Offers food for thought
Readings: Isaiah 25:6-10; Psalms 23:1-3, 3-4, 5, 6; Philippians 4:12-14, 19-20; Matthew 22:1-14 or 22:1-10
In the context of the parish family which gathers for worship, let’s be mindful the above statements as we take to heart the exhortations of Pope Saint John Paul II, who said “…the parish must be a place where, through worship in communion of doctrine and life with the Bishop and with the Universal Church, the members of Christ's body are formed for evangelization and works of Christian love. A parish will be involved in many activities. But none is as vital or as community-forming as the Sunday celebration of the Lord's Day and his Eucharist. Through regular and fervent reception of the sacraments, God's people come to know the fullness of the Christian dignity that is theirs by baptism; they are elevated and transformed. Through careful listening to the word of Scripture and sound instruction in the faith they are enabled to experience their lives, and the life of the parish, as a dynamic sharing in the history of salvation. That experience, in turn, becomes a powerful motive for evangelization.”
You’ll remember, that based on the connection between the readings for the 27th and 28th Sunday’s of Ordinary Time in particular, last week we focused on the House of God as the vineyard in which we gather and ‘work’ to produce bountiful fruit of worship due to God. This week, through the Scripture readings from the 28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we delve deeper into what it means to ‘formed and transformed’ by the liturgy as well as a fuller understanding of the Eucharistic Celebration as ‘banquet’ in the context of the ‘heavenly banquet’.
Lets begin this week with coming to more deeply understand the Eucharistic Celebration as ‘banquet’, without forgetting the nature of our role, as I said in the previous reflection, that we are essential. I mean this in the sense that at every Eucharistic Celebration, no matter how many people are present... every person present must be committed to the work at hand, ready, willing and able to bring forth the worship of God which is due. Then and only then can our celebration be worthy fruit. Then, it will flow with integrity. In its orchestral beauty, it will never fail to draw us into the depths of the living Word, raise our souls, guided in ritual expression of the inexpressible, to sing our praises and bring us to our knees in humble prayer. We will rest in the wellspring of silence as a refuge from the distractions of the enemy and a gateway into the mysteries. With our bodies, with our minds, with our souls… an integrated whole, caught up in the vastness of the love and mercy of God which washes over us in abundance. We are made one by the animating Holy Spirit, mystical ‘Body of Christ’.
Unite those words with the words of Isaiah who gives us a graphic description of the great banquet that God will prepare and himself provides for his people, of the richest food and finest wines. No expense is spared for this pre-eminent banquet where he wipes our tears and declares death destroyed. The Israelites look to the universal feast which would celebrate the destruction of their enemies, the establishment of God on his holy mountain and the end of suffering and death. All their tears, wiped by the merciful hand of God. This is the eschatological heavenly banquet of Israel as well as that of our salvation where we rejoice in exultant celebration.
But this is not the only meaning of these words, they can also be understood as a prophetic pointing to the establishment of the Church of the ‘Body of Christ’ through which we enter the Kingdom of God where heaven and earth intersect in time. Recall the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “For us, the eucharistic banquet is a real foretaste of the final banquet foretold by the prophets and described in the New Testament as "the marriage-feast of the Lamb", to be celebrated in the joy of the communion of saints”. (Is 25:6-9 Rev 19:7-9)
When Isaiah says “On this mountain” we can also understand that to mean the Church as the Psalmists words affirm, “Yes, the LORD has chosen Zion, desired it for a dwelling: “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I desire it. I will bless Zion with provisions; its poor I will fill with bread. I will clothe its priests with salvation; its devout shall shout for joy.” And echoed in 2 Chr 6:41; Is 61:10.
In connection to the above, we see this image of the mountain, Mt. Zion, referred to in Ephesians 2:20-22
[You] built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord, in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
and more clearly drawn in the book of Revelation 21:9-14
One of the seven angels who held the seven bowls filled with the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come here. I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” He took me in spirit to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It gleamed with the splendor of God. Its radiance was like that of a precious stone, like jasper, clear as crystal. It had a massive, high wall, with twelve gates where twelve angels were stationed and on which names were inscribed, [the names] of the twelve tribes of the Israelites. There were three gates facing east, three north, three south, and three west. The wall of the city had twelve courses of stones as its foundation, on which were inscribed the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.
and affirmed in Hebrews 12:22-24
You have not approached that which could be touched and a blazing fire and gloomy darkness and storm and a trumpet blast and a voice speaking words such that those who heard begged that no message be further addressed to them, for they could not bear to hear the command: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” Indeed, so fearful was the spectacle that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.” No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect, and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.
