October 9, 2011 - Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

The king is holding a feast. His servants go out into the streets and gather guests into the feast. They gathered in the good and the bad, but anyone without a wedding garment is thrown out. The feast is the Church. We are the servants. The streets are the world. It is our job to go out into the world and bring in everyone we can find. We should bring them into the Church, bad and good alike. The Church does not only want to bring in the good. We are the least exclusive organization in the world. Anyone can join, and we insist that everyone ought to.

Why did the man not have a wedding garment? Scholars will explain various possibilities: perhaps he is poor, perhaps he refused the garment when someone offered it to him, perhaps he had crashed the party through the back door. We do not even need to consider the historical data. It is not important whether kings in those days had wedding garments available for all the guests. Everything we need to know is right there in the text. The king asks the man how he got in without a wedding garment. The king asks the very question that we are discussing, but the man is silent. He has no excuse for himself, so we should not try to provide him one. He should have had the garment on.

What is the garment? In the tradition of the Church, one thing has been consistently identified as a garment: baptism. So the man has appeared at the feast, which is to say at Mass, without baptism. It upsets some people that the Church is adamant that you have to be Catholic to receive the Eucharist. There are a few limited exceptions, but a person certainly has to be baptized to receive the Eucharist. This rule upsets some people because we are not being welcoming.

That is a lie. We are absolutely being welcoming. We are welcoming anyone and everyone to join the Church and be baptized. What is not an option is to be half in the Church and half out of it. A person must either join or not join. If they are coming into the feast, they have to put on the wedding garment first. It is not okay to just be cool and hang out at the feast.

The white alb that the priests and deacons and servers all wear is a symbol of our baptismal garment. The chasuble is a symbol of God’s love, the dalmatic is a symbol of service, the stole is a symbol of authority that comes with ordination, the cincture is a symbol of being unmarried, and the alb is a symbol of baptism.

It would be impractical, I suppose, but the ideal would be if all of the baptized, every one of you, wore albs to Mass, some with cinctures, some without. It would be impractical, although it would also resolve the issue of appropriate clothing in the church. It would be great if we all did wear albs to Mass. Really symbolic, a whole different feeling, but it is just impossible practically speaking; just imagine the laundry every week!

Speaking of laundry, it occurs to me that 2000 years ago, work clothes were just old, worn out dress clothes. Even in old photographs, the men are always working in dress shirts. When your Sunday clothes wore out, they became your weekday clothes. So everyone got this perfect white garment. They took off the filthy clothes they had been wearing and put on the immaculate wedding garment. Perhaps this man was wearing a wedding garment which had just gotten so filthy since he put it on that it looked like work clothes.

While we cannot see the condition of each others’ baptismal garments, and this is probably a good thing, we can look at our own. Look at yours. You can see the stains and holes and tears and loose threads. I am talking about sins. We would not walk out of the house with tomato sauce down the front of our shirts, but we walk around in these baptismal garments that stink with sin.

See if you can crane your necks just right and read the figurative label on your metaphorical albs. It contains the instructions for proper care and laundering. You cannot wash the garment yourself. You can clean off the crumbs with a little repentance, and the little stains come off with a little holy water, but according to the label, serious stains have to be professionally laundered. The laundry is done right over there, every Saturday from 4:30 to 5:30. Just come on in, point out the stains (do not try to hide any), and they will all be cleaned right up. These stains cannot be removed with soap and water. They can only be cleaned with the blood of the Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

This is his feast. It says in the Gospel that the king gave a wedding feast for his son. The son of the king is the Lamb of God. He provides the garments in baptism. He cleans them with his blood in confession. Then he feeds us with his body and blood in this feast. Usually the guests bring the gifts for the bride and groom, but Jesus gives us the gifts. Do you know why? Do you know who the bride is? The bride is the Church. We are all the guests at the feast, but this feast was put on for us. Individually we are the guests, but gathered together, we are the Church, so we are also the bride.

The lesson that Jesus draws from this parable is that “many are invited but few are chosen.” These words, “many” and “few” have special meaning when Jesus uses them. In a few weeks we will begin using the new translation of the Mass and one difference you may notice is that the phrase “for many” will appear in consecration where the priest has been saying “for all”. This is not because “many” is less than “all”. It is not. Some people mix-up “many” with “most”. “Many” does mean all, but it means more than “all”. It invites us to imagine the 100 billion humans who have walked this earth and the 7 billion who are currently here. It is not just us. There are many people, and God died for all of them.

“Few” does not necessarily mean a small number. Imagine if the only people in heaven were the canonized Saints. There are tens of thousands. “Few” is to be taken relatively speaking. Tens of thousands are few where a hundred billion are concerned; tens of millions would be few. “Few” also has a lot to do with value. If a parent heard that three of their four children survived a car accident, they would rightly call that “too few”. God loves us like that. He calls many because he calls everyone. If even one child of God does not choose to be chosen, only a few are chosen.

You are part of the many. God is calling you. You can be part of the few. God will choose you if you allow him to.