“Gospel” in Old English means “good news” (evangelium in Latin, meaning “glad tidings”), but what is the good news from today’s Gospel? A King invites guests to a wedding feast for his Son, but they ignore him. He invites them again, and some ignore him again, while others actually kill his messengers. The king responds in a reciprocally outrageously manner by sending troops to kill the killers and “burn their city.” Does our Heavenly Father really kill those who oppose him and incinerate entire towns in his rage? On Friday an earthquake and tsunami in Indonesia killed at least 1200 and left 17,000 homeless. Why does God punish even the innocent in this way?
I cannot say why God permits losses such as these, or even smaller run-of-the mill adversities. No man can judge or even understand God’s ways; we are the creatures and He the Creator. But some human beings do manage to trust God even in acutely difficult circumstances. They believe that He knows what He is doing. Earthly tragedies at least serve to remind us that here below we have no lasting city. God allows us to suffer not because he feels “hurt” when we ignore Him but in order to correct our disordered intellects. We lapse unconsciously into thinking that we can live just fine without Him. But in reality our only hope is to live eternally with Him, because anything less than the infinite will never satisfy the human heart. Everything in this earthly life must be bent toward finding that Infinite One.
God allows natural disasters for this supreme good. He takes things away from us—he lets our property burn, he lets our health decline, he takes way friends and relatives—so that we will focus our hopes on nothing less than His perfect will, which we call heaven. People complain about getting older—losing our eyesight, our sense of taste, our cardio-vascular strength. At 56 I’ve begun to dry up in some places and leak in other places but the weakness of aging helps me to let go of the natural and prepare for the supernatural. The older we get the younger we get, because we are approaching our birth into a perfect life. The weaker we get the stronger we get, because weakness forces us to transfer our hopes from our limited human strength to God’s infinite strength.
The good news of this Gospel parable is that, though we lose everything in this world, we never lose God’s invitation. But we have to respond to the invitation. A Christian responds by attending the Holy Mass, God’s nuptials for His Son. Jesus uses the forceful image of a king burning a city to drive home his point: we will burn if we do not receive the Bread of Life. Without the Eucharist we are defenseless against real evil in the world. But having received the Holy Eucharist, nothing can touch us; we are invincible because God almighty lives within us.
The man not properly dressed
So the king fills his banquet hall with guests. But then he comes across a man without proper vesture. The king becomes enraged again (on a purely literal reading we would say this king needs anger management therapy). The king casts the poorly-dressed man out—outside of heaven—where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Lesson: we must be clothed properly for the Mass. I’m wearing my “Sunday Shoes” at Mass right now—I bought them specifically for Sundays and wear them nowhere else. What we wear at Mass matters much. But even more important is to clothe our souls with grace, which we receive in prayer and sacrament. So many are lined up at the confessionals right now for that very purpose.
Bring them in!
Finally, notice that the king orders his servants to bring in the people, from the highways and byways. “I want my wedding hall filled with guests” he cries out. Not long ago I mentioned to a nice lady at Mass how much I miss seeing her husband at church. She spoke to him, gently, and he came back to Mass after many years. Sometimes it just takes a simple invitation. In other cases, we simply need to pray and offer sacrifices for those who are trying to live their lives without God. This is what Our Lady of Fatima asked of the three children: make everything you do a sacrifice for those who do not know God. Do not complain that your children, your spouse or siblings, your grandchildren do not go to Mass. Do something about it: make of everything a sacrifice for those entrusted to you, and the good Lord will do the rest.