Thursday August 18, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Judges 11:29-39a) Gospel (St. Matthew 22:1-14)
There are a couple of points of importance that we have to look at here in the readings today. In the first, coming out of the first reading, we hear about Jephthah making this vow to the Lord that he would kill whoever comes out of his house to meet him if he is successful in his battle against the Ammonites.
Well, first of all, we need to understand that unless there is a public vow that is witnessed, there is nothing that is binding. This is very important because sometimes, like Jephthah probably, we get ourselves into these situations and we tell Our Lord or Our Lady something that we are not going to be able to do: “If this happens, I’ll pray twenty-five rosaries everyday for the rest of my life,” or whatever it might be. Then, all of a sudden, we find we cannot fulfill that, and we might think we are in some serious trouble. But the fact of the matter is that there is nothing binding with a promise or a vow like that. If, on the other hand, there is a public vow – for instance, the vows of religion, the vows of marriage, things like that – those are binding because they are made publicly and they are witnessed. Those are binding for life or for the amount of time for which the particular vow would be made. We need to keep that distinction very clear, so if we get ourselves into a situation like that we realize we are not held bound by something that we made in some sort of emotional state or whatever it might be.
The other thing, of course, is that we are never bound to anything which is sinful. Even though we look at dealing with our superiors, we say, “Obedience in all things but sin.” And so this point of obedience, which is extraordinarily difficult for us as human creatures in the first place, has its limitation. In this case, he was offering to violate the Fifth Commandment; he wanted to kill somebody. Therefore, once again, it had no binding force because it was something that was in violation of the law of God. Again, we see what God does; He just says, “Well, if this is what you intend. You have such little regard for human life that what you really are thinking is you are going to kill whichever one of your servants comes out of the house, so we’ll have your daughter come out.” This was someone who in his mind had human dignity, but the rest of his household did not. And so this is the point God is making to him, to recognize that if one person has dignity and we are all created equal then we all have equal dignity. If you strip the human dignity from everybody else in your household then you strip the dignity from your own children, as well as from your spouse and from your own self. There are lots of little lessons that God is putting forth for us in this reading.
The other thing we need to recognize with regard to the point of the dignity is in the Gospel reading; the fact that, number one, Our Lord tells us that heaven is a marriage banquet. As we have spoken many times, the fact is that marriage is so denigrated in our society, and even among Catholics. There are many people who have the idea that marriage is a lesser vocation: “If I can’t be a priest or a nun then I guess I’ll have to settle for being married.” That is nonsense. Marriage is a vocation, it is a call to holiness, and it requires saints to be able to live it. We see that heaven is a marriage banquet. That is exactly what Scripture tells us. So if marriage is a lesser sort of thing, what does that say about heaven? Are we going to suggest that heaven is somehow “less than” because it is about a marriage and our souls are going to be united with God in something that marriage symbolizes in this world? No. Marriage is extraordinarily dignified.
But then we need to look a little further and see how all of this needs to be done. All of the guests have come. If there is somebody who is there that is not properly dressed, they are thrown out. So even though everybody in the world is invited, many of them have all kinds of excuses for why they do not want to come: because they want to sin, because they want to do their own thing, because they have chosen self or Satan over God, whatever their reasoning might be. But then there are those who say, “Oh, yeah, I want to go to heaven…but I don’t want to have to do anything to get there.” They do not have on a wedding garment, which is sanctifying grace. If we are not in the state of sanctifying grace when we die, we cannot enter into heaven. We will have no part of the marriage banquet, and the marriage banquet is none other than the Lamb of God Himself.
So we need to make sure we keep ourselves out of sin and in the state of grace always. If something happens that we should fall, get to Confession right away. Do not put it off six months or a year or whatever it might be that many people tend to do; get there right away, get back in the state of grace, keep the prayer life up, and continue to grow. That is what Our Lord is seeking. He invited the good and the bad, so even if we look at it and say, “I’m not worthy,” it is true, we are not. No one is. But God can make us worthy. He is the One Who can give us the grace if we are willing to humble ourselves to be able to accept it, to be able to accept His mercy and His forgiveness, and to be able to confess our sins and be forgiven. That is all He is asking of us, to confess our sins and to change our lives, to repent and to sin no more. That is what He is seeking. He will do everything else if we are willing to do just that little bit: to confess our sins, to really try to stop sinning, to amend our lives, to truly repent of what it is that we have done.
This is the dignity we are called to: to be saints, to be clothed in the life of God Himself, in sanctifying grace, so that we will be found worthy to be the spouse of the Lamb, to enter into that eternal marriage banquet where Jesus is not only the Spouse of our souls, but He is the banquet upon which we will feast for all eternity.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.