Thursday August 19, 2004 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Ezekiel 36:23-28) Gospel (St. Matthew 22:1-14)
In the Gospel reading today, Our Lord speaks to us about this wedding banquet. We recall that heaven is a wedding banquet; it is the feast of the wedding banquet of the Lamb. And being that it is exactly that, Our Lord is telling us who has been invited to the banquet. It was, of course, the chosen people first and foremost who were invited to this banquet, but they refused. Now in the first reading, God says to the chosen people, I am going to prove My holiness through you. It is precisely because of their infidelity that God is going to bring them back from all of the lands to which they were exiled, take away their hearts of stone, and give them natural hearts to be able to love God. This was to prove the holiness of God – and it did – but the people of Israel did not accept it. Initially, there was great rejoicing when they came back, but then they fell right back into the same old stuff. And so, as it says, God sends a second set of people and they killed them. They were all the prophets that they had killed over the years. So then God invites the ones who were not invited initially, the ones who were just out on the highways and the byways, and they came and filled the hall. That’s us.
But we also have to recognize (with that being the case and we are now privileged to be invited to the banquet) that it still requires that we need to have on a wedding garment. It is not enough just to be able to say, “I have been invited. The ones originally invited have turned down the invitation, those who were considered worthy to be invited have rejected it, but now God in His mercy, because He wanted heaven filled, has invited the likes of me. Well, isn’t this a great privilege?” Of course it is, but then it requires something on our part. In order to get into the wedding banquet, one must be in the state of sanctifying grace; that is the wedding garment we must be wearing. If we are not in the state of sanctifying grace, we will have nothing to do with the banquet. We will get there, and we will be thrown out into the darkness where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. So we still have our part to do. We have received the invitation and we have even responded to the invitation, but if we do not put on the right kind of garments we are not going to be able to enter into the banquet.
That is what the Lord is requiring of us: to realize that we were not invited to the banquet because we were the best and most worthy, but we were invited to the banquet because those who were invited did not come. They turned down the king, and so we were the ones on the highways and byways and hedgerows that they had to go out and stir up to find somebody who would be willing to come. That’s us. But now we still have our part to do. The King has done His part. He has roused up those who were lying in the gutters – us – and He has filled His wedding banquet. But in order to get in, we have to grow in holiness, we have to be in the state of sanctifying grace, we have to be living the life that Our Lord has called us to live, and then what was promised to the people of old is going to be worked through us. That is, God is going to prove His holiness through us. All we have to do is say, “Who would have expected it? Who would have thought such a thing was possible for the likes of people like us?” No one. And if God in His mercy will take away our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh so that we will be able to love, so that we will be able to do what is right, that is where we will be able to enter into that banquet to unite ourselves with Christ, to live His life through sanctifying grace, to be united with Him in prayer.
That is the call and the privilege each one of us has. It is the greatest privilege in the world, but, as we saw in the Gospel reading, there are many, many people who have turned it down. It is now a question of what we are going to do. Many are called, few are chosen, the Lord said. You have been called to the wedding banquet. The choice now is yours to unite yourself with the Bridegroom, to put on the wedding garment of sanctifying grace, to allow God to remove the heart of stone which makes us completely selfish and caught up in the wrong things and replace that with a heart of flesh so we will be able as a good bride to love the Bridegroom with our whole heart and soul and strength, and be completely united with Him through the bonds of grace and the bonds of love so that we will be able to celebrate with the greatest joy the banquet of the Lamb forever.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.