28th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Joseph Levine; October 11, 2020
Readings: Is 25:6-10; Ps 23:1-6; Ph 4:12-14,19-20; Mt 22:1-14
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy rich food and pure choice wines.
The mountain is the sacred humanity of Jesus Christ. On earth he was born of the Virgin Mary, but he reaches higher than the heavens because he is the Son of God, coequal and coeternal to the Father, and because, victorious over sin and death, he has taken his sacred humanity with him to the right hand of the Father.
Through his death, he destroyed death and expiated all sin through the shedding of his precious Blood. Those who share in his victory will be delivered from the reproach of sin, find true consolation for every loss that they have mourned, and behold the face of God unveiled before them. The supreme feast that will bring perfect satisfaction is the feast of the beatific vision, the feast of God’s unveiled face.
At present, we could say, two creations are in existence. The first creation that was marred by sin and the new creation in Christ that will last in eternity. We belong to the first creation by our birth; we belong to the new creation by our rebirth in baptism. We belong to this world by our birth, we are citizens of the heavenly city by our baptism.
The present world is visible to our eyes; the world to come, the heavenly reality, is known only to the eyes of faith. Nevertheless, there is, we could say, an intermediate reality, the visible Church upon earth with her visible sacraments. The Church is the presence of Christ’s kingdom on earth, the gateway to the heavenly kingdom, the place where sinners are purified and transformed, made ready for the heavenly banquet of the vision of God. Now that Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father, the invisible reality of Christ’s kingdom is made visible in a special way in the sacraments of the Church.
In this life there is a perpetual warfare between those who belong to this world and pursue exclusively the things of this world and those who belong to Christ. This warfare even enters into the Church herself because many of the baptized do not live from the life of grace, the life of the children of God, that they received in baptism, but rather they live according to the standards of this world. The warfare even enters into the soul of each one of us because we carry with ourselves that impulse to sin that in the language of the Bible is called ‘the flesh’.
We can look at this world in two ways: as separate from Christ and given to sin – for without Christ even the noblest human endeavors, in the end, turn to sin – or as serving Christ and his kingdom, tools in the hands of the pilgrims on the road to the new and eternal Jerusalem; these are the ones those would climb the mountain of Christ’s sacred humanity so as to be with him forever.
The Second Vatican Council tells us: “It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly equipped, eager to act and yet intent on contemplation, present in this world and yet not at home in it; and she is all these things in such wise that in her the human is directed to and subordinated to the divine, the visible likewise to the invisible, action to contemplation, and this present world to that city yet to come, which we seek.” (SC 2)
This is, or should be, manifest “most of all in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist.” (Ibid.)
If we can grasp this right relation of the present world and the world to come, and the ever present temptation we have to separate this present world and make it our supreme goal, then we can begin to grasp why once we enter the church building, the temple in which the divine sacrifice is offered and the heavenly banquet is tasted, we should sense that we are entering at least the antechamber of the heavenly realm.
Last Sunday I mentioned that the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) was once the most splendid church in Christendom. In the days of its splendor, when travelers from afar, pagans even, entered the church and witnessed the celebration of the liturgy it did indeed seem to them that they had for a moment entered into heaven itself. Such was the beauty of both the church and the liturgy.
In our own time, we live in a post-Christian, secularized world. This world has become particularly opaque to the heavenly realm. The human world we live in is marked by by ugliness.
By way of contrast to the great Hagia Sophia – now a mosque – I will talk about the new cathedral in the unreal city in the desert where I was born, the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. If you drive by on the freeway and see the cathedral it looks like one more expensive modern building, a piece with all the ugly architecture that surrounds it. Inside, I don’t quite know what to make of it, but I would not call it beautiful and uplifting.
If a worthy cathedral had been constructed in the midst of the ugliness of downtown Los Angeles it would have to look something like a holy angel had descended from heaven and touched the earth in the middle of a junkyard. The contrast would bear witness to the even more dramatic contrast between the Son of God and the sinfulness of our humanity that he came to save when he came down from heaven and took flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
We need churches and liturgies that will take us for a time out of the ugliness of this world into the beauty of the heavenly realm; this is not a beauty that we invent, but a beauty that is revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition. This means that traditional forms, which are foreign to the ugliness of modernity, are more apt for the sacred liturgy.
Turning to the Gospel, the Mass is the wedding banquet of the King’s Son, Jesus Christ, to which we have been invited, bad and good alike. It does not do to turn down the invitation.
Last week, I spoke about the sacrifice of the Mass; it is through the sacrifice that we reach that banquet of the holy communion in the Body and Blood of Christ. If we do not offer ourselves, through, with, and in Christ, the Lamb of Sacrifice, we will not be ready for feast. We must enter into the banquet through the gateway of the Cross.
The bad and good alike may enter this banquet, but when the King comes, on the day of judgment, only the good will be allowed to remain and enjoy the eternal banquet, the vision of God’s face.
The ticket, we learn, is the wedding garment. This is the clothing of the soul, the gift of sanctifying grace, given to us in baptism, that transforms our humanity, born in the junkyard of sin, and lifts us up so that we truly become children of God. We must not cast off the wedding garment through mortal sin; or if we have lost it we must do all in our power, above all through a complete, sincere, and humble confession of our sins, to regain that priceless garment. We must persevere to the end, washing our robes in the Blood of the Lamb, so that we might be counted among the few who are chosen. (cf. Rev 7:14, 22:14)