October 13, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 25:6-10a) Reading II (Philippians 4:12-14,19-20)
Gospel (St. Matthew 22:1-14)
In the first reading today, from the book of the prophet Isaiah, we hear those beautiful words about the mountain of the Lord. About how on that holy mountain the Lord is going to provide for His people a feast of the choicest foods, the richest wines. He is going to destroy on that holy mountain the veil that veils all peoples. He will destroy death forever, Isaiah says.
We have to ask ourselves what exactly is the mountain that is being spoken of? In its context of course, the people would have looked to Mount Zion, to the place where the temple of the Lord was built, to the place where Jerusalem was built. Up on top of that mountain, there are actually several mountains there. Historically speaking the mountain that they actually called Zion has shifted. In other words, the mountain that is called Mount Zion today, is not the one that they called Mount Zion 2,000 years ago. The one they have called Mount Zion has actually changed a few times since then. It is all still right in the same neighborhood but actually different mountains. But at the time, Mount Zion would have been understood to be the place where the Lord’s house was built. It was the place where the city of David, the city of the chosen people of God was built. It was on this mountain that the people were going to come to find the richest foods and the choicest wines. It is on that mountain that death would be destroyed.
We ask ourselves about this temple of the Lord built on top of this holy mountain, who is that temple? Our Lord has told us that His Body is the temple. He is the temple. Beyond that we can look at the prophet Daniel when he speaks about the mountain of God. He tells us that there is going to be a small stone that will be hewn from a mountain, hewn not by human hands, but by God, and it will grow to become the largest mountain and fill the whole world. That mountain is the Church. The Church is Jesus Christ. And so the holy mountain to which we are to climb is Jesus, and it is the Lord Himself who is this feast. It is the Lord Who is the choicest food and the richest wine. It is the Lord Himself in His resurrection Who has destroyed death forever. He is the holy mountain that each one of us is called to. The mountain that each of us is to climb. The prophet Isaiah speaks, also toward the beginning of his work, at the beginning of chapter two, about this holy mountain. Here is what he says, “It shall come to pass in the latter days, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above all the hills, and all the nations shall flow to it and many peoples shall come and say: ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us His ways and we may walk in His paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations. and shall decide for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” That is Jesus Christ; He is the mountain of the Lord. He is the place where we are going to find peace. He is the judge of the nations; He is the One who has called all nations to Himself to be able to share in this banquet.
The Church teaches us about this banquet in the other readings we hear today. St. Paul, making very clear that as he has learned how to live in any kind of circumstance, because of the strength he receives in Christ; goes on then to tell the Philippians that God will supply all of their needs in His riches in Christ. God, of course, Who is the Creator of all, has all riches within Himself; but St. Paul tells us that those riches are Jesus Christ Himself. The riches that are ours, everything that God provides for us, He gives us in Christ. St. Paul is saying it does not matter whether I have lots of food, or if I am hungry. It does not matter if I have an abundance of earthly needs, or if I have none at all, as long as I have Jesus Christ. He is the richness of God. In Him is contained all riches. Everything that is beautiful and wonderful is contained in Jesus Christ.
We have everything in Christ, but how do we understand that? It is not just something that is kept at an arm’s distance; to be able to say that He is God and all riches are contained in Him, and so as long as we have Christ isn’t that wonderful. How does that apply to us subjectively? It applies very easily because we see it in the Gospel reading today. We see the king, who is God, giving a feast. He invites certain people to the feast, and those people do not come. He sends out his servants to call them again, and they excuse themselves. Some just walk away; one to his farm, one to his business, and the others, on the other hand, beat his servants and kill them. So he sends other servants out; first his army to destroy the murderers, that is the holy angels on the day of judgment, and then he sends out his servants to call anybody, good and bad, that they find to fill the banquet hall. That is us. We need to recognize that we are not the ones who were originally chosen. If there is anybody here who thinks that he or she is among the very best that this world has to offer, and therefore is worthy of being chosen by God to come to the banquet of His Son, then we are deluding ourselves. We are not the chosen ones. We are the ones who were out on the highways and byways, in the ditches. The ones the servants had to come and say, please come just to fill the wedding banquet hall. That is us. It is made very clear that we need to have the proper garments on. The proper garment is grace.
