Pentecost - Nineteenth Sunday After (27th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
"The Wedding Garment"
By Rev. H. G. Hughes
Dear Brethren in Jesus Christ - The parable which we have just heard read in the Holy Gospel for to-day, and from which my text is taken, is one of those which our divine Savior spoke on the closing day of His public teaching.
Early in the morning of that day, which was the Tuesday in Holy Week, He had gone forth to preach for the last time in the Temple at Jerusalem. He went there to offer to the hard hearts of the priests and rulers, the Scribes and Pharisees, one more opportunity of repentance and conversion. He went there to utter His last words of warning against the terrible act of Apostasy they were soon about to commit in rejecting Him, their King and their Lord, who was ready, if they willed it, to be their Savior also.
This "parable" of the wedding of the king's son is one of those warning words which Divine love drew from our blessed Lord that day; and though it was spoken so long ago to the Scribes and Pharisees, and the people of the Jews, it has, nevertheless like every word that fell from those sacred lips, lessons of the highest import for us to-day, and for the men of all times. Some of these lessons, with the help of God, we will briefly consider.
"The Kingdom of Heaven," our Lord said, "is likened to a king, who made a marriage," that is to say a marriage, a feast, for his son. That kingdom which is here likened to a marriage feast, is Christ's holy Catholic church, which He came on earth to found, and of which He said, "My Kingdom is not of this world"; for though the Church of God is in the world, it is not of the world.
The king who made the marriage feast for his son is the Eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, King and Lord of heaven and earth. The marriage, as St. Gregory the Great tells us, is that union of the Only-begotten Son of God with His immaculate bride, the holy Church, which He entered into by means of the Incarnation. To the marriage feast of the good things plentifully set out in His Church, God first invited His own chosen people, the Jews; sending to them His servants, the prophets of old. But "they refused" and, "would not come." Afterwards, when the King's Son Himself had come, had lived and died, had set up His Kingdom the Church, and made ready therein the feast of the Gospel blessings, the invitation was repeated to them by the Apostles and Apostolic men; and these are those other servants of whom we read "and again He sent other servants, saying, 'All things are now ready; come ye to the marriage.'" "Twice," says St. Gregory, "did the King send His servants to invite by the prophets the Incarnation of His Son, and announcing it by the Apostles after it had come to pass."
How, then, did the subjects of the King receive His royal invitation? With nothing else than ungrateful and rebellious contempt. Ungrateful because of the benefits He wished to bestow upon them; rebellious, because an invitation from the King was nothing less than a command. As the holy Gospel describes it, "They went their ways; one to his farm, another to his merchandise." Others even carried their rebellion so far as to ill-use and put to death the servants of the royal household who came to bid them to the marriage. By this figure our blessed Lord describe the death which some of the prophets had undergone at the hands of the perfidious children of Israel, meriting His sad rebuke, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killed the prophets, and stoned them that are sent to thee, how often would I have gathered together thy children, as the hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, and thou would not." By this also He foretold the martyrs' death that so many of His Apostles and disciples were afterwards to meet with at the hands of the same unfaithful and unbelieving generation. "But when the King heard of it, He was angry; and sending his armies, He destroyed those murderers, and burnt their city." Even so Jerusalem, that fair and favored city of God, whose beauty had moved the Son of Man to tears, not many years after was utterly overthrown by the Roman armies; and thus was fulfilled the warning of our Lord, and the curse which its inhabitants had called down on their own heads: "His Blood be upon us and upon our children."
Coming back to the parable, we read that the King next sent His servants into he highways to call to the marriage as may as they should find; and they gathered together all they found, and in this way the marriage was filled with guess. The goodness and generosity of God are not foiled; though the chosen people have rejected His word, and, as St. Paul and St. Barnabas declared to the Jews of Antioch, judging themselves unworthy of eternal life, have been cast out, the servants of the King have gone out into the highways of the world, and have preached the Gospel to every nation, and the Gentiles have been gathered into God's holy Church. The invitation of the King has come to us, and, thank God, we have accepted it. We have entered, by God's mercy we have been brought, into His Church, to take part in the marriage feast of God's Son; to participate in the good things there only to be found - the Holy Mass, the Seven Sacraments, the Word of Salvation, the intercession and patronage of the holy Mother of God and of the Blessed with whom we are united in the Communion of Saints, and all the other means of grace and of blessing so abundantly poured out upon us in the holy Catholic Church.
There are still, alas, many who will not come to this marriage feast, although the invitation is constantly repeated to them by the Gospel messengers, the ministers of God's Church, not once or twice, but many times, "Come, for all things are now ready; come ye to the marriage." But "they neglect, and go their ways, to the merchandise, or to their farm"; they will not even listen, but remain outside the church in the exterior darkness of heresy, indifference, or unbelief. It seems strange to us, who know the force of the claims of the Catholic church, that men can refuse their assent to her authority and her teaching. It is all so plain to us. Sometimes we get discouraged and wonder whether it is any good going on with our efforts to bring the Church before our countrymen; whether it were not better to concentrate our endeavors upon the perfection of our own organization and the increased effectiveness of our work among Catholics. But the Church of Christ is and must be a missionary Church. Christ has said to Her: "Go, teach all nations; preach the Gospel to every creature."