On that mountain where “the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines,” we see a banquet that is both ceremonial and ritual. Providing an opportunity to celebrate the unity of mind and purpose between the host of the banquet and the invited guests and a transformation of a stranger into a guest or of an enemy into an ally. This is just as it is in the Church. In our Eucharistic gathering as a family to which we respond to the invitation and are nourished by God. Where there are no strangers and the repentant are reconciled with God… made worthy to receive the Lord present in the bread and wine which become his body and blood.
These truths ought to move us to reflect on how the sharing of meals and the ways in which the production and consumption of food has radically changed and affects our understanding of both the ‘Heavenly and Earthly banquets’. Since we no longer have time for ‘family feast’ and we are no longer directly involved with or even aware of where our food comes from, and considering how demanding we are for ‘fast food’… is it any wonder that our understanding of the nature and the importance of both the ‘Heavenly and Earthly banquets’ is a shadow of that of our ancestors. It’s no wonder that we have developed a consumer mentality toward the Mass and either a selfish or disinterested dispositions toward God’s invitation.
Our ancestors in faith, as evidenced in Scripture, easily recognized the feast of the Eucharist as a realization of Isaiah’s vision and as a prelude to the heavenly eternal banquet to which all the blessed are called to the wedding feast of the Lamb.
Jesus himself emphasized that we should see in him the fulfillment of the promise. That in the Eucharist we find the bread of life! In the passage from the Psalms quoted above, which equates Zion with the dwelling and resting place of God, we see it is also a place where hunger is satisfied, “For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her needy with bread. Her priests also I will clothe with salvation, And her godly ones will sing aloud for joy.”
When we think of this ‘Mountain’ and the veil that veils all people, we are reminded of Moses and the glory of his visage which necessitated a veil, as well as the veil of the temple which separated the ‘holy of holies’ from the people. The veil is taken away in Christ. The darkness which covered the people under the Old Covenant was being removed from all God’s people, as each us is made free in Christ. Isaiah wrote that the veil is removed “in this mountain,” which we have understand to be the church, and St. Paul confirms the same, saying “Therefore, since we have such hope, we act very boldly and not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites could not look intently at the cessation of what was fading. Rather, their thoughts were rendered dull, for to this present day the same veil remains unlifted when they read the old covenant, because through Christ it is taken away. To this day, in fact, whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their hearts, but whenever a person turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Clearly, the church in the first century was the fulfillment of the removal of the veil.
Paul’s teaching also opens up for us the words of Isaiah, “he will destroy death forever,” when he equates the swallowing up of death with our liberation from the condemnation of the law; “And when this which is corruptible clothes itself with incorruptibility and this which is mortal clothes itself with immortality, then the word that is written shall come about: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?,” and directly quotes from the prophet Hosea!
How and why is this death swallowed up, “For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” And so, the prophesy of Isaiah “The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from every face,” becomes the reality for the disciples of Christ. We also recall the later words of Isaiah, “Yet it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured. We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted, But he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed.” With our sin cast away as far as east is from west, the reason for our tears is wiped away. But this gives us much more a sense of the eschatological joy of reward received, whereas if we consider the words of Revelation as well, we also understand the ‘here and now’ sense of this part of our reflection. We have seen how the ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ and ‘Mt. Zion’ are the same, and how as Revelation affirms, this ‘mountain’ is the Church where God dwells with us and wipes our tears away. In Revelation we read, “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, [for] the old order has passed away.”
Isaiah says that on that day and in this mountain, “the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth.” On what day must that be? The day of our salvation, the Lords crucifixion. Where does God continue to remove the rebuke of His people? In that mountain, the Church. Where does God continue to have the sacrifice of His Son re-presented (the unbloody sacrifice of our Lord, the acceptable oblation of the Church)… at Mass!
