The king said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside...” (Mt 22:11- 13)
In the Lord’s Prayer we petition God the Father by asking, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Is it any wonder then that this once most pervasive prayer has become less so in a world that would appear to retort, “My will be done, in heaven as it is on earth”? For is it not true that we live in a time when we would prefer that God conform to us, rather than we conform to him.
Now it seems to be that the many people today who are giving up the practice of Christianity still believe in life-after-death. This is not surprising since pagans have always believed in life-after-death in one form or another. However, today belief in heaven is becoming very personal with as many notions about life-after-death as there are people to imagine them. However one thing that all these novel notions have in common is the removal of all or most moral conditions for the attainment of heaven. Each man has taken over God’s judgment seat and has granted himself amnesty. No savior, no redeemer, no priesthood is needed. Entrance into heaven is as easy as being born.
Perhaps it would be, if man were as holy as God. But heaven is a place of holiness because it is where God is. Thus, man must be made holy if he is to reside there. Yet, no man can achieve holiness on his own. He must be purified by Jesus Christ who perfected human nature in Himself and ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us (Jn 14:3). Without Jesus Christ there is no heaven for man.
On this 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we place on our bulletin cover the image of a wood-cut engraving by the Pre-Raphaelite painter, John Everett Millais, entitled The Marriage Feast (courtesy The Met). This was just one work by Millais in a series of parables crafted for a private patron.
Here we see the man, silent before the king, being removed from the wedding feast. His garment is tattered but this does not mean that he is poor. It is a symbol of the man’s unrepentance, for he has tried to enter into heaven without purification. In fact, his silence means that he will not confess his sins, yet in his stubborn pride still expects a seat at the king’s table. Yet his pride fails him and he lowers his posture and eyes before the king of heaven. Notice that there is no cheer over his removal. Even the guard who removes him does so gently and soberly.
Catholics believe and proclaim with the psalmist, “Holiness befits your house O Lord” (Ps 93:5) We believe that one must be holy to enter into heaven. For most of us who die with restitution still needed to be paid, there is purgatory or a “purging” of all that is not holy in us; “for you will not be released until you have paid the last penny” (Mt 5:26). Thankfully, our Lord is a kind and merciful creditor. He forgives our debts, as we forgive our debtors. Though our sins be as scarlet, nothing is impossible for God. But the grace of God is needed. No one can force open the gates of heaven, unless He be Jesus, the Son of God.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services