Sunday, October 12, 2014

More Than Guests

A parishioner came up to me after the first Mass this morning and said, "Thanks for that homily, Father.  My mother's not Catholic, but she's come with me to Mass many times.  And she always says, 'I'll never understand you Catholics!  When you come back from Communion, you just don't look happy.  Some of you actually look miserable.  I'll never figure you guys out!'  Father, I can't wait to get home and tell her what you said..."

   Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time   A  
I turned 40 on Wednesday,
and on Friday night my family threw a party.
It was a real feast, with lots and lots and lots of food.
But what made the celebration
wasn’t nearly as much the cuisine on the table
as it was those who were gathered together to share it.
I would have been a bit disappointed, of course,
if any of the invited guests had failed to appear.
But just imagine if all the balloons were hung,
the table was set, the cake was baked…
…and I hadn’t shown up.
I sure would have had some explaining to do!

Now, my birthday party was no royal wedding—
as we hear about in Jesus’ parable this Sunday—
but there is a parallel in imagining a grand banquet
to which the guest of honor never comes,
or arrives not properly disposed.

When Jesus tells a story,
we know it isn’t just a story…and this one is no exception.
The king is God, and the king’s son is Jesus.
The wedding banquet is an image of heaven—
but it’s also the new life God offers us here on earth,
one that we taste most unmistakably in the Eucharist.
The king’s servants are prophets and apostles.
The first guest list is made up
of those who fail to heed their message;
the second, of those on the margins.

So much for what’s in the story.
How about what’s missing?
All this talk of a wedding,
and there’s not a single mention of the bride.
Where is she?
Better yet, who is she?
Well, if the king’s son is Christ,
then we know that the bride is his Church.
The bride is you and me.

No matter the outward appearance of the building—
however humble or opulent—
whenever we come to church for Mass,
the Lord is taking us into his house
and spreading a table before us
with juicy, rich food and pure, choice wine.
But the King gathers us in not just as so many guests:
we are to enter into an intimate union—a holy communion—
with his Son.
This is where heaven and earth, God and man,
come together to be joined as one.

That’s how we can make sense
of some of the stranger twists in this Sunday’s parable.
The king reacts so strongly to news of his deadbeat guests
because it’s actually the bride
who’s failed to show up for his son’s wedding.
And the king’s feelings are so intense
about a missing wedding garment
because, in fact, the bride now shows up…
…but without putting on her dress.

A priest friend recently shared with me
an insight that he’d read or heard
on our sense of being “invited” by the Lord
to come here to Mass.
Someone who receives an invitation to a dinner party
is free to take it or leave it,
depending on how interested they are or if they get a better offer.
But the Eucharist is less like a dinner party
and more like a family supper.
You aren’t invited to a regular family supper;
you’re expected.
Your absence is noted
because your presence has been anticipated.
And if you show up to the table in body
but your attention is obviously elsewhere,
that will certainly be noticed, too.
You’ll be missed when you’re missing
only because you’re so deeply loved.
You are so much more than an invited guest!
Although born a commoner,
you have been chosen to become a member of the royal family.
Your place at the king’s supper table is reserved,
and this is a standing appointment not to be neglected.

When I look out into the pews on most Sundays,
I must say I don’t see folks who look like they’re at a wedding;
to tell the truth, I see folks who look a lot more
like they’re at a funeral—quite possibly their own!
What ought to be seen—on my face as much as yours—
is the look I see on a bride’s face
as she takes her walk down the aisle:
smiling, beaming, unable to hide her happiness and excitement
at the wonderful thing about to take place.

In light of Jesus’ challenging parable,
we all need to stop and ask ourselves:
Why am I here?
Do I come to church because of some sense of duty,
to fulfill a stern obligation, out of fear of hell?
Or do I come to Mass 
because I’m filled with love, joy, and devotion
at the thought of the one who awaits me here?
If you’re happy to be here,
then make sure your heart gets the message to your face!
Your disposition in coming to Mass
will affect what you’re able to take from it.
It will also affect who else decides to join us here.
We certainly don’t want to leave Jesus jilted at the altar.
But neither is it enough for us to simply show up.
A little preparation is required of each one of us.
It matters how and why we’ve come.

When Jesus tells a story, it isn’t just a story.
And when Jesus serves a meal, it isn’t just a meal.
The Eucharist is a royal marriage banquet—
it is the wedding supper of the Lamb of God.
Don’t get caught having to explain your absence!
Come clothed in joy to be joined again
with the Bridegroom of your soul.
You've not only been invited
you've been chosen.

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