Thursday, October 30, 2014

Uncle Joe's in Heaven, right?

All Souls 2014

Every priest will have his own trove of anecdotes about funeral bloopers; some priests would recall the time when no one sitting in the pews (some presumably “Catholic”) seem to know what to do during a Catholic mass; many would remember the frequent number of times the funeral mass ends up becoming a mass of canonisation for the deceased (I knew this guy who didn’t mind that a funeral mass was denied to his uncle as long as he got the chance to deliver a eulogy he had rehearsed the previous night); still others often have to sit through a local Talentime show at the end of the mass as some niece or grandchild decides to give a violin rendition of “You Raise Me Up.” The icing that tops the cake is when the priest himself delivers a homily that assures the family that the deceased is doubtless in heaven since he was such a nice guy when he was alive. The discordant note that runs through all these experiences is the subtle absence of any mention about Purgatory.

Did we miss something? Well, I think that most families and funerals miss a step. Upon the death of a loved one there are often instant declarations that “they are in heaven” or “He is in a better place…” or “She’s gone home.” Of course such judgments are grossly presumptive and in making such declarations, people sit in the judgment seat that belongs only to Jesus. If I were to say, “Uncle Joe is in Hell” people would be rightly angry and say I was being “judgmental.” But of course those who say “Joe is in heaven” sit in the very same judgement seat and are also being “judgmental.” I guess, with Purgatory out of the way, we now think that God is such a nice guy that he just says, “Well, let’s let bygones be bygones. The bar is over here and the Jacuzzi is over there. Dinner is at seven. Enjoy!” In a sick sort of a way, such a perception condemns us - we are all doomed to be eternally entertained.

When hope that the deceased will enter into heavenly glory is conveyed as certainty, the funeral Mass becomes just another therapeutic moment of letting go rather than a Eucharistic offering to God, who does not wish us to let go but remain in communion with him and the deceased. After all, everyone who dies needs our prayers. Preaching instant sainthood thus comes with terrible consequences: it either sows unrealistic certainty or despair among survivors or it falsely assures us that no one really has “sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (cf. Rom 3:23). And if that is the case, what need is there for prayers for the dead, the grace of God, and the Church that offers it sacramentally?

There is one overpowering idea current in the “funeral industry” which has hijacked Catholic custom and teaching regarding funerals. It is that the funeral is for the living, therefore, their feelings and preferences matter most. You may be surprised to note that the Catholic funeral is not meant for this. Like any celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, the essential purpose of the funeral is the worship of God, the proclamation of the Gospel, and the celebration of the paschal mystery. Secondarily, the Mass is offered for the repose of the soul the deceased and should invite prayer for the judgment they face, and for their ultimate and happy repose after any necessary purification. The funeral is for the dead. Yes, there is the wake and this is for the living. We can have the toasts and the eulogies, and the pictures and the speeches, and even the songs, “Please Release Let me Go,” or the all time favourite, “You Raise Me Up” as we keep vigil at home or at the funeral parlour. But once at Church, we celebrate the mass for the dead. Not a celebration of life. It is time to pray for the dead. The sacred liturgy exists to glorify God, not man, to praise the Lord, not Uncle Joe.

The whole point of praying for the dead at all is purgatory! If the dead are in heaven they don’t need our prayers. Sadly, if they are in Hell, they can’t use them. It is those in purgatory that both need and can use our prayers. When Jesus says, “You must be perfect as the Heavenly Father is perfect,” (Mat 5:41) it is a promise, not a threat. And St. Paul reminds us that it is “God who has begun a good work in you (that will) bring it to completion.” (Phil 1:16). Most of us know, if we were to die today, that we are not perfect, and that God’s work in us is not complete. Purgatory therefore makes sense – it accords with the very nature of God who is both Just and Holy, and not one to the exclusion of the other.

I think that some people react negatively when purgatory is mentioned because they think that purgatory is a bad thing. The key to providing a corrective to this serious misconception is to see the beauty behind the doctrine of purgatory. In purgatory all remaining love of self is transformed into love of God.  As the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, “all who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (Catechism 1030)

We often speak of the pain of the fire of Purgatory; why do we do so? What is this fire, then, but the fire of love? This fire is the encounter with Christ Jesus himself, who is both Judge and Saviour, and this encounter with him is the moment of judgment. Pope Benedict explains this encounter with Jesus most powerfully: “Before his gaze all falsehood melts away. This encounter with him, as it burns us, transforms us and frees us, allowing us to become fully ourselves. All that we build during our lives can prove to be mere straw, pure bluster, and it collapses. Yet in the pain of this encounter, when the impurity and sickness of our lives becomes evident to us, there lies salvation. His gaze, the touch of his heart heals us through an undeniably painful transformation “as through fire.” … The pain of love becomes our salvation and our joy.”

