Thursday, September 3, 2015

Spiritual Fashionistas

Clothing ourselves with Christ
Matthew 22:1-2, 11-14

Jesus again in reply spoke to the chief priests and the elders of the people in parables saying, “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son… But when the king came in to meet the guests he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment. He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it that you came in here without a wedding garment?’ But he was reduced to silence. Then the king said to his attendants, ‘Bind his hands and feet, and cast him into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ Many are invited, but few are chosen.”

            Have you heard the common expression “the clothes do not make the man”?  That means do not put too much stock in the threads you wear.  On the other hand stands the wisdom and wit of Mark Twain, who said, “The clothes make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  I sure hope he’s right!  Do you know what English Sumptuary Laws are?  Queen Elizabeth enacted certain laws to dictate what color and type of clothing individuals were allowed to own and wear.  People’s dress gave an immediate indication of their rank and status in society.  For example, only royalty were permitted to wear clothes trimmed with ermine.  Lesser nobles were allowed to wear clothing trimmed with fox and otter. The people in Fort Smith would be sporting clothes trimmed with squirrel and skunk, and we’d be darn proud of it!

            In the gospel today, Jesus seems pretty concerned about a man’s clothing, too.  He tells a parable of a king who throws a wedding party for his son.  One man enters not properly dressed, maybe he was wearing clothes trimmed with squirrels, too.  And the king orders him to be thrown out.  Is Jesus saying there are also Sumptuary Laws in heaven?  Not exactly.  Jesus is not so much talking about the body here, but about the soul, and how we adorn it.  Later theology will help us understand that Jesus is really talking about our “baptismal robes” and how we should be “clothed in Christ” in order to enter heaven.  Jesus is not being a “fashionista” here like Queen Elizabeth and telling us how to dress; rather he’s reminding us to be mindful to clothe ourselves with