My friends, this parish, All Are One Catholic church has always been about inviting everyone to the table—this was one of our founding tenets, to welcome all who want to be with us, to pray and to share our lives as we journey to be closer to our God in Jesus, our brother. This parish has never been about judging who is worthy or acceptable—we leave that to the person and God. In that, we are, I would humbly say, like our God as the theme for this Sunday is all about “welcoming” and the fact that the invitation goes out to everyone, no exceptions, is quite a wonderful thing to celebrate, I think.
We, of course, have to keep what the Scriptures say in context to get their full import. We might scoff at the thought that after the host of the wedding feast finally got a full house, among strangers from the streets, because the first guests didn’t come; he is willing to throw one of them out because he isn’t dressed properly! And here is where we need to understand the customs of the times and remember that wedding dress was provided, so even the poor could come and be dressed appropriately—this person chose not to rise to the occasion!
And once again; we must remember that the stories Jesus told while among us always had deeper, secondary meanings, so we don’t want to read the texts literally. The wedding feast spoken of in Matthew’s gospel today and the banquet that is being prepared as related by the prophet, Isaiah, are both about the end times reminding us at this point in the Church Year to be serious about “checking our own houses,” so to speak, to see that we are on the right path—that we have a clear vision of that which is most important in our lives. Are we searching after that which gives us life, or are we about more selfish pursuits?
Paul gives us a sense of this in his letter to the Philippians. He is writing from prison, one of the many times he suffered in this way to spread the Good News of our brother, Jesus, which we know from our own study of Scripture, can be very challenging at times. We know too as Paul relates, that we must try to keep Jesus’ message “to love” foremost in our minds and hearts, never losing sight of that, so, as he says so well, “whether on a full stomach, or…empty…, in poverty, or plenty, I can do all things through the strength of Christ.”
This summer and fall thus far have been full of tragedies from nature; hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and now, horrendous fires in California. Whenever such events occur; we see that the people so grievously affected are called to see what is most important in their lives, often hearing from them, “We are sad for what we lost in a material way, but all of our family is safe, and that is what is most important!” And the fact is, everyone doesn’t get through these events with their lives and it is then for the rest of us to do all we can to be in communion with those who suffer.
This is what Paul is expressing to his converts in Philippi—his gratitude to them for being remembered in his time of suffering. The longer I live, it becomes so apparent how small our world really is—how closely we are connected and because of our faith in Jesus, are truly sisters and brothers!
That brings us to the wedding garment spoken of in the gospel. It is provided for all of us to put on and now we are speaking of the greater sense of this gospel and this garment is made up of the virtues of compassion, mercy, justice, long-suffering, patience, and when we roll all that into one, it is love for our world, for its people.
This week, yesterday, in fact, I had the privilege of presiding at Joe Morse’s funeral—really a celebration of his life. Joe was a social justice advocate for many issues that affected people and the earth in the Winona area and greater world. If it could be said of anyone, it could be said of Joe that he had it straight in his mind and heart what the priorities were for right living. He was motivated by the likes of Pope, Saint John XXIII, whose feast day was yesterday and who said, “All …are equal in human dignity” and by John F. Kennedy who asked us all to think, “What can you do for your country.”
So, back in the early 60’s this inspiration took him to the South to work with the Freedom Fighters to give our black brothers and sisters’ equal status in our country. Throughout his life from that point there was no turning back for Joe—he was always about advocating for what was best for all, not just for some.
We saw this in his work with assisting men to be inclusive and respecting of women through the Beyond Tough Guise program and its MENding project to encourage businesses and tradespeople to donate work to fix the damage caused in homes by abusive men. Joe was a friend of and advocate for the Women’s Resource Center assisting women in being safe from abusers.
Joe cared for the land and keeping it healthy—his work to ban sand-mining in our Winona County, which ultimately protects our water, protecting the bluffs from erosion by working to prohibit building on its slopes and his continual work through the Land Stewardship organization in Lewiston is testament to his concern.
Now those who knew Joe well would probably agree that he was relentless in challenging and encouraging all those he knew to do the right thing, kind of like the host of the wedding feast wanting to fill the hall with guests. To get a call from Joe was guaranteed to be about helping with some project. We can be grateful for the “Joe’s” of this world who are persistent in choosing the right, even if the path is hard to follow.
So friends, we began today talking about getting the invitation from our loving God to come the wedding feast, an invitation that is continually extended to us and we live our lives between the time of that invitation extended and the actual banquet to be held. Each of us is dearly loved and appreciated by God—we shouldn’t lose sight of that. This loving God, each and every day, gives us the strength and wisdom, and all-abiding peace to do God’s will with and for others. And as St. Paul so wonderfully says today in the reading to the Philippians: “I can do anything through the One who gives me strength.” Amen.