As we ponder the beautiful understanding of purgatory, we must never forget the importance of praying for and having Masses offered for the repose of the souls of our loved ones. Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Mirae caritatis (1902) beautifully elaborated the connection between the communion of saints with the Mass: "The grace of mutual love among the living, strengthened and increased by the Sacrament of the Eucharist, flows, especially by virtue of the Sacrifice [of the Mass], to all who belong to the communion of saints. For the communion of saints is simply ... the mutual sharing of help, atonement, prayers, and benefits among the faithful, those already in the heavenly fatherland, those consigned to the purifying fire, and those still making their pilgrim way here on earth.”

And so while today’s liturgy is one of deep sadness as we mourn our beloved dead and pray for them, is also one of profound hope rooted in the love of God.  Let each of us, then, raise our prayers and offer our sufferings to the Father for the Souls in Purgatory. We know that our prayers on their behalf are beneficial to them because, no one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. We are all one in the Body of Christ. Therefore, let us keep ever in mind the words of St. Ambrose: “We have loved them in life; let us not forget them in death.”

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

City of God

All Saints 2014

‘In one city the whole world perished,’ so wrote the 5th c. Doctor of the Church, St Jerome. In the year 410 AD, the Visigoths sacked Rome. For the people of late antiquity, August 24 of that year was even more traumatic than September 11 was for us. Rome, the capital of the greatest empire the world had ever known, was plundered by barbarians, the subjugated uncivilised hordes of the north had now turned on their masters. The Eternal City, which until then was thought to be impregnable had fallen to “unorganised” forces which were considered inferior to the legendary imperial forces, and this sent out ripples of panic and despair throughout the entire empire. Many Romans fled to North Africa for safety. There, in Hippo, an important coastal town in what is now Algeria, the local bishop, Saint Augustine, was inspired to write one of his seminal works, The City of God. Augustine, just like Jerome, felt he had lost his bearings with news of the collapse of Rome. Once Rome had gone, what sense was to be made of the world? In the reflections that he would record in his book, he would find the answer – the fall of the City of Man does not mean the end of the City of God.

According to St Augustine, the City of Man, which went beyond Rome but encompasses our earthly existence, is shaped by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; whereas the City of God is shaped by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. In describing the two cities, St Augustine reiterated Jesus' teaching that while Christians live in the City of Man, they do not belong to the City of Man. Their presence in the earthly city is like that of strangers sojourning in a foreign country. We are to enjoy the blessings the City of Man has to offer, including its rights, its protection, and its preservation of order, but we are always ready to move on. The City of Man is not our true home. No, our true home is in the City of God. And it is to that city that we owe our affections and our ultimate loyalty.

The Feast which we celebrate today invites us to cast our vision on the City of God, the Heavenly Jerusalem, therein dwells the Saints, the rightful citizens of Heaven, who in this earthly life lived the Beatitudes, and now in the next, enjoy beatific vision of the Almighty. The gospel that we read at every Solemnity of All Saints points to the heavenly lenses by which we are to view this earth. The Beatitudes provide us indeed with a paradoxical inversion of how things are normally perceived. How could poverty, loss, suffering, meekness, persecution be deemed blessings and cause for supreme happiness? Again, the great Doctor of the Church St Augustine provides us the answer, “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.” When we are busy clutching the diamonds, treasures and baubles of the City of Man, our earthly and temporary existence, we may have no place to receive the far greater treasures which God wishes to give to us out of the coffers of his Heavenly Kingdom. What is considered despicable and offensive in the City of Man, is revealed to be truly beautiful in the City of God.

So where is the blessedness that comes from the Beatitudes? In all honesty, the claim by Jesus is counter-intuitive for us humans, because every one of the statements at least implies, if not asserts, some kind of hardship, heavy load, or deep self-discipline. But these are the kinds of things in which one engages when one enters that narrow gate and the straight and narrow road which leads to life rather than the broad highway which leads to destruction.

