–in his physical work for her, and in his physical love for her
and even in being willing to literally die to protect her.
St. Paul tells us that this is what Christ does for His Bride, the Church:
He gave Himself entirely up for and to His Bride, the Church,
when He laid down His life, body and soul,
in the Sacrifice of the Cross.
In the Book of Revelation
St. John picks up on this theme of the Bridegroom’s sacrifice,
and ties it back to Jesus’ theme of the wedding feast.
In his vision of heaven,
John tells us that he sees Jesus in heaven standing as
“a Lamb who was slain.”
a reference to the fact that Jesus offered his sacrifice on the Cross
on the very same day as the Jews were offering
the most important sacrifice of the Old Testament:
the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb.
But John also sees a heavenly banquet,
recalling to mind the passage from Isaiah that we read today,
that in heaven:
“the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples
a feast of rich food and choice wines.”
But this is no ordinary banquet: it is, as St. John tells us:
“the wedding feast of the Lamb” and His Bride the Church.
In all this we see the sacrifice of the Cross,
as the total self gift of love of Jesus to and for his Bride,
and the “heavenly wedding feast” as our participation
in that gift of Jesus’ love:
in other words,
our sharing in every good thing God can give us.
But the thing is, we don’t have to wait to die to go to this wedding feast.
Because we begin to share in that feast right here on earth,
as we come to participate in the Eucharist.
We remember that on the night before his sacrifice on the Cross,
while He was eating the passover meal with his apostles,
He replaced the sacrificed Lamb of the Jewish Passover meal
with the Bread that he assured his apostles
was his very own Body.
And so every time we come to Holy Mass
and offer and consume the sacrificed lamb of the Cross,
“the lamb of God,”
it’s as if time is suspended,
and heaven opens up, and we’re swept up into the mystery of
the heavenly wedding feast of the Lamb
—the great gift of love between Christ and his Church.
The thing is, this marital love is not a one-way street:
as Christ gives himself to his Bride,
the Church is also called to give herself completely to her Husband
—to dedicate her whole life to loving him.
And Jesus tells us how to love Him at the last supper.
Just minutes before He gave us the Eucharist,
and only hours before He went to the Cross,
He tells the apostles the secret to loving Him:
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
So that Jesus makes it absolutely clear:
His bride must keep the commandments if she is to be His loving bride,
if she is to enter into the wedding feast
—in heaven and in the Eucharist.
Now, one of the problems with the wedding analogy
is that it applies to the Church as whole—one bride–
so that individuals might have a hard time easily relating to it.
It’s true we can say each Christian is part of the Bride,
and in a certain way each one of us is a Bride of Christ.
But it’s not the easiest analogy to relate to—especially for men.
It seems to me that Jesus, who knows everything, understood this,
and because He wanted to make the point
that the invitation to the wedding feast
extends to each and every individual human being,
He added the twist of the “invited guests.”
And this works, because each guest at the feast
is invited to join in the love of the couple
and share in all the good things that flow from that love–the feast.
In today’s Gospel we read how at the wedding feast of heaven
the Father sends His servants out saying:
“The feast is ready…. Invite…whomever you find.’
The servants …gathered all they found, bad and good alike.”
This reminds us how generous the Lord is
to invite both the righteous and sinners to come to His kingdom.
Unfortunately, sometimes we can delude ourselves with this passage,
thinking that since God invites everyone to heaven and to Mass,
that everyone should actually enter heaven
and receive Holy Communion.
But according to the parable,
not everyone who is invited to the wedding,
gets to stay for supper.
Jesus goes on to explain that when the king discovered a guest
“not dressed in a wedding garment”
he had him bound and “cast him into the darkness outside.”
And He concludes: “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
God invites all of us to His Son’s wedding banquet,
both in heaven, and in the Eucharist.
But He also tells us to prepare ourselves for the banquet
—and if we’re not prepared, He will not let us take part in, or eat, the feast.
Consider how the parable tells us how God judges who is prepared:
he looks at his wedding garment.
What is the wedding garment?
In the Book of Revelation, St. John tells us that the saints in heaven
wear white robes, as an angel explains:
“they have washed their robes and made them white
in the blood of the Lamb.”
Because of this, at our baptism, each of us was physically clothed in white,
symbolizing that we had been washed clean in the blood of the Lamb.
And that’s why the priest and the servers wear white garments:
to symbolize their baptism,
and to symbolize that at Mass they are standing with the saints in heaven,
clothed in white at the wedding feast of the Lamb.
These outward white garments are only symbols,
but they remind us of how all of who wish to partake
of the wedding feast of heaven
—either when we die, or right here at Holy Mass—
must prepare beforehand, and present ourselves cleaned from sin,
especially the grotesque stains of mortal sins.
So How do you prepare yourself for Heaven and for Mass?
Is your spiritual garment the glorious white robe of the saints—unstained by sin?
Now, most of come here with at least some, if not many,
venial, or small, sins on our souls
–like specks of dirt or lent or crumbs, they don’t ruin the garment completely,
but we need to brush them off so we can be presentable.
And so we ask the Lord to forgive them all through the Mass,
especially in prayers like the Confiteor,
or the “Lord I am not worthy…” right before Communion.
And like a friend who puts the final touches
on the bride’s gown or the groom’s suit right before the wedding,
Christ will forgive them.
Sadly, though, sometimes we come to Mass with unrepented mortal sins,
which so disfigure the wedding garment that it’s not fit to be worn to the feast.
Like a white suit or dress that’s been rolled in the mud
and needs to go to a dry cleaner, and maybe even to a seamstress,
this garment has to go through the special cleaning and repair process
–given to us by Jesus Himself–
of a confessing and repenting before a priest, and being absolved by him,
in the Sacrament of Penance.
Otherwise, it really isn’t a wedding garment,
it looks nothing like the white robes of the saints at the heavenly feast.
Most of us would never go to a wedding
dressed in anything less than our absolutely best clothes.
But all too many Catholics expect to come and eat
at the wedding feast of the Lamb,
wearing the spiritually and morally tattered rags that are their mortal sins.
In a few minutes I will hold up the Body of Jesus Christ for all to see
“Behold the Lamb of God,
behold Him who takes away the sins of the world.
Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.”
–a direct reference to the heavenly wedding feast
come down to this altar.
Think carefully, and search your soul, and ask yourself:
have I prepared well for the wedding feast,
have I been living the life of love
in truly keeping with the Commandments,
have I been purified of mortal sins by the sacrament of Confession,
and do I now repent all my venial sins?
Do I present myself in the wedding garment of the saints,
or I clothed in the rags of sin.
The Lord Jesus tells us, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king
who gave a wedding feast for his son”
But he also says of those who are not prepared for the feast:
“Many are invited, but few are chosen.”
As we move more deeply into the mystery of this Holy Mass, this Eucharist,
this foretaste of heavenly wedding feast,
let us rejoice and give thanks for this invitation
to share in the Love of the Bridegroom and His Bride.
But let us also examine ourselves with all truth and humility.
May we never either be emboldened by our sins so as to ignore them,
or be discouraged by our sins so as to allow them
to keep us from preparing for the feast.
May all receive the Lord Jesus worthily, at every Mass, and for eternity in Heaven.