Earlier this week, I was with one of my brother priests, enjoying dinner with some fellow parishioners, and I hadn’t seen this brother priest for a few months—at least since I’ve been assigned here, anyway—and when we saw each other, we embraced. And then he did something funny: he patted my belly and said, “So, I see that you’re working on becoming a Monsignor.” That’s priest-talk for: “I see that you are being well-fed…”
In my four months here, I have been very blessed to be invited to so many of your homes—it seems that every week I am getting an invitation to come over. And you have all been so very generous. Like St. John Vianney, I would be happy with a potato or a sandwich, but you are setting out feasts like the first reading, feasts full of rich food and choice wines. Steaks and pizza and wine and beer. You are making me fat and happy.
Years ago, when I was in grad school, I lived in government-subsidized housing—that is, The Projects. And I lived on thing like Ramen and spaghetti for an entire semester. And before that, when I was just a kid, I remember a time when my dad lost his business and I remember being visited by members of our parish school, bringing us a basket of food and other items to help us in our time of need.
I feel, therefore, that I can echo the words of St. Paul today: “I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.” I have learned the secret of how to live in both circumstances.
What is the secret?
The answer is found in this parable. Jesus tells us the story of a king who is throwing a wedding feast. This is no simple banquet, but the all-surpassing feast of heaven. The secret is found as we contemplate the feast in light of heaven.
You see, I get busy in life and I forget that there is an end to all of this. I forget why I’m here on this earth and what is really important and that things have eternal consequences. Not only that, when I hear the word, “heaven,” I kind of yawn inside because I picture heaven like a baseball park where I am just happy to get in the last row, and down on the field there is God doing his thing—and, as exciting as being in a ballpark is (especially when the Cardinals are beating the snot out of the Giants)—as exciting as that is, I think: won’t I get bored praising God for all eternity? For. Ev. Er. …?
Part of the secret to being able to live in this crazy life is to see that heaven is more than that—and to actually deduce what fulfillment actually means. One saint put it this way. He said,
“In heaven, [you will have all of your senses—sight, touch, hearing, taste, and smell—and they will be] fully satisfied with their pleasures and drowned in the depth of unspeakable delight.” (St. Robert Southwell)
In other words, your eyes will be totally wowed. Your ears will be full with the most beautiful sounds. CS Lewis, when describing Aslan, the Christ-like lion, says that the lion’s voice comes with a breath that has the most delightful smell that you always remember and never forget.
In heaven, your fingers and toes will tingle with delight. You will be able to eat and drink, and run and jump, and you’ll be able to hug your neighbor and you will know your loved ones and they will know you and you will be able to speak to and see the magnificence of the angels and the glory of the saints who have come before—and Mary! And Jesus! You will see Him face to face—terrible and yet completely and totally lovely. And you’ll know how all of your prayers helped others—really see what you didn’t see before.
All of this fills me with a kind of excitement that is totally giddy and which could only be expressed by becoming a kid again and tumbling and rolling down green hills with yellow wild-flowers. It’s champagne and a world series victory. A first kiss. A warm, yellow morning after a peaceful slumber.
And it is going to be so good that we won’t ever get tired of it.
The secret to living in a world of constant change—of battling through scraping by one moment while having abundance in the next—is to realize that it all comes from the God who is our shepherd, our Father, who provides for us—and, even when we have an empty stomach, He promises that greater, eternal things await for those who love Him. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me—I can live in poverty or I can live in riches, because it is the Lord who is my Shepherd. And so I shall not want.
I see everything as an invitation. When I am poor, it is an invitation to contemplate the lavish feast that awaits and thus to have hope. When I am rich, it is an invitation to contemplate the lavish feast that awaits and to realize that what I have does not compare, so I can give it all away without a tinge of sadness.
It is all invitation. Come to the feast!
That all said, the parable today is the trumpet blast that alerts us to the times that we do not hear the invitation—and which also alerts us to the gravity of dying without being ready for it. This is why the Gospel is so shocking. God is portrayed as a tyrant—a tyrant who throws a banquet, but a tyrant nonetheless.
This should shake us up. I could comment on this but it would scare the hell out of you. And maybe for that reason, I should comment more on this parable. But the rest of October and November will provide us many opportunities to reflect on heaven and hell and what we are really living for.
For now, I will say this: God is not a tyrant. Jesus portrays him as such in order to wake us up out of our sleep-walking notions of God and faith and to rediscover what it is we are doing with our lives and to see when God is inviting us to his feast.
So, can I point you to God next invitation?
It is right here. At this Holy Mass, as we climb Calvary with our Lord and are presented with his life, death, and resurrection. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all people a feast of rich food and choice wines”—On THIS mountain! The rich food being his Son’s body, the choice wines being His Blood. The parable is fulfilled not merely at some future moment; heaven is not just some future, distant reality—but here, right now, the heavenly banquet begins. This is what brings life stability; this is what brings us hope!
How will you respond to the invitation? How will your life be different, knowing that right here, at every Mass, the banquet of heaven is being offered to you? Do you want to go to heaven? Then come-- with all your mind, heart, and strength! You have been invited!