Whereas the City of Man preaches that you have to be rich in order to be happy, Jesus counsels poverty of spirit, profound humility in trusting the Providence of God, and thus truly become heirs of the treasures of the City of God.
Whereas the City of Man sells us the lie that happiness means not having a care in the world, Jesus speaks of the blessedness of those who “mourn”, those who are not insulated from the pains and sufferings of this world, for they would truly know and come to appreciate the consolation and comfort from the next. Again, St Augustine in the City of God writes, “What grace is meant to do is to help good people, not to escape their sufferings, but to bear them with a stout heart, with a fortitude that finds its strength in faith.”
Whereas the world promotes strength, power and self-absorption as conditions for happiness, Jesus provides us the Kingdom paradigm of meekness and purity.
Whereas the City of Man often advocates watching our backs, the City of God is filled with denizens who watch each other’s back, as they thirst and hunger for righteousness and justice.
Whereas the City of Man functions on the basic principle of retributive justice, getting even with those who hurt us, the City of God abides by the twin principles of mercy and peace.
Finally, where the City of Man provides us with the narcissistic platform for self-expression, where popularity is the most coveted commodity, the City of God promises blessings to those who readily accept the cross and are persecuted for righteousness’ and Christ’s sake.

Don’t ever mistake that the Beatitudes are just an abstract code of behavior. In the end, Jesus does not merely speak the Beatitudes. He lives the Beatitudes. He is the Beatitudes. Looking at him you will see what it means to be poor in spirit, gentle and merciful, to mourn, to care for what is right, to be pure in heart, to make peace, to be persecuted. He is the new "code of holiness" that must be imprinted on hearts, and that must be contemplated through the action of the Holy Spirit. His Passion and Death are the crowning of his holiness. We’re called, too, not just to hear the beatitudes, not just to live the beatitudes, but to be the beatitudes. The beatitudes describe both the face of Christ and the face of a Christian, the face of one striving with God’s help to become a saint.

His life therefore becomes a constant invitation to share in the life of holiness. The Saints remind us that there is always a choice to be made, a choice between two voices competing for our hearts even now, the choice between good and evil, between life and death. Whenever we choose to live a life of holiness in union with Christ, whenever we are called to live the Beatitudes, we are choosing to reject the claims of evil, no matter how sensible or attractive they may seem. Therefore, holiness is a way of life that involves commitment and activity. It is not a passive endeavor, but rather a continuous choice that requires a radical change in mindset and attitude. The acceptance of the call to holiness places God as our final goal in every aspect of our lives. We are indeed children of the City of God!

This does not mean that we can isolate ourselves from the City of Man. We can never retreat into our sanctuaries and neglect our civic responsibility to help set the moral tone of our culture. Leaving your neighbor in ignorance of his folly is inconsistent with the command to love him, and so political and cultural engagement are required for faithful believers. We are to bring the influence of the City of God into the City of Man, working for justice and righteousness. Getting this right starts with the paradox Augustine taught: The best citizens of the City of Man are those who remember that their true citizen ship is in the City of God.

As we picture the glorious capital of the Empire, the Eternal City, Rome, going up in smoke, its magnificent monuments being reduced to rubble by the invading marauders, we once again hear the call of St Augustine cast our vision upon a greater city, the Heavenly City, the true Eternal City, “The Heavenly City outshines Rome beyond comparison. There, instead of victory, is truth; instead of high rank, holiness; instead of peace, felicity; instead of life, eternity.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Love is the Law

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Those of you who had lived through the heydays of the Beatles in the 1970s, may or may not remember another American band called the Suburbs. The popularity of the Suburbs certainly came nowhere close to their legendary counterparts from across the Atlantic, but still had a considerable influence in the late 1970s through the 1980s. The Suburbs’ best-known song is easily “Love is the Law,” a single that was also the title track of their 1983 album. Though the popularity of “Love is the Law” endured long after the band’s activities died down, it wasn’t until last year that frontman and writer of that song, Chan Poling, revealed the inspiration behind the song. Those who had wished for a scriptural reference or inspiration would certainly be disappointed by this revelation. It was just a graffiti spray painted into an overpass during a time of sexual experimentation and liberation. It is no wonder that “Love is the Law” was used as the anthem for the same-sex marriage bill being signed into law into America last year, the song has more meaning now than ever.