We must be in union with Jesus Christ in order to enter into the banquet, because the banquet is the wedding feast of the lamb. It is the wedding of the king’s son. On one level we know that it is the Church who is the bride of Christ, but because each one of us is a member of Christ, each one of us is a bride of Christ. Male or female it does not matter, because the soul takes the feminine, and our souls are united to Jesus Christ. He is the bridegroom of our souls. Each one of us is invited to the banquet and Jesus Himself is the banquet. It is not just to celebrate because we have been united to Christ, but that union with Christ means that He consumes us and we consume Him. He is the banquet upon which our souls are to feed. And it is not just a banquet that is awaiting us in heaven, it is a banquet which is already being prepared and provided now. Every time we come to Holy Communion, we celebrate the same wedding feast. We share already in the banquet.
We have in the most Blessed Sacrament, the choicest foods and the richest wines. We have in the Blessed Sacrament, the bread of life. Death is destroyed forever and our souls are made immortal. But also, we must approach this banquet only in the state of grace. If we do not have the proper wedding garment on, we are going to be thrown out into the darkness where we will wail and grind our teeth. No one, and I repeat, no one who dies in the state of mortal sin will go to heaven. No one who dies in the state of mortal sin will go to heaven. One must be in the state of grace at the moment of death to be able to enter into the eternal wedding banquet of the Lamb, and one must be in the state of grace to be able to receive Holy Communion. No one in the state of mortal sin may approach the Lord. It is a sacrilege to receive Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin, because we are not clothed in the proper wedding garments. We cannot come to the Lord and unite ourselves with Him, if we have cut ourselves off from Him through sin. We must be reconciled first. We must make sure that we always remain in the state of grace, so that our union with Christ, and our marriage with Christ, is complete and whole. So that when we come forward to celebrate that banquet, to consummate that union with Christ in Holy Communion, our soul is in the proper disposition. That is the feast that God provides on the Holy Mountain. The mountain is Christ. The feast is Christ. The temple is Christ. The teaching is Christ. It is all the Lord. It is the new mountain. It is the new Zion. It is the mountain of God.
St. Paul speaks about the dichotomy between the old covenant and the new, between the mountain of God at Sinai or Horeb, where He provided the Ten Commandments. It is where the people gathered around but were not allowed to come close to the mountain, and even if a beast were to touch the mountain, it needed to be stoned to death. It was a mountain upon which death was present. Then we have the distinction of the new covenant, Mount Zion, the new mountain where all of us are gathered. It is where we are called to climb the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. It is where we are called to the holy mountain of Jesus Christ; where we will be provided this rich feast; where death itself is destroyed; it is a mountain of life. Listen to what St. Paul says in his letter to the Hebrews from chapter twelve, “For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire, and darkness, and gloom, and a tempest, and the sound of trumpet, and a voice whose words made the hearers entreat that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.’ Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, ‘I tremble with fear.’ But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously then the blood of Abel.” That is the mountain to which you are invited. That is the wedding feast to which you are invited.
You are called to rejoice in God, with the assembly of the first-born, and with myriads of angels in festal garments. You are called to the place of the blood of Christ, more eloquent than the blood of Abel. You are not only called to be sprinkled with the blood, but to receive His blood, to receive His body, to have death destroyed within you, to come to the mountain of God, to receive life, because you unite yourself with the Author of life itself, Who is risen from the dead. You are called to the banquet of Jesus Christ; you are called to be the bride of Christ; and you are called to celebrate the wedding banquet on the top of the mountain of God, the mountain who is Jesus Christ. You are called to feast on the richest wines and the choicest foods. The wine and the food which is the Eucharist, which is Jesus Christ. This is your dignity. This is your call, but you must make sure that you are properly garbed in sanctifying grace, otherwise you will lose your feast at the wedding banquet, and be cast out into the darkness to wail and grind your teeth.
The Lord told us that many are called but few are chosen. The day is coming, as the Church is purified, when many who today call themselves Catholic will be found outside wailing and grinding their teeth because they refused to be obedient to Christ. They refused to come to the mountain and be taught; they refused to put on the wedding garment; and they come forward and sacrilegiously receive Our Lord, and they will be ruthlessly cut off. Many of those who are outside the Church today; many who are fundamentalists, and evangelicals, and protestants, and even pagans who do not know the Lord; they will come to the Holy Mountain. They will clothe themselves in sanctifying grace. They will confess their sins. They will be united with Christ in the wedding garment and in the wedding banquet. We have been invited. We have been called. Now the question is whether we are going to be chosen, and that choice is ours. It is to clothe ourselves in sanctifying grace, to be united in Christ, to be filled with His life and His love. It is to receive Him at the wedding banquet of the Eucharist, filled with grace, filled with love for God, to be called to the mountain of God. It is to be united with Him now in the Eucharist, so that we can be united with Him forever in the eternal banquet of the Lamb.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.