In The Church - No One Is Excluded
Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
My dear encountered couples:
Today’s gospel reading tells us that God has prepared a banquet, sent out the invitations and thrown the doors wide open. It's a matter of coming on in. But the question is, “why do some of our brothers and sisters fail to enter or come in”?
The answer to that question is because some of our brothers and sisters do not like what God has put on the menu – or what they imagine he has. They demand the right to set the menu themselves. One way we see that today is in wanting the Church to become a Western style democracy.
Please do not get me wrong. Like most of you, I take it for granted that a democratic political system (one person, one vote) is the best. But democracy would not be the best kind of Church.
Consider what would happen if the Church were to put her teachings up to a vote. It could be, for example, that the majority consider the prohibition of adultery to be outdated or in need of greater nuance. Could we then reduce the Commandments to nine? Hardly! The deepest reality of the Church is not the assembly or the congregation in itself. Most profound is that she is the bride of Christ and her glory is to have a spouse to whom she can totally submit. What she teaches – she has received from him, and she has no authority to change those teachings.
A teaching which is hard for us as Americans is the all-male priesthood. But we should notice that the pope did not say, “I have decided not to ordain women,” but simply that the Church has no power to do so.
The Church then is not a democracy in the sense of putting her teachings to a popular vote. However, I wish to point out two different senses in which the Church truly is a democracy. The first is fairly obvious from the fact that you are here this evening. You made a free choice – or at least you knew that if you did not come I would not be sending out a police car to pick you up. Nor can I levy a tax. Whatever you place in the Sunday offering, you do freely and I cannot call you in for an audit. Nor can I force you to volunteer, although some of you have said I bended your arm a little bit. The fact is the people in the pew have the ultimate power. A priest, a bishop, even the pope can only administer what you entrust to us. In that sense the Church is a true democracy.
But there is another, much deeper sense. Our democracy includes all those who have ever been part of the Church as well as those alive now. The Holy Spirit not only acts in every living Christian who is in the state of grace, but has acted in all who have ever lived. In expounding Catholic doctrine, the pope and bishops must be attentive to present workings of the Spirit, but also to the past.
We have become so used to government by opinion polls that the idea of taking into account what people believed in the past can seem strange, even reactionary. If you asked American Catholics whether women should be ordained most would say, “Sure, why not?” We tend to look at it as just one more civil rights issue.
Of course, at the time of Jesus, there were religions with women priests. He had some talented – and wealthy female disciples. But for the priesthood he did not choose any of them – even his own mother who certainly had the highest spiritual qualifications. His decision did not imply a reduction of dignity or rights for woman. In fact, historically, Christianity has done the most to promote that dignity. But that is another story.
Perhaps I have said too much about a subject beyond our control. However, there is an important spiritual issue at stake: not just our loyalty and integrity as members of Christ's Church. The great danger is envy. Ironically it is one of our big sins today. Even though we have more material advantages and more opportunities than practically any other society in history, we are constantly drawn into envy.
We compare ourselves with other people and become dissatisfied with our lot in life. If only I had what he has; he's got it so easy (remember the parable of the vineyard workers who arrived at different hours).
Back in the seventeenth century St. Francis of Sales observed that spiritual dissatisfaction. “Those who are not married, wish they were. And those who are married wish they were single.” He asked where this universal dissatisfaction came from. It is the failure to recognize that the human heart can never be filled with what this world offers?
You know what our problem is? It is not that our desires are too great, but they are so small. We are like the child who goes with his parents to a finest and expensive restaurant in Los Angeles. The menu has such delicious plates: prime rib, prawns, grilled oysters, salmon. But the child says, “I want a hamburger!”
That is the way we are. We cannot imagine what God has to offer us so we fix our attention on second rate stuff. And if God in his mercy deprives us of that, we accuse him of being unfair.
But he is not. In fact, He has prepared the richest possible banquet for us. But rather than come in and enjoy, we just sit outside guarding our day old, soggy Big Mac - and envying the guy who happens to have some cold fries. All the while we detect the aroma of an abundant banquet.
I know you do – because in an unguarded moment – you revealed your painful secret. But you have to trust me or rather together we must trust God - and let go of the wretched stuff we keep grasping. You have to trust that inside is everything you need and more than you ever desired even in your most extravagant moments.
And do not worry about how you are dressed. Right at the entrance you will see the changing room with festive garments of all sizes. No one is excluded – except by stubborn pride. Folks, now is the time to come in!