Love is such a big word.  It covers a gamut of definitions and means something different to most everyone. But Christ brought an entirely new and radical meaning to the word. In him, we come to understand that love is more than an emotion, a choice, a commitment or an attitude. Love is a person. His name is Jesus Christ. If we want to know what love means, therefore, we must look at Jesus Christ. Love is not just sweet platitudes. Love is a person, not just any person, but God, who forsook his divinity in order to take on our humanity. Yes, love is a person who has laid down his life for us, and by doing so, demonstrates to us the true depths and most profound meaning of that love. This is how Paul describes Christ’s love. “For at the very time when we were still powerless, then Christ died for the wicked. Even for a just man one of us would hardly die, though perhaps for a good man one might actually brave death; but Christ died for us while we were yet sinners, and that is God’s own proof of his love towards us” (Rom. 5:6-8).

If you still remember, Jesus had survived last week’s trap set by the Jewish leaders concerning the legitimacy of paying taxes to the Roman Emperor. One of the scribes, having heard Jesus' responses, decides to offer a question of his own. Recognising the quality of Jesus' knowledge, he asks a question about a foremost matter, a major topic of rabbinical debates. “which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” Now this may seem like a silly kindie’ level question to many of us, but for the Jews of Jesus’ time, it was a real challenge to discern which of the supposed 613 (some would say 615, and still others would put the number in the thousands) laws or commandments was indeed the most important one. Any sense of direction had fallen victim to the maze of countless commandments and numerous enumerations. Now, Jesus restores the priorities in no uncertain terms.

Love of God before anything else, as the response of the entire person to God’s total self-giving covenant: love him with your mind, yes, but on a deeper level, with your heart, and incorporating both, with all your soul. In other words, it is loving God with our entire being. Nothing is to be held back. Love doesn’t allow for a compartmentalisation that reserves certain sections of our lives. Neither is this love compromised even in the face of the love we have to offer someone, for example, a wife’s love for her husband or a husband’s love for his wife, or their love for their children and vice versa. The love of neighbour can never take precedence over love of God. In all instances, love of God must come first in its totality.

If we have given everything to God, then how can we make sense of the second part of the Great Commandment, to love our neighbour as ourselves? Here, Jesus, who is both God and man, joins the love of God and the love of neighbour inseparably for eternity. Loving those around us is not competition for our undivided love of God. Rather loving our neighbour is evidence of our love for God. And no exceptional standard of ethics and morality can be valid without love of our neighbour.

But Jesus does not stop there. In what is probably the most striking part of his answer to the question, he makes all the other laws and the prophets’ explications of them dependent on this double commandment as the norm and standard for all morality. It is first and greatest in that it represents the heart-beat of all the commandments. Love moves the Christian beyond the letter of the law by doing “more”, and never “less.” Jesus here erects the fundamental structure for all Christian ethics. It’s not about being good, or neighbourly, or just being nice, it’s always about love. Love indeed is the Law. Some people make the mistake of pitting love against law, as if the two were mutually exclusive. You either have a religion of love or a religion of law. But such an equation is profoundly untenable as it finds no basis in Sacred Scripture. For starters, “love” is a command of the law. Conversely, if you tell them law doesn’t matter, then neither does love, which is the summary of the law. Furthermore, for Jesus there is no love for him apart from keeping the law. But he says even more than this. Jesus connects communion with God with keeping commandments. This is because God’s law is an expression of his loving grace.

Unlike what the song “Love is the Law” suggests, love does not mean licentiousness, a celebration of anarchy, or a carefree plunging into sinful behaviour. Some people today understand “love” as merely a happy feeling of friendliness or good will.  They think that, provided they feel good about the idea of God, they may do as they please. Jesus’ teaching on the Great Commandment and his own demonstration by his sacrifice on the cross demolishes the myth. As anyone who serves others out of love knows, we can only love when we are prepared to undergo a death to the self, to the flesh. Those who indulge their own flesh are not the ones who tend to serve others. Thus, our freedom in Christ is not merely a freedom from the enslavement to the world, and certainly not freedom from the enslavement of the Law, but a call to a new type of service, the responsibility to serve others out of love. It is the opportunity to love God with our entire being, heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbour without hindrance, the possibility of creating human communities based on mutual self-giving rather than the quest for power and status. Licentiousness, on the other hand, perverts God’s grace by insisting that we can live without conscience or moral convictions.