If we neglect this work, our own interior organization and the effectiveness of our work among our own people must suffer. Yet at times we are apt to be discouraged at the poor reception which our missionary efforts meet with. And the worst, most chilling element is that reception comes from the utter indifference to all religious truth and sentiment which is so widespread in the modern world, and especially in countries like our own where the great Protestant tradition gained a footing, and has logically led to religious indifference and free thought, so that the "farm" and the "merchandise," worldly things and worldly objects of ambition, wealth, position, enjoyment, success in business, occupy entirely the thoughts and the hopes of so many. But we must not despair, and we must not slacken our efforts. Still the King sends out His messengers, and in the highways and byways in the most unexpected places, souls are touched by God's grace, and hear the invitation, and accept, and come in to the marriage feast of the Church. It is for us, by our own faithful Catholic lives, by example at all times, by a word in season where opportunity offers, by showing to the world and forcing the world to realize the high value of Christian Catholic ideals and principles in citizenship, to work towards the breaking down of that fatal indifference and so-called liberality in questions of morality and religion which is so great a bar to the acceptance of the Catholic faith of Jesus Christ. Then, in God's good time, our efforts, our prayers, our sacrifices and our good example shall be crowned with success, and "the marriage shall be full of guests."
But have we Catholics nothing to learn from this parable concerning ourselves; is there no warning for us who by God's great mercy have been brought into the marriage feast of God's Son? Indeed, it is not so. There is a warning in the parable, and a terrible warning for us; and should we fail to heed it, we shall find ourselves in a worse plight even than those who have refused to enter into the feast.
For we read, at the end of the parable, how the King went into see the guests, and He found there a man who had not on a wedding garment. Giving him an opportunity to explain his negligence, the King said to him, "Friend, how camest thou in hither, not having on a wedding garment?" But he was silent.
It is a well-known custom in Eastern countries, even at the present day, for the giver of a banquet, especially if he be a prince, or a man of high rank, to send to the invited guests rich and splendid robes, which they are expected to wear at the feast. Not to wear them would be a serious insult to the host. It is related by a modern traveler that a courtier invited to a banquet by the Sultan of one of those Eastern lands, having in some way offended the steward who had the distribution of the robes of state, that officer sent him only a plain black garment which the guest refused to wear, fearing that it would be taken by the others as a sign that he was in disgrace at court. The Sultan, coming in and seeing him without the customary garb, took it as a personal insult, and not giving any opportunity of explanation as did the king in the parable, condemned the unhappy guest to death. The sentence was, in fact, carried out. This incident explains what we read in the parable: The King said to the waiters, 'Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into exterior darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Brethren, it is not enough that we have been invited; it is not enough that we have accepted the invitation. We must have on the wedding garment, the garment which consists of sanctifying grace and the Christian virtues. For the King is coming to see the guests, and this word "see" means in the original language more than a passing glance; it signifies an inspection, a close and searching examination; indeed, it is going on how; for by trials and temptations we are constantly being proved, and the all-searching eye of God is ever fixed upon us to see how we carry ourselves - whether we resist or whether we give way, whether we show ourselves to be clothed with the garment of supernatural grace and virtue which He Himself has provided, or only in the poor threadbare garments of our fallen nature; whether, in a word, we have on the wedding garment of true, solid, Christian virtue, which is none else than the very character of our Lord and Savior Himself - that character which the holy Apostle St. Paul speaks of when he says to us: "Put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh and its concupiscenses" (Rom. xiii, 3).
And we "put on the Lord Jesus Christ" by imitating His virtues, each in our own measure and degree - His humility, His obedience, His patience, His resignation to the will of His heavenly Father, His detachment from the world, His meek and kind behavior to others, and, above all, His charity, His love of God and Man, without which all else is nothing worth.
It is for us to look into our own hearts and to find out, by the light of Christ's law laid down n the holy Gospels, and with the aid of Christ's holy Spirit which He will give to those who ask, whether we are living up to our privileges as Catholics, invited to the wedding feast of the King's son, and especially whether we are practicing those virtues which belong to our particular state and condition in life. For it would be a great mistake to seek about after something heroic to do, while our daily duties are badly and imperfectly performed. All so-called piety, as St. Francis of Sales remarks, which does not lead to the better performance of our ordinary duties, is a delusion. This, therefore, is the first thing to be looked into, for when the King comes for the last time to inspect the guests, this is the wedding garment He will expect to find - the robe of grace woven in with virtues and the good works which the duties of each day give us the opportunity of performing.
If we are wanting in this, we also, like the guest in the Gospel, shall be silent before Him, we shall have no excuse to make, shame and confusion will make us dumb. I will not avail merely to have come in to the feast - that will be only for our greater shame and condemnation, and we shall be cast out for ever into the exterior darkness.
Take to yourselves, brethren, the warning words of our blessed Lord. Lose no time. Single out at once that fault, that sin which conscience tells you is the one that would most displease the King, should He come to see you now; which makes you, in the words of St Jude, "a spot upon the banquet," and set to work to root it out without delay. When you have done this, or at least lessened the power of that fault over you, go on to attack another in the same way, and then a third, putting off thus, according to St. Paul's exhortation, "the old man who is corrupted according to the desires of error" and "putting on the new man, who according to God is created in justice and holiness of truth" (Eph. iv, 22 ss.).
Then, at the last and great visit of the King, when, surrounded by the hosts of angels and saints, He shall come to judge the world, you will be be translated to that heavenly Banquet of which the angel in the Apocalypse declared, "Blessed are they that are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb."