Accept the invitation, respond with love
By Father Timothy Hepner
Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time/Oct. 11
Isaiah 25:6-10a; Psalm 23:1-3a,3b-4,5,6; Philippians 4:12-14,19-20; Matthew 22:1-14
Sitting with a group of high school boys, I introduced myself: “I’m the vocation director.” They seemed apprehensive. “When I say ‘vocation,’ do you think, ‘priesthood’?” They responded with anxious head nods. “And does that scare you?” The nodding got bigger. Some said, “Yes.” I went on, “You know marriage is a vocation. Does marriage scare you?” Looks of fear dissipating, they confidently said, “No.” I couldn’t help myself. “Well it should,” I said.
When I tell this story to married people, they laugh. A couple can be happily married and still realize that they could never have imagined the immense responsibility they were taking on when they said their wedding vows. All vocations are beautiful and all vocations are scary. But marriage has a particular way of drawing people out of themselves and helping them realize that they are responsible for someone beyond themselves.
In the Gospel we hear, “The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son.” Christ is the Bridegroom, and, in a mystical way, the wedding guests will themselves be joined to him in the “wedding feast of the lamb” (cf. Revelation 19:6-9). Some refuse this invitation, and they suffer because there can be no joy outside of this wedding feast.
We were created for joy and life, which is another way of saying we were created to live in God’s presence. But the only way to enter into God’s presence is through Christ, the Bridegroom. So to refuse the invitation to the wedding feast is to refuse our own eternal joy and life.
WITNESS TO JOY
The messengers are then sent to the peripheries and unlikely places to find anyone who will respond, “good and bad alike.” We then hear, “The hall was filled with guests.” What an awesome image, in the strictest sense of the word awe-some. To think that there would be a great crowd of humanity, from all parts of the world, each with a distinct path that they took to the feast — some winding through sin, others preserving their innocence — all gathered together to celebrate the Wedding Feast of the King’s Son. This should fill us with awe.
I got a glimpse of this awe at a gathering for Catholic college students where I heard confessions of a few of the 13,000 young people present. After confessions and adoration, there was a concert with music, dancing, and a lot of joy. It was unlike any other party I have been to. These young people just had their souls bathed in the blood of the Bridegroom, “that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).
I sat in the back of that huge convention center with deep contentment and joy and quietly thought, “Jesus, I want to see every single one of these souls in heaven. And I want to be there, too. And I want us to have even more joy than we have now.”
Yes, marriage is scary, because, to be successful each person must daily say, “My spouse is more important than me.” In our union with Christ, there is a commitment required of us, even if we could never merit this grace. To ignore that fact is to lower our dignity as free creatures capable of loving (and, consequently, of not loving).
We commit to wearing the “wedding garment” and persevering in the grace that we received at our baptism. Frequent prayer, confession, and growth in our key defects are an inextricable part of the deal. But we do these out of a response of love, because we take the invitation seriously. And it is impossible without Jesus’ commitment to us, and to our joy. From the moment of his incarnation, he had his eyes fixed on this joy and “for the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
As “scary” as it is to come out of the narrow hiding places that we have carved out to protect our selfishness, it is overwhelmingly more joyful to contemplate what we are stepping into: A great hall, filled with converted sinners, rejoicing eternally in the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.
FATHER TIMOTHY HEPNER is administrator at St. Louis Parish, Princeton. He is the former vocation director of recruitment for the Diocese of Peoria.