A couple of weeks ago, I attended my brother’s wedding. I did not preside at the wedding, because it was not a Catholic ceremony, but I was there to share my brother’s joy. Many family members were there, of course, including people I had not seen in decades. After the wedding ceremony, we shared a delicious meal, and caught up with what has been going on in each others’ lives. It was a very enjoyable day with family, friends, and food, and everyone was on their best behavior.
This is the sort of joyful event that Jesus uses in the Gospel today as an image of the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact, throughout the New Testament, God’s relationship to the Church is described as a wedding between Christ, the Bridegroom, and God’s people as the bride of Christ. We rejoice in the presence of the Lord who provides for all of our needs, and we celebrate together for all the great things God has done for us. The first two readings and the psalm fill out this image of God’s abundant, provident care.
We begin to experience God’s providence here on earth. Everything good in creation comes from God, who is the Creator of all things, visible and invisible. The savor of the food we eat, the beauty of the ocean and the sky, and the goodness of the people around us, are all aspects of God’s providence. Furthermore, on our journey through this world we receive many spiritual gifts from God, the greatest of which is the Eucharist, the real presence of God Himself, a foretaste of the heavenly banquet of union with God.
Yet, our life on this earth is also marked by suffering. We have to walk through the dark valley before we can stay forever in verdant pastures and restful waters. We will only experience the fullness of joy and the abundance of God’s kingdom in heaven. Then, there will be no more illness or death, darkness or weeping, no more divisions or hatred.
But the picture that the readings paint is not just consolation, reassurance and promise of happiness. In the parable, not everyone comes to the banquet, and one guest who comes is turned away because he is not appropriately dressed. At first it might seem odd and arbitrary that this one guest is rejected, but there is an important message here: to be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven, at least two things are necessary.
On one hand, we must accept the invitation and grant it more importance than the other things that happen in our lives. For example, we all have plenty of things to do, and coming to Mass on Sunday as we have today means that, unlike the first group of guests in the parable, we have given God’s call priority over everything else. On the other hand, the wedding garment refers to something very specific: God’s sanctifying grace in our souls, which we receive for the first time at Baptism. The rite of the sacrament indicates that we should put on a white garment right after the actual moment of baptism as a sign that we have have been cleansed from sin and filled with God’s presence. This is our wedding garment. The local custom is often that the person to be baptized wears white from the beginning of the ceremony, but the symbolism remains the same.
But that grace can be lost by sin. When we knowingly and willingly commit a serious act that is contrary to God’s will, we lose that garment and our right to enter the banquet. Even little sins stain and damage the garment and put us in danger of greater folly. From time to time, we need to be cleansed or renewed in the sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession, so we may be more worthy to be received into the heavenly banquet. It’s not enough just to show up at the pearly gates; we have to be prepared. We already live this on earth, in that we should not receive Communion at Mass unless we are reasonably sure we have confessed any serious sins; otherwise, we commit the sin of sacrilege. We don’t like to think of anyone (let alone ourselves) not making it into the Kingdom of Heaven, but Jesus says, “many are invited, but few are chosen.” The rest are “cast into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Since we don’t know when we will die, confession is not something to postpone.
We are all here today because we have answered God’s call with gratitude and joy. May He help us each day to draw closer and closer to Him, so that on the day we enter the heavenly banquet, we will be like my brother and his wife at their wedding: dressed in tux and gown, and radiant with love and happiness.