28th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Dignity NoVA/DC (Oct. 8/9, 2011)
I typically don’t take a long lunch break, but usually simply sit at my desk and read a bit of the Washington Post online. Usually, I end up at the advice columns and I especially enjoy reading the Wednesday column of Miss Manners. I like that particular column – which the author Judith Martin writes in the third person – because there’s usually a bit of humor or wit in what Miss Manners has to say. Probably the most common type of question asked has to do with the etiquette surrounding invitations. People want to know what is proper when it comes to such things as dinner party invitations, family events, baby shower invitations, and most especially invitations to weddings – including what might be called “traditional weddings,” as well as the more questionable practice of such things as “theme weddings or “destination weddings.” What I find amusing is that most of the letters seem to be written by people who appear never to have read her column – because if they had, they would know that what they were asking about was utterly improper or even rude. For example, couples preparing for a wedding will often ask some variation of “what’s the proper way to word an invitation and let invitees know that gifts of cash are preferred over a ‘boxed gift,’ or “what’s the proper way according to the rules of etiquette to tell guests we’d prefer that they contribute to our ‘honeymoon fund’ rather than give a toaster or something we already have?”
The obvious answer, as Miss Manners never tires of responding, is that there is no proper way to say these things. She constantly reminds people that an invitation that hosts extend to potential guests is just that – an invitation. It is not a contract, or a business deal, or a solicitation for donations. It is, on the contrary, a statement that the hosts – those extending the invitation – are asking family members, friends, and other guests to join them in something special. As the hosts, they are the ones who have planned and prepared the celebration; they are the ones who have seen to all the details of the event and who wish to share the happiness and joy of the occasion with others in their lives whom they love and care for. The thing that so many people forget about invitations – an element about which Miss Manners also very readily and universally reminds her readers – is that just as it is freely extended, it also is freely responded to: it can either be accepted or declined, and that decision rests purely with the one invited.
I’m sure we all know what the experience is like of being the recipient of such invitations. It feels good to be included, to know that we are important in others’ lives and to know we are thought of. I suspect it’s also true that we know what it feels like NOT to receive an invitation – especially to an event or gathering that others we know have received. At such times – even if it’s the memory of a 7th grade birthday party we weren’t invited to, or something more recent and significant – the feeling of being left out, of being excluded, is painful at any age.
Today’s readings continue to present to us images about the Reign of God and in particular who is invited in to that reign. In weeks past we heard various stories and parables about the Reign of God as a Vineyard, and today we hear passages – including our gospel parable about the Wedding Banquet – that speak of God’s reign as a luxurious feast, a celebration where the guests are given delicious foods and choice wines. The Gospel story in particular speaks not just of any feast, but a wedding feast – a feast where the invited guests fail to show up, and so the feast is opened not just to a limited guest list, but rather to anyone and everyone.
It is this universality of God’s love, the fact that the message of God’s love and presence is freely given and readily available to all – this is what’s NEW in the message of Jesus and the Christian Gospel that challenged the notion that God’s love is limited and available only to a chosen and select few, or that it can be earned in any way by following a set of prescribed rules, laws, or religious practices.
Each and every day, God invites us to share in the feast of His Love. What’s important not to miss in this particular parable about the king hosting a wedding feast for his son is the importance of our response. Many theologians and scholars who reflect on Scripture have wondered about why the King – God – is so harsh with the guest who comes improperly dressed, who attends the celebration without a wedding garment. After all, if they were just called in from the highways and byways, how could it be expected that the guests would come prepared? I think the best explanation for what the wedding garment is comes from St. Augustine. Augustine, quoting from St Paul, wrote that the wedding garment is nothing more and nothing less “the love that springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.” In essence he is saying that the “wedding garment” is what we bring to the Feast, it’s our free and freely given Response to God’s free and freely given Invitations.
Perhaps we aren’t always aware or don’t always recognize those invitations, but they certainly come to us each and every day in countless ways; and also in countless different ways invite us to respond with a pure heart, clear conscience, and genuine faith.
Patricia Sanchez (Celebration, Oct. 2011) writes that in every situation of human life, there is an invitation from God, and every invitation invites a response. These invitations come to us
- Through the persons who reach out to us in their need, as God invites us to share our abundance;
- Through those who suffer injustice, as God invites our advocacy and responsible participation at the ballot box.
- Through those who have no one to speak for them, no one to uphold their rights to live and work without fear, God invites our persistent involvement on their behalf.
- In the beauties of nature, God invites our awe and admiration; in the calamities of nature, God invites our trust.
- In the warmth of friendship and familial harmony, God invites our gratitude; in the pain and turmoil of strained relationships, God invites our perseverance.
- In the vigor of our youth and good health, God invites our grateful service; in the pain of sickness and the struggles of old age, God invites our endurance and calm.
- In all our fears, in all our frustrations, in all our sadness, desires, accomplishments and joys, God is inviting us to be at peace and center upon the One who is to be our ultimate concern.
As we celebrate this Liturgy today – remember as we did earlier this week the gift of a Franciscan outlook on life, and remembering later this week the 13th anniversary of the brutal slaying of Mathew Shepard – let us be fully aware of God’s invitations all around is each and every day. In doing so, let’s pray that we respond not ill-prepared, with “that love which springs from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a genuine faith.”