Saturday, October 8, 2011
Sun 28A. "My God will fully supply whatever you need": the Mass is the wedding feast of the Lamb for which we are clothed by God's grace
"My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?"
"Is this Gospel about clothes?" you ask. If by that you intend, rather, "Is this Gospel about something superficial?" the answer is "no". The Gospel is never superficial. But you knew that; which is the reason why you asked, "Is this Gospel about clothing?"
In another place in the Gospels the Lord instructs us that we are not to be concerned about what we are to wear, what we are to eat, how we are to live. These are passing concerns and should not take the place of more important priorities. The Lord teaches this not to make us disregard these things, for we surely need them, but is telling us that in order to gain our freedom in Him we must not allow ourselves to be consumed by concern about worldly matters or about money so that He can take the central role in our lives as Lord and God who loves us providentially and will take care of our needs.
The needs God has mind above all are our most important needs: for love and life. We need love to live and we need life to love. God provides both in such abundant measure that they are overflowing: in God love and life are without beginning and without end.
The Mass is a wedding banquet, the banquet of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, "who takes away the sins of the world". Many churches have a stained glass window of the Lamb of Revelation placed above the altar, as we do, for this reason. The Paschal Lamb is offered here again and again every time Mass is offered, the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world and who sits upon the throne in heaven to prepare a place for us. Thus this parable about the wedding banquet points to and teaches us about holy Mass.
The mountain upon which God will provide a feast of rich food and choice wines is connected with destruction of the "veil" of death that affects all peoples in the first reading. The salvation that Christ brought for the first time on Calvary broke the bondage of death through the forgiveness of sins. But that freedom He won for us must be offered as grace to the whole world until the end of time. For this reason the "banquet" of the Mass is celebrated as a gift from Christ by the priest and people until the end of the world and, in particular, every Sunday.
The Church speaks for God when she invites us to the banquet of Life, in particular on Sundays, gravely obliging us to observe the law of God by attending holy Mass. The Church speaks for the love of God when she "makes" us come in from the highways and byways, the busy-ness of our lives. Here at holy Mass the death and Resurrection of the Savior are most intensely celebrated and so here we most need to be.
Now, about clothing. Are clothes important? Let me share with you what others have taught me about that. When a Catholic family goes home after Mass and changes into a suit and tie or a dress in order to come back in the afternoon on the same day to attend the baptism of Christian friends, or when people shun their most casual clothing in order to dress for the celebration of a wedding Mass and banquet or for a funeral, they teach us that how we array ourselves is important because it expresses the love in our hearts and the desire to honor others.
And our children know this as well. That is why if we always wear our most casual clothing for Mass but then change into something "better" for other events, our children will learn very well what we are teaching them by our actions: that holy Mass is not the most important event of our week or of our lives. When they are older they may stop attending Mass if they have come to believe that they have other, more important, things to do with their time. So, clothes are important. Especially because how we dress expresses the disposition of our heart and mind which is at the center of our being.
An episode from the annals of Church history will help us to illustrate. Joan of Arc led the French successfully into battle against the English. Betrayed by some of her countrymen she was brought up on charges of heresy, once captured by the forces on the English side, and tried for heresy by the English bishops, one of the reasons for which being that she wore men's clothing into battle. It did not occur to anyone that there was no such thing as women's battle dress in those days!
Though young and uneducated in theology, as were most women of her day, Joan's episcopal inquisitors had the temerity to ask her nonetheless, "Are you in a state of grace?" doubtless with the intention of entrapping her, the better to secure a conviction. None but the Holy Spirit could have inspired her to respond as she did: "If I am, may God keep me there. If I am not, may God bring me there." Tragically, even this brilliant response did not save her from condemnation and burning at the stake. Her later canonization vindicated her, however, and today her sterling character and unswerving loyalty to God teaches us to desire as she did to persevere in grace until the end. Saint Joan's outer garments did, indeed, point to her inner holiness as a soldier of Christ.
"The marriage", says St. Gregory the Great "is the wedding of Christ and His Church, and the garment is the virtue of charity: a person who goes into the feast without a wedding garment is someone who believes in the Church but does not have charity." Accepting the invitation means not only entering the banquet hall of the Church. One must also be properly attired in the wedding garment of Christ's grace, the charity in which we must persevere as we engage in worship, in work, in recreation, in service. The sincere response, the "yes" of an interior life of charity, is given by God through forgiveness of sins in Baptism, accepted by interior conversion, restored through Confession after serious sin and built up in the Eucharist.
Grace is the wedding garment which is the Lord's concern in the parable today. If we believe in the Church, in all that God teaches and attend Mass this is still not enough. If we dress in our very best clothing and attend Mass every Sunday that is good, but something more is needed: the life of grace which is to do all these things with divine love. The grace of God's love is called charity, and this is the wedding garment which the Father places upon us, first in Baptism to grow more radiant all of our lives through the graces of the Eucharist.
"My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Is clothing important? Yes: the garment of grace in which we are attired by God and every opportunity to outwardly express the joy and beauty of His goodness, in word and action and in all the ways we can prepare ourselves to express to celebrate holy Mass.
God fully supplies whatever you need: "Tell those invited: "Behold, I have prepared my banquet, ... everything is ready; come to the feast."' We celebrate the true banquet of the Lamb, the wedding feast of heaven in this and every Mass. Rejoice together with God, at His altar-table, in His generous and merciful love which lasts forever: "To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen."