Our eternal salvation is not about proper etiquette or being a nice guy.
Today's gospel is rather grim, and I believe that if I were to lighten it or sweeten it up for you, I would be evading my responsibility to my bishop to proclaim and teach the difficult truths of the gospel, which I promised to do at my ordination. In fact, that was the sin of the invited guests in this gospel: they took the king's invitation "lightly", and as a result, they were found unworthy. That should be a warning to me not to take this gospel lightly.
Recently, a good friend of mine alerted me to a ten year informal study that was recently concluded in the U.S. which found that a very large percentage of Catholics believe that in order to get to heaven, it is enough for one to be a "decent" person. It is believed that since the majority of people are decent, the majority of us are probably going to heaven.
But these assumptions fly in the face of this gospel reading today, which ends: "Many are called, but few are chosen". It is also in conflict with many other passages in Scripture, and it is contrary to the consistent testimony of the great doctors of the Church. But allow me, for the moment, to focus on this gospel alone.
Jesus compares the kingdom of Heaven to a king who gave a wedding banquet in honor of his son. That's the key point in this parable: it is a banquet in honor of his son. Those who were invited refused the invitation. He sent out other servants a second time with special instructions to say: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet, my calves and fattened cattle are killed, and everything is ready; come to the feast." But they took the invitation lightly. Now, it's not that they decided to rob the treasury or engage in sedition or commit adultery, etc. No, they simply had other business. One went to his farm, another to his business. These are legitimate pursuits. Their sin was their indifference to God's call to live for Him, to make Him their chief end in life, not themselves.
God communicates sufficient grace to every soul, and this interior grace is an invitation to an eternal life of union with Him, in the Person of his Son. God calls us to live for His kingdom, not the kingdom of this world: "I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear.All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides."
But the kingdom of Heaven, which must be our primary focus in life, is an eternal banquet in honour of the eternal Son of the Father.
I believe that one of the reasons that so many people think heaven is practically guaranteed is that they imagine it to be an eternal Club Med vacation. Conversely, many people regard Hell as the ultimate prison sentence, and so they conclude that since they have done nothing in this life to deserve the penultimate prison sentence – they haven't broken the law in any serious matter – it would be unthinkable that they could deserve the ultimate prison sentence.
Now, it's not that they decided to rob the treasury or engage in sedition or commit adultery, etc. No, they simply had other business. One went to his farm, another to his business. These are legitimate pursuits. Their sin was their indifference to God's call to live for Him, to make Him their chief end in life, not themselves.
The problem, of course, is that Hell is not the ultimate prison sentence, and heaven is not an eternal Caribbean cruise that even the most depraved would enjoy. Hell is an eternal state of alienation from the vision of God, the inevitable result of the character we've determined for ourselves by our own free choices in this life. And Heaven is an eternal banquet given in honor of Christ. And one can be an upstanding citizen, a winner of the Order of Canada, and at the same time have a profound aversion to Christ. In other words, one can be an upstanding citizen and be dead to the grace of God. Moreover, one can have a criminal record and be on death row, even, and die in the grace of God, that is, in God's friendship. There are many upstanding citizens who are repulsed by the precepts of the gospel, who despise the Church, especially for her positions on moral matters, in particular matters related to marriage and sexuality, i.e., cohabitation before marriage, fornication, adultery, homosexuality, abortion, pornography, etc., and who actively try to bring about the destruction of institutions that operate on the basis of Catholic principles. And, some of these people are very nice people. They don't break the law, they dress well, but they hate the Church and are averse to the idea of submission to the divine law.
Our eternal salvation is not about proper etiquette or being a nice guy. If I were to imply that it's as easy as being a decent guy or gal, I'd be making a mockery of the lives and deaths of the great martyrs of the Church throughout the centuries who suffered much and sacrificed their lives for the sake of the salvation of souls of future generations. All for what, when all that was required of us was to be nice?
Civil law and cultural etiquette is not the standard by which we will be judged. The standard by which all of us will be judged will the love that appears to us from the cross. Do we have an aversion to him? Was our life an evading of the cross, a continual pursuit of our own satisfaction and well-being, as it is for so many people today? Or, was our life the pursuit of that crucified love? Was every day of our life an effort to become more deeply inserted into the life of the Son of God? I cannot judge the soul of an individual human being, thank God, so I don't know who will make it and who will not. I don't even know if I am in a state of grace – I can only hope. But scripture does clearly say that the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to perdition and those who enter through it are many, but how narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to eternal life, and those who find it are few (Mt 7, 13-14).
The food that will be served at this banquet, the fattened calf that was sacrificed, is none other than the Bread of Life, Christ himself, which is the food that is given at every Mass. And that is why it is so important to spend the rest of our lives disposing ourselves towards this food. Just as it takes years to dispose ourselves to enjoy healthy foods – especially when we've been brought up on junk food – so too it takes years to dispose our souls to love the Bread of Life above all, and to hunger for it continually.
I remember a good priest friend of mine telling me early on in my life that we have to get to the point where we hunger for the Eucharist. Certainly getting to Mass every Sunday is an obligation rooted in the commandments and Church law, but he'd insist that we have to get to the point where it is not longer an obligation. What he meant is that if you are at that point where you simply cannot miss Mass because your hunger for it is so great, it's no longer an external law outside of you, but has become an interior law, compelling you from within, as hunger is an interior movement propelling you to eat in order to live.
I remember a good priest friend of mine telling me early on in my life that we have to get to the point where we hunger for the Eucharist.
Imagine what it would be like to be missing that hormone (ghrelin) that triggers the hunger appetite when your body needs food. We could go days without food and it wouldn't bother us, but we'd probably die of malnutrition. There is no hormone that triggers an appetite for the Eucharist. You and I have to cultivate that on our own, by our own free choice, because if we do not, heaven will not be a very enjoyable prospect. To feed forever on the Bread of Life is a supernatural act, but if all we live for are the pleasures of this world and we neglect to cultivate a rich interior life, if we're not on fire with the Holy Spirit and love only ourselves, hungering only for temporal goods, we won't be properly disposed for eternal life, and life within the communion of saints will be profoundly uncomfortable for us. If I am indifferent to holiness, to the love of God and neighbour, then I'm not going to want to be in the presence of the great saints, the heroic souls and martyrs of the Church; I'm going to feel entirely out of place. Friendships are always based on common character.
We must cloth ourselves in the wedding garment of charity, that is, pursue the love of God above everything else. The worldly preoccupations of the invited guests who took the invitation lightly are all good in and of themselves. The world of business is intriguing and wealth is a great blessing, and we need the astute of this world and the wealthy to invest, provide employment, etc., but all of it must serve an eternal purpose. This world is passing away. Business is meant to serve the ends of love, love of God and love of neighbour. Our entire life here is a preparation for the eternal banquet, and life in the Church is the gift that the Lord, with all his saints, all the virgins, martyrs and doctors, have given us to prepare for that wedding, so that it will be a coming home for us, and not a gathering of strangers.
Deacon Douglas McManaman. "The wedding banquet. " CERC (October 2, 2011).
Printed with permission of Deacon Douglas McManaman.
Doug McManaman is a Deacon and a Religion and Philosophy teacher at Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy in Markham, Ontario, Canada. He is the past president of the Canadian Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. Deacon Douglas studied Philosophy at St. Jerome's College in Waterloo, and Theology at the University of Montreal. He is the author of Christ Lives!, The Logic of Anger, Why Be Afraid?, Basic Catholicism, Introduction to Philosophy for Young People, and A Treatise on the Four Cardinal Virtues. Deacon McManaman is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center. Visit his website here.Copyright © 2011 Deacon Douglas McManaman
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