Where are we going? Are we there yet?
Each of us has heard this question any number of times. We have responded to it and we have even asked the question surely at least on one occasion. These questions are sometimes asked in jest and laden with sarcasm but they are real questions nonetheless and we would do well to ponder them.
Where are we going? Are we ambling along without any real direction or purpose? Do we know our destination? What is our goal? Our lives are either filled with meaning and purpose, or else we simply live each day void of significance. Where are we going?
The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council remind us that we, having been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, are members of “the pilgrim Church” (Lumen Gentium 48). As members of the Church we are all pilgrims, and no pilgrim stands still. To be a pilgrim is to be a person on the move, a person on his or her way, together with a multitude of other persons, to a particular and special destination. A pilgrim knows where he or she is going and so do we.
Each year the Jewish people went on pilgrimage to the mountain of the Lord in Jerusalem and each Sunday we go on pilgrimage to the same mountain of the Lord, only our route is much shorter than theirs.
This church in which we now pray represents well our pilgrim life on earth on our way to the new and heavenly Jersualem. We enter at first through the main doors of the church, as if passing through the waters of baptism into new life. Passing through the doors, we enter a new surrounding and a place unlike any other.
We process down the aisles of the Church as if walking the journey of our life. The aisles lead to the sanctuary, to the mountain of the Lord, to heaven itself. The aisles of the church, just as life, are filled with other people; none of us walks alone, but we journey together toward heaven, toward the mountain of the Lord.
“On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” (Isaiah 25:6). Here in this church, at this altar, we receive the richest of foods and the choicest of wines, the very Body and Blood of Christ Jesus himself. There is no greater food in all of the earth than what he gives us here. He says to us here on this mountain, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35). Here on this mountain “he will destroy death forever” because he feeds us here with his own Body and Blood (Isaiah 25:7).
We have each been invited here to the wedding banquet of the Lamb of God where our “cup overflows” (Psalm 23:5) by the “King of kings and the Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). And just as in the parable Jesus tells us today, we must all come to this great feast properly dressed.
“But he was reduced to silence” (Matthew 22:12). Why was this man reduced to silence? What made him so uncomfortable? Why could he not speak to the kindly king?
Everything had been prepared for the banquet. The invitation was sent out: “everything is ready; come to the feast” (Matthew 22:4). The man was invited to the very mountain of the Lord, where “the LORD God will wipe away the tears from all faces” (Isaiah 25:8).
The man seemingly had nothing to fear; he had no reason to be ashamed. When the king spoke to him, he addressed him as an equal: “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” (Matthew 22:12). At this simple and unassuming question, he was reduced to silence, even though the king did not accuse him of any wrongdoing, nor did he threaten him. Why, then, could the man not speak to him.
The man came to the wedding feast not fully aware of where he was going. He heard the invitation, he saw others going, he heard tell of the savory food to be served, and he went to the feast, even though he did not know those for whom it was held.
The man did not expect that he would speak with the host and so he came as he was, without making any preparations to attend such a great feast. And now, standing before the king, the man realized in whose presence he stood and there was nothing he could say.
The man suddenly knew the great generosity of the king, he knew his love and his mercy; he knew that everything had been prepared for him. The man knew as well that he had come unworthily to the feast; he did not even bother to bring his wedding garment with him to celebrate properly.
Each of us has just such a wedding garment; it is our baptismal garment. On the day of our baptism, we were each given a new garment and the priest said to us, “You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in this white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven” (Rite of Baptism of Children 99).
We must take care that we keep this garment unstained by living a life of virtue and of holiness so that when we come at last to the heavenly feast the Lord does not say to us, “My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?” If this happens to us it will not be the Lord who accuses us of our sins, but standing before his mercy and love we will accuse ourselves and will then be cast outside for we did not come prepared.
How do we prepare for the wedding feast? Through prayer, through the Eucharist, through Reconciliation, through fasting and almsgiving and good works, but most of all through humility. It is humility that will allow us to seek the Lord in all of this and will help us to keep our garment clean and pure.
We know our destination at the end of our pilgrimage on earth; it is the wedding feast of the Lamb and here in this church we share in the foretaste of that heavenly banquet. Here on this mountain in this church, on this altar, Isaiah says to us, “Behold our God for whom we looked to save us! This is the LORD for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”
As we journey on our pilgrimage of faith, let us take comfort from the words of St. Paul: “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). Trusting in the Lord, we will come to “live in the house of the Lord all the days of [our] life” for he himself says to us: “everything is ready; come to the feast (Psalm 23:6).