Through this two-fold Great Commandment, Jesus provides us with wise directions to navigate between two dangerous pitfalls. On the one side, Jesus directs us beyond legalism, which always tries to settle for the minimal requirements of the law, by reminding us that true communion with God demands not just a portion of our attention and love, but everything. On the other side, he leads us beyond an irresponsible idea of freedom, a licentious permissiveness, by indicating that there is no contradiction between the Law of Christ and Love. If we say that we truly love God, then we must obey Him in every way and not just be contented with having good feelings or wishes.  And finally, loving God empowers us and frees us to love other people, without the usual strings attached. The demand of love reminds us that we should never settle for a minimum concern for neighbours, but instead go the extra mile, to give without expecting anything in return and finally even to emulate the example of Our Lord, to lay down of our lives for the other, for which there is no greater love.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Give back to God what belongs to God

Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Our Holy Father, Pope Francis may be the darling of the secular press, but he isn’t the only Pope that had engaged the secular media on their turf. In 2012, the year before his shocking resignation, Pope Benedict was approached by the Financial Times to write a Christmas piece. The Pope wrote about Christian life in the world. It is a life that did not begin in the agora, the public market place, the public forum of man, but rather a life that began in Bethlehem. The Pope began his article with the words of Jesus we just heard read from today’s gospel, “give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.”

That famously cryptic comment serves as a reminder of the question-mark that hangs over life, especially the relationship between religion or Church, and the State or government.  Over the centuries, many Christians have based their attitudes toward government on this passage. Some have thought that Jesus' statement establishes two separate realms, Caesar's and God's, and that people should render to each what they ask for in their respective realms. This interpretation strikes many modern persons as obviously correct, given the problems we witness when religion is subjugated by the State as a state ideology that colours every aspect of public life.  Yet in their historical context, these words of Jesus had little to do with taxation or political authority in general, what more of Church-State relation.

Jews in the first century paid several taxes: tithes to the Temple, customs taxes, and taxes on land. The people identified as Jesus' opponents were not questioning taxes in general. Their question was more specific: " Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" The question could be seen in the light of a growing nationalism that resented the dominance of a foreign colonial power as well as the potential problem of idolatry. You have to understand that Caesar, the emperor of Rome, was not only the head of an imperial domination system, but also the principal deity of an official state promoted religion. Julius Caesar was the first historical Roman to be officially deified. He was posthumously granted the title Divus Iulius (the divine Julius or the deified Julius) by decree of the Roman Senate. Divus Iulius was not a secondary god, but was made equivalent to the highest God of the Roman Empire, Jove.

The gospel story begins with a Pharisee complimenting Jesus for his honesty, integrity and ability to communicate the message of God authentically. It doesn’t take a genius to realise that this is just an attempt to fatten the prize cow before the kill. The question that follows is a trap, “Is it permissible to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” The hated tax was a humiliating symbol of subjugation and where the Pharisees resisted it, the Herodians who were Roman collaborators, favoured the tax. If Jesus supported paying tribute to the colonial masters he would be discredited as a prophet, on two accounts, for being disloyal to the nationalist cause as well as idolatry. If however, he argued against paying the tax, it would be an act of sedition, and we know how this is effectively being used in this country to silence critics and detractors. It’s a Catch 22 situation, “damn if you do, damn if you don’t.”

But “Jesus was aware of their malice” and denounced their hypocrisy. He then ingeniously asked them to produce a coin. Now this an embarrassing exposé – why were these sanctimonious puritans in possession of such a coin? They, who had denounce others for their idolatry and turn-coat collaboration with the colonial authorities, were themselves guilty of possessing a coin that was blasphemous – it possessed a graven image of a self-declared Emperor-God. It is here that we hear those classic words, “give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar – and to God what belongs to God.”

According to Pope Emeritus Benedict, “Jesus’ answer deftly moves the argument to a higher plane, gently cautioning against both the politicisation of religion and the deification of temporal power, along with the relentless pursuit of wealth. His audience needed to be reminded that the Messiah was not Caesar, and Caesar was not God. The kingdom that Jesus came to establish was of an altogether higher order. As he told Pontius Pilate: “My kingship is not of this world.” Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers, Cabinets and Sultans think they are sacral powers and claim divine attributes; Jesus demystifies this sacrility. God alone is Lord and earthly rulers at most receive a divine stewardship under which they are to ensure political order by God’s commission. For realising this Christians will pay a bloody price. Christians have faced and continue to face martyrdom, persecution and marginalisation for refusing to give to Caesar what belongs ultimately to God.

Thus, “(give) to God what belongs to God” is the answer to the first part of the riddle, “give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar.” Needless to say, everything belongs to God, because man is created according to God’s image, not Caesar’s, and because God is Ruler over all earthly kings. According to Pope Benedict, “if the image of Caesar was stamped on Roman coins which for this reason were to be rendered to him, the human heart bears the imprint of the Creator, the one Lord of our life,” and thus has to be rendered wholly to God.

Nevertheless, Caesar does have rights.  We owe civil authority our respect and appropriate obedience.  But that obedience is limited by what belongs to God.  Caesar is not God.  Only God is God, and the state is subordinate and accountable to God for its treatment of human persons, all of whom were created by God.  This has implications of how Christians should view political life. First, all political leaders draw their authority from God.  We owe no leader any submission or cooperation in the pursuit of grave evil.  In fact, we have the duty to change bad laws and resist grave evil in our public life, both by our words and our non-violent actions.  The truest respect we can show to civil authority is the witness of our Catholic faith and our moral convictions, without excuses or apologies. Second, in democracies, we elect public servants, not messiahs. It’s quite clear from recent events in our country, that our political leaders all possess, without distinction, feet of clay.  Thus, no politician, policy or law should be above the critique of faith and morals.

The “separation of Church and state” does not mean – and it can never mean – separating our Catholic faith from our public witness, our political choices and our political actions.  It is certainly a mistake to think that in his reply Jesus is dividing life into two spheres, the secular and the sacred, as so many people have supposed. That kind of separation would require Christians to deny who we are; to repudiate Jesus when he commands us to be “leaven in the world” and to “make disciples of all nations.”  That kind of radical separation privatises our faith and steals the moral content of a society. It would require us to live schizophrenic existence, as part-time Christians, which is wholly untenable.

In the last two months, the celebration of Hari Merdeka and Malaysia Day, are potent reminders of our citizenship in this country. But today, we are reminded by the gospel that we serve Caesar best by serving God first. We honour our nation best by living our Catholic faith honestly and vigorously, and bringing it without apology into the public square and its debates.  We are citizens of heaven first.  We are called to live in his world, but ultimately, we do not belong to the World. But just as God so loved the world that he sent his only son, so the glory and irony of the Christian life is this:  The more faithfully we love God, the more truly we serve the world.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Poured out ... For Many

Twenty Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Changes, especially when it affects us personally, are often difficult to accept. My entry into this parish coincided with a big change in the new translation of text of the Mass, largely affecting the English speaking world. I know personally of many priests who grumbled at the archaic sounding, long and clumsy sentences, often with hardly a punctuation to help us catch our breath, and others who eulogised the introduction of a new translation that was profoundly more theological and closer to the original Latin. The debate continues with bated breath, some resisting, some delaying, whilst others in open rebellion, simply refusing to use the new text. A significant change is the words of Christ in the institution narrative, while the Chalice is being lifted, from the former “shed for you and for all so that sins may be forgiven,” to the present “poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

The most noticeable revision in these lines is the replacement of "for all" with "for many." It raises the controversial and troubling question, “Does that mean that the Church is saying that Christ did not die for all?” Certainly, this is not the intention of the Church, and certainly she has no desire to change scriptures, especially the belief that Christ is “the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:2). But perhaps, the real reason is not a matter of translation or semantics, but rather one of having one of our most popular beliefs exposed as a myth at best, and a lie at worst. Without a doubt, the new translation shakes the widespread belief, which is not confined to uncatechised laity but also of clerics and religious too, that salvation is virtually assured to all men and women, regardless of their religious faith. In other words, hell doesn’t exist, and “all” (and I would add “and sundry”) are assured a place in heaven. Being confident that we are assured of our salvation, despite our many failings and a mountain of sin, is delusional and presumptuous.

At the most basic level, "for many" is a faithful translation of the original Latin phrase, “pro multis.” Moreover, scripture would lend support to use of “many” instead of “all. For example, the Prophet Isaiah (53:12) prophesied that the Messiah would take away "the sins of many," and Christ Himself also said His Blood would be shed for "many" (Mt 26:28, Mk 14:24). This does not mean that Christ did not die for the sake of all humanity, for that is indisputable from Scripture. Rather, it upholds the reality that each individual must also accept and abide in the grace won by Christ in order to attain eternal life. The recovery of the wording, "for many," affirms that salvation is not completely automatic. The words “for many” more accurately suggest that while Christ's redemptive suffering makes salvation available to all, it does not follow that all men are saved. Our salvation is contingent upon us making the correct respond to God’s invitation to the heavenly banquet.

In today’s parable of the Wedding Banquet, we have just heard the perfect illustration of this point. To understand the nature of the feast, we have to look at the first reading, where the Prophet Isaiah describes the feast of joy as one marking the End Times. It is the Feast of Judgment. Note that in the Isaian prophecy, not only Israel but all nations are invited to it. The veil of sadness that has covered the Gentiles is now lifted, indeed, all grounds for mourning, even death, have vanished. The Old Testament picture of this feast has no shadow. In contrast, the New Testament, or today’s gospel image, is covered with many shadows.

In the parable, the King, which is none other than God the Father, is holding a feast on the occasion of his Son’s wedding. The Book of Revelation (19:7) describes this as the Wedding of the Lamb, where the Son– Lamb-Bridegroom, who by means of his perfect sacrifice on the cross, brings about the marital union with the Church-Bride. We can see in this image our own Eucharistic celebration which is an anticipation of the Heavenly Banquet. And so the king sends out his servants to announce his invitation, “Come to the wedding!” But not all respond positively. And it is here that we see how the parable combines two stories. The first has to do with the original guests invited to the feast.  However, they offer an insult to the King and his heir by declining the invitation. They put their own interests above his.  The second part of the story focuses on those who would never have considered getting such an invitation.  When the first group rejected the invitation, the servants were asked to go out into the streets to collect the “good and the bad.” This is an invitation of grace - undeserved, unmerited favour and kindness!  But this invitation also contains a warning for those who approach the wedding feast unworthily.  You need to be appropriately “dressed.”

The parable points to two forms of scorning the invitation to accept the King’s invitation to the banquet, and thus God’s supreme gift of salvation. The first form is indifference: those invited care nothing for the grace offered them – they have better things to do, their earthly business is more pressing. How often have I heard the excuse that people have no time to come to Church, that they are tired, that their children have to be ferried to tuition, that they wanted to spend quality time in the shopping malls or were busy arranging for a holiday on a Sunday. The second form of unworthiness, contrasting with the indifference of the invited guests, is that of the man who strolls into the banquet, and perhaps in our context, coming for for the Eucharistic celebration, dressed as if entering a pub or going to the beach.

Some would protest on his behalf. Why should he get dressed up? Shouldn’t the King be happy that he had come at all? This is where we see the truth of that adage, “familiarity breeds contempt.” Rather than realising that we are coming into the presence of the King of Kings, the Ruler of the cosmos, we quite often witness the greatest contemptuous familiarity by our lackadaisical behaviour. But the story certainly points to more than mere church attire. The Church constantly cautions us that we should receive communion only in a state of grace; for to receive Christ unworthily in a state of serious or mortal sin would transform what was originally a blessing into a curse.

It is true that God bestows things on us without measure. It is true that He wishes the salvation of all. It is certainly the gospel truth that Christ died not just for a few but for all. But it is not true, that we can presume that such salvation is guaranteed without any effort on our part, without any true conversion of the heart, without any transformation, conversion and sacrifice that comes from the core of our being. God bestows the grace of salvation and offers it to all of us, but now we must be willing to give ourselves entirely to him, without calculating, without stinginess. With much grace comes greater responsibility.

The kingdom of God is a feast – and we are all bidden to come to the feast. But the invitation to the feast is never forced. The invite can be set aside and past over due to daily concerns and sin. The point is that though men suppose they highly prize the thought of sharing in God’s kingdom, they may in fact be rejecting appeals to enter it. But God continues to appeal to us to join in the feast. Day by day, week by week, and year by year, as we go through life, we are weaving the garment that we shall wear for this great Wedding Banquet. It is the garment that had been given to us at our baptism, where we, as St Paul reminds us, have “put on Christ.” It is the garment that is strengthened and fortified by the Sacraments of the Church. It is the garment that is knitted together with all the tears of sorrow for our sins and tears of joy at the reconciliation with our brethren. It is also the garment that is adorned with the jewels of virtue and good deeds. Are you ready to feast at the Lord's banquet table or have you come improperly dressed?