Isaiah continues, “On that day it will be said: "Behold our God, to whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!" For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.” So it is that St. Paul is able to affirm for us, “hence, now there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” As every member resounds with worship and praise in the Eucharistic Celebration so too does every stone and timber of the Church resonate and amplify our voices. Heaven and earth meet on that ‘mountain’, in one voice to acclaim our praises and the Lord rejoices in our offering. It is just as the prophet Zephaniah said it would be, “The LORD has removed the judgment against you, he has turned away your enemies; The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst, you have no further misfortune to fear. On that day, it shall be said to Jerusalem: Do not fear, Zion, do not be discouraged! The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior. Who will rejoice over you with gladness, and renew you in his love, Who will sing joyfully because of you, as on festival days.”
So, here we gather in the ‘House of God’ as the mystical Body of Christ, with joyful hearts and minds to rejoice and glorify the name of God, in power and in the Holy Spirit and with much conviction…. To proclaim that we, too, have seen the salvation of our Lord. We come here [to the mountain, the New Jerusalem], to the only place on earth united with heaven, to forever praise you with a new song of praise. We are here with the angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven proclaiming God’s glory without end: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt caeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest, hosanna in the highest.
We are gathered at the source of the river of life where none who, according to the gift of faith and respond to the invitation to the banquet, encounter the living God and remain the same. As we are transformed, so to our relationships with others are change and through these, changed is effected throughout society and its structures. Our continuing transformation in and through the graces which flow from this celebration, and the Eucharist worthily received, can truly continue to in their relations with others, unchanged. As we are changed, our relationships are changed which effect change in society and its structures. Sacramentum Caritatis #70-97
In ancient Palestine, one of the social customs at wedding banquets was for the host to provide a festive garment for all the guests. There are only two possible reasons why a guest wouldn't have a wedding garment: either he sneaked in without being invited, or he didn't care about celebrating the wedding and just wanted enjoy the food and drink while doing his own thing. In either case, such a guest is not a guest at all - he has no relationship to the bride and bridegroom, and so he has no reason to be there. And so the king threw him out.
When we try to follow Christ without accepting his will and the teaching of his Church, we are trying to get in to the wedding banquet while refusing to put on the wedding garment. Christianity is not a self-help buffet where we can pick and choose according to personal preference; it's the revelation of God, and it requires humility, obedience, and trust.
The Church Militant is, and always will be, a Church of those who are sinners but who are also becoming saints. The early Christians were also aware that not everyone who received an invitation would remain as a guest because although everyone is invited to the party, some, will choose not to ‘put on Christ’ but rather remain as they were refusing to be formed and transformed. God expects that we reject the enemy and all his works, so as to live in the freedom of God’s children who refuse to be mastered by sin! Formation and transformation is not optional, we simply cannot willfully continue in our sinful ways.
St. Paul, the embodiment of one who was and continued to be transformed, believed that everything paled in significance when compared to his relationship with Christ. His priority was Jesus and his strength came from that relationship, empowering him to receive blessing and suffering with equal depths of joy. He lived his life and engaged in his ministry with ‘Holy Indifference’, filled as he was with desire for Christ. Paul understood that his contentment was not achieved by his own strength of will but through the gift of God in Christ Jesus. Paul’s example and challenging message has lost none of its significance over the centuries. Disciples, brothers and sisters of Christ, will possess joy and peace and the ability to cope with life’s challenges to the degree that they are authentically committed to and centered on Christ.
St. Paul intimately understood, the profound nature of the Eucharistic Celebration and its power to remake the world. The early disciples of Christ had no doubt about the power of the liturgy to form and transform us, even as we in our current imperfection enter in and offer our worship, because first and foremost it is a work of God. The feast of heaven and earth, as source and summit of faith, is of primary effect for the formation and transformation which is itself the process of “putting on” Christ. Through Baptism, the sacrament by which one is given access to the wedding banquet of the Lord, here and through the Sacrament of Forgiveness by which we gain a place at the Heavenly Banquet… we grow to be clothed in the spirit and teaching of Jesus.
Christ the King invites us to come to the House of God for the great feast of heaven and earth with every celebration of the Eucharist, where we can be formed and transformed and from where we will be sent as missionary disciples to form and transform the world.
Peace doesn't just happen; it's made.
CampusPadre is a college ministry Priest Chaplain with 30 years experience in youth and young adult ministry, who strives to let the Holy Spirit lead and challenges students to seek holiness above all.