In our Mass readings this Sunday, we hear heaven likened to a wedding feast. From the prophet Isaiah, we learn that this feast will be fully satisfying. There will be the best of food and drink; there will life and happiness. At this feast, we will acclaim God as our Savior. And from Jesus' parable, we learn that are only options are this feast or eternal death. We also learn that this is a wedding feast, the wedding feast of the Son, and that we must arrive prepared. What does this mean?
Some further light on the parable is shed by the many biblical texts that refer to God as Bridegroom and his chosen people as Bride. In the New Testament, it is especially the Son who is the Bridegroom. In light of these texts, we can understand more fully what sort of wedding it is to which we are invited. It is none other than the wedding of Christ and the Church. Furthermore, although this particular parable refers to "guests," we should note that, in fact, there are no mere "guests" at the wedding of Christ and the Church, the eternal wedding that is heaven. All men and women who go to heaven will be there as members of the Bride.
This, in turn, helps us to understand what it means to arrive at this wedding in the proper garment. I have heard once or twice that part of the point of Jesus' parable is that such garments were customarily provided to guests, and therefore that the man who arrived not wearing one had no excuse. This point is underscored by one of the other New Testament texts about the wedding of Christ and the Church, from the book of Revelation. Remember again that the "guests" at the wedding are also - and even more so - the Bride. Thus, the garment of the guests is also the garment of the Bride. Then, note these words from Revelation: "The wedding day of the Lamb has come, his Bride has made herself ready. She was allowed to wear a bright, clean linen garment. The linen represents the righteous deeds of the holy ones."
When we consider the words "allowed to wear," and when we recognize that our "righteous deeds" must be attributed to God's grace, we must conclude that, indeed, God provides us with the garment that we must wear in order to be prepared for the wedding feast to which we are called as members of the Bride. At the same time, of course, we must freely cooperate with God's grace if we want to be admitted to the feast rather than cast down to hell.
The number of ways in which we must cooperate with grace in performing righteous deeds is equal to the number of kinds of righteous deeds that we might be expected to perform in the circumstances of our lives. But I would like to draw from our second reading, from St. Paul's letter to the Philippians, to mention one general type of righteous deed. Paul sincerely thanks the Philippians for their sacrificial care for him in his material need. But he first explains to them: "I know how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. ..." Only then does he add: "Still, it was kind of you to share in my distress." What is the meaning of his initial words of explanation?
Of course, Paul is saying, for one thing, that he can cope with material deprivation, because he needs only - and has - Christ. But, interestingly, he also writes that he knows how to live with abundance, and has learned the secret of being well fed, of living in abundance. One might think that there is little to know or learn about how to live with all that one needs. Perhaps the Philippians think that they need to be concerned for Paul's situation only because of his poverty. But Paul reminds us that, just as we do not know intuitively how to live in poverty, so we do not know intuitively how to live in wealth. We need to learn, from the Gospel, how to handle wealth.
We need to learn that, just as Christ is our "glorious riches" even in times of poverty, so Christ is the only riches that matter even in times of wealth. We cannot buy our own wedding garments; we must receive and cooperate with Christ's offer to us of the only acceptable ones. We must use such riches as we have in a way that cooperates with God's offer to us of righteousness, love, and holiness. We must use our material riches for generous service to others - and never exploit or even ignore others to gain or keep our riches. This is perhaps worth underscoring as we consider current events. Not all, but some, of the actions that have led to bank failures and financial losses and economic turmoil were actions at odds with the message of the Gospel. We ought to remember in this connection the words that Jesus speaks earlier in the Gospel about how hard it is for a rich man to enter heaven.
May God grant us, then, so to live in this world - especially, so to develop our attitudes toward, and actions regarding, material wealth - as to be fully prepared for the wedding feast that is heaven.