HOMILY WEEK 34 04 – Year II
Invited to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb:
Memorial of Saint Andrew Dung-Lac, Priest and Companions
(Rev 18:1-23, 19:1-3; Ps 100; Lk 21:20-28)
On the last day of our stay in Jerusalem, our group of pilgrims went to the Western Wall. It happened to be a Thursday when Bar-mitzvahs are celebrated. Even before reaching the wall, we witnessed family after family joyfully celebrating a son’s Bar-mitzvah complete with drums, fine clothes, trumpets, blowing of shofars and dancing. The women and girls were straining over the fence to see what was happening in the men’s section, while enthusiastic dancing filled the square.
Today’s readings, all within the context of the end-times, invite us to the greatest celebration of all – our eternal banquet of the redeemed with our redeemer, the Messiah Jesus Christ, and to be dressed for that occasion through faith in Jesus and a life of selfless love.
Every day of our pilgrimage in the Holy Land, we were offered historical, apocryphal and spiritual insights into who Jesus is as Son of Man, Son of God, Messiah and Redeemer. A highlight was permission to celebrate the Eucharist not just in the Holy Sepulchre, but with our group squeezed into the Chapel of Angels and Fr. Susai and me concelebrating on a platform placed over the marble slab right in the tomb of Jesus. It was almost surreal – a touch of heaven – truly a taste of the marriage feast with the Lamb.
A wedding banquet is such an apt image for our relationship with Jesus. A marriage commitment is when, traditionally and ideally, a man and woman who have committed themselves to each other for life, can see each other physically, totally and intimately for the first time. It is the beginning of a life-long adventure into ever great intimacy where they trust each other completely, share everything, forgive each other everything, have no secrets, and in so doing, actually experience the very energy, joy and bliss of the God as Trinity, an eternal outpouring of love between the three persons, a divine dance or perichoresis.
The wedding garments we must wear for this spiritual banquet are faith and love. Our faith is in Jesus Christ who as the long-awaited Messiah came with a two-fold mission – to redeem and sanctify, to forgive and to heal. We are to come to him repenting of all our sin and wrong-doing, desiring to change our ways, and receive from him unconditional love as forgiveness, and new life is ours. Our sins no longer even exist, as God will not even remember them.
The next part of this faith is to dig deeper, become aware of our sinfulness, that which made us sin in the first place – our painful emotions like anger and insecurity, our negative attitudes like false pride, stubborn self-will, self-righteousness, narcissism and selfishness, phoniness, and humbly ask Jesus to heal us of these by filling us with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Then the joy of our new life in Christ will explode within us with and energy even greater than that of a Bar Mitzvah.
All this deep inner growth and healing, however, must be expressed through action and deeds of selfless love – doing the will of God as expressed by Jesus. Our last stop by the South Wall of the city was on what were known as the “teaching steps” on which Jesus may well have taught his new commandment of love transcending the Old Testament limited concept lived out by his contemporaries. We could imagine Jesus looking up at the Jewish cemetery across the Kidron Valley and telling his disciples to truly love one another, not like the religious leaders of his time who were like the whitewashed tombs lining the hillside, beautiful on the outside but full of darkness within.
I like to summarize the new commandment of Jesus as ever-increasing levels of involvement: Love God with our whole being (the Great Shema of Judaism), Love our neighbors (trust, sharing, caring, blessing them), Love ourselves (accept ourselves as we are and forgive ourselves our mistakes), Love others as he has loved us (sacrificial love and generously giving to others) and finally, Love our enemies, those who hurt us, by forgiving them from the heart through the power of his Holy Spirit.
I would like to suggest the practice of contemplative prayer to help us achieve this balance of faith and love. The word for prayer is “ora” – meaning mouth. The significance of contemplative prayer is a mouth-to-mouth relationship with God, almost like an intimate kiss of a wedded couple. It is baring our whole being and soul before God, holding nothing back, giving to God whatever is on our minds and hearts, and above all, listening to God’s gentle spirit, invisible and usually unperceived, pouring into us a fuller and fuller measure of God’s unfathomable love.
The late Trappist monk, Thomas Keating has been encouraging everyone who would listen to him pray this way more often and more intentionally. I think he was divinely inspired in so doing. Our guide Sammi suggested the reason Hannah’s prayer was misjudged by the priest Eli, who thought she was drunk (1 Samuel 1:13-15), was because within a religion based on offering animals for temple sacrifice, this kind of intimate, personal prayer was not the norm. Could it also be within a Muslim tradition of a call to prayer five times a day, the sacrifice of reciting prayers might also make this kind of contemplative prayer not the norm, outside of Sufi mysticism perhaps? I think this practice of contemplative prayer can be a timely gift from the Church to our society so easily misled into a kind of Pelagian (earning our way to heaven), type of spirituality instead of an attitude of grace freely received through faith, and freely expressed through selfless love.
Today the church honors the Vietnamese martyrs who truly lived with great faith the paschal mystery of redemptive suffering. In the 16th century Christian missionaries went to live among the people of Vietnam. From the 17th to 19th centuries, some 130,000 Christians were martyred. Andrew Dung-Lac (born 1785) and Peter Thi, Vietnamese priests, were beheaded on December 21, 1839. In June 1988, Pope John Paul II declared 117 Vietnamese martyrs, saints of the Church.
The Eucharist, more than ever, can be for us a profound act of faith in Jesus as the Bread of Life, also empowering us to put that faith into practice through selfless love – all part of participating already in the eternal wedding banquet of the Lamb with full confidence and heads held high.