Sunday, October 9, 2011

All Dressed In White

I know, I know...the fashionistas insist that one shouldn't wear white to a wedding...or after Labor Day, for that matter. But since when have I been a slave to fashion?

We were blessed to have a young man from the parish receive his first Holy Communion this morning--allowing us to watch the gospel play out right before our eyes.  Congratulations, Fernando!

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time [A]

Attending a wedding for the very first time,
a little girl whispered to her mother,
“Mommy, why is the bride dressed all in white?”
“Because white is the color of happiness,” her mother explained,
“and today is the happiest day in her life.”
The child thought about this for a moment before asking,
“So…why is the groom wearing black?”

Proper wedding attire.

Unless you’re the bride, the groom, or in the wedding party,
the dress code for a wedding isn’t so strictly defined.
And yet--in the parable we’ve just heard--
it seems that which clothes one chooses to wear
can be a rather crucial decision.

A king gave a wedding feast for his son.
When Jesus teaches with parables,
it’s pretty easy to figure out who the king is: God.
So, too, the king’s son: Jesus himself.
But what about this “wedding feast?”
To help us better understand that part,
let’s turn to a couple of texts we’ll soon be using
from the new translation of the Mass that we keep talking about.

Just before Holy Communion,
as he holds up the Sacred Host,
we’re accustomed to hearing the priest say,
“This is the Lamb of God… 
Happy are those who are called to his supper.”
In late November, those words will change slightly:
“Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.”
Why the change?
You’ll find it in the Bible--in the Book of Revelation,
where a heavenly marriage is being described:
“The wedding day of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready.
            She was allowed to wear
a bright, clean linen garment.”
            (The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones.) [19:8]
Then an angel says to John:
            “Blessed are those who have been called
to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” [19:9]

Jesus is the Lamb of God,
offered in sacrifice for the sins of the world.
True God and true man,
in Jesus we see the human and the divine perfectly joined together--
we see the marriage of heaven to earth.
And thus the words of the Mass help us to see in the Eucharist,
not just some ordinary supper, but the Lamb’s wedding feast:
the banquet--whenever it is set before us--
which celebrates, seals, and deepens
the union between Christ and his bride, the Church.

When I know whose wedding this is,
I can begin to see the great significance of how I am to dress.
It’s really the question of how to dress to meet God--
eventually in eternity, for sure, but even now, in space and time.
And I’m invited to meet God for more than just a casual conversation;
it’s been arranged that my soul is to be wed to God:
to enter into an incredibly intimate relationship with him.
I’m not just one guest among many; I’m the bride!
(Didn’t you find it strange that in Jesus’ parable
only a groom was mentioned?)

This understanding should affect our outerwear when we come to Mass.
Now, I’m not saying church every Sunday should be a black tie affair.
In my last parish assignment--
down in Old Forge, where things are rather casual--
we used to joke about the “Adirondack tuxedo”:
a clean pair of jeans and your best flannel shirt!
Nonetheless, I’m always a bit perplexed
to hear people say they’re headed home after Mass
to get dressed up for their next function…as if their next function
could somehow be more important than this one.
Yet far, far more critical than the clothes on our backs
are the garments with which we outfit our hearts.
At Baptism, we were dressed all in white
as an outward sign that, inwardly, we had put on Christ
and been completely clothed in him.
The real issue, then, is:
How crisp and clean have I kept my Christening gown?

In a recent interview, Archbishop Charles Chaput--
installed just a month ago in Philadelphia--
had this to say about those
who would call themselves “faithful Catholics”:
Baptism brings us into the Christian community,
but our fidelity is determined
by how we live our lives after baptism.
If we don’t give ourselves to the Lord at Mass every Sunday,
if we don’t seek out the sacrament of penance,
if we don’t follow the teachings of the Church,
if we rarely read the Bible or pray
or support our parish and the wider Church
with our time, talent, and financial resources--
then we should stop imagining ourselves as “faithful,”
because we’re not.
We need to prove what we claim to believe by our actions. 
It’s a simple matter of integrity.  (National Catholic Register, 9/11/11)

Which leads us to another of the new texts of the Mass.
At the very heart of the Eucharistic Prayer,
as we recall the words of Jesus at the Last Supper,
we’re used to hearing Christ say that his blood
“will be shed for you and for all
so that sins may be forgiven.”
We’ll soon hear this a little differently,
with Christ’s blood “poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.”
This change in language better reflects the words of Jesus
as we find them in the Gospels.

But what about this shift from “for all” to “for many”?
Didn’t Jesus come to die for everyone?
Doesn’t this wording seem to limit salvation to a select few?
The new translation points to a reality we’d much prefer to overlook:
that while Jesus did, indeed, die for the sins of all,
not all choose to accept the gift.
As crazy as it sounds in the parable,
there are folks who refuse the king’s invitation
to attend the royal wedding:
some are hostile, violently rejecting both message and messenger;
but most of those who ignore the summons
are just indifferent or uninterested--
preferring to be busy with other business.
As Jesus concludes, “Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

To take our place in the Lord’s banquet hall--
at his altar here on earth, at God’s table in heaven--
is not automatic,
though the invitation is so widely extended;
to be counted among “the many”
requires our repeated, faithful response.
God has provided us with a most worthy garment.
It remains up to us to put it on,
and to keep it carefully washed--
not just once in a lifetime, or once in awhile,
but again and again each day.

The King of Heaven is giving a wedding feast for his Son,
and you are invited.
Consider wearing white--
it’s the color of happiness,
and this ought to be the happiest moment of your life.

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