Thursday of the 20th Week in Ordinary Time
Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary Opening Mass
August 18, 2016
By Archbishop William E. Lori
It may seem a bit unusual to begin a new year of seminary formation with a reflection on a wedding feast. In fact, whether you are a new or returning seminarian, I doubt that you feel as though – you’ve been summoned to a wedding feast. And while I’m sure your evening meal was wonderful, I’d wager that no fatted calves met their demise in its preparation. So what does the wedding feast described in tonight’s Gospel have to do with you and with this seminary community as a new year of formation commences?
A good start to answering that question is to recall how important wedding feasts are in the Bible. The Bible begins and ends with reference to marriage. The OT prophets speak of God’s relationship with his people as a marriage and that is also how St. Paul describes the relationship of Christ and his Church. Jesus began his public ministry at the wedding feast of Cana, and in tonight’s Gospel, he describes the calling we have received to be his disciples as an invitation to a wedding feast. So we may say that this parable of Jesus is all about how we are to respond to the invitation the God the Father has given us to take our proper place at the joyous and life-giving wedding feast between his only Son and the Church, the people Jesus came to redeem and to make his own.
As we listened to Jesus’ parable, we might of thought it was a no brainer for the invitees to accept to the King’s invitation. Surely the people who received initial word about the wedding feast realized how important this invitation was – and they also knew that the king would be displeased if they ignored it. So when the king’s messengers came around with the “save the date” phase of the invitation – those who were invited agreed that they would indeed come to the wedding feast. But then they became preoccupied with their own pursuits and interests. So when the king’s messenger’s came a second time to summon them to the wedding feast, these people were, to say the least, annoyed. They rejected the invitation and they literally killed the messengers – and it did not end well for those invitees.
As in the parable, everyone is ultimately invited by the Father to be part of a spiritual marriage, a relationship of love, with his Son in the Church.
This is the vocation to love first received in the Sacrament of Baptism. When making their baptismal promises, people agree, in effect, to be a part of this great wedding feast between Christ and the Church, a feast in which they will be filled with the joy of loving as they have been loved. But what often happens? People often become preoccupied with their own pursuits, worries, and sins – and annoyed when they are reminded what they initially promised. They resist the very idea that they even need to be at the Lord’s wedding banquet because they feel that they are self-sufficient and because they don’t want moral demands placed upon them.
Truth to tell, your own vocational discernment did not begin with the priesthood. It actually began with a willingness to answer the call to holiness received in the Sacraments of Initiation. As Ezekiel prophesied, the Lord sprinkled clean water upon us in Baptism, to cleanse us from our all our impurities and all our idols – taking from us a heart that is stony and cold, and giving us instead a heart that pliable and open to his will indeed a heart that is open to a second invitation – to take a specific place in the wedding banquet hall of the Kingdom of God – in other words an invitation to accept our specific vocation in life. And it is this second and specific calling that you, as seminarians, are in the process of answering. When you were thinking about entering the seminary, there were messengers from God – maybe a parish priest, a vocation director, or people in your parish who told you that you’d make a good priest. There may have been days when you didn’t want to hear any of it, when such talk put you on the defensive or made your uncomfortable – but thankfully, you were kinder to these messengers than the people in the parable.
So now, as you enter the banquet hall of Christ’s sacrifice on the opening day of this new year of priestly formation, you might not yet be entirely sure where you place is but you surely do not want end up like the man without a wedding garment. Without getting too deep into the exegetical weeds, let’s just agree that the man without a wedding garment stands for those Christians whose conversion to the Lord remains stubbornly incomplete those who, in spite of every grace, are Christian in name only without really allowing themselves to be transformed by Christ’s redeeming love. And so, they show up at the banquet wearing clothes that are tattered and soiled by their daily preoccupations and sins when in fact the Lord is calling them to don their Sunday best.
If I may say so, the seminary is an ideal setting to ensure that your conversion to the Lord is wholehearted. Granted, conversion is a life-long process and you and I will always struggle to attain genuine holiness of life. Yet, our conversion to the Lord must be genuine, it must real, it must deep – our hearts must not be hard and cold but rather yield in faith to the Lord and to his love. Only then, can the formation that the seminary offers you – human, intellectual, spiritual, and pastoral – really hit home such that you will become priests after the mind and heart of Christ.
As we offer this Holy Sacrifice of the Mass let us ask for the grace to accept with wholeheartedly the invitations which the Lord is offering us and let us further ask for the grace to allow the Lord to shape and form our hearts according to his will in the year ahead.
Our Lady of the Mount: pray for us!
See more from Archbishop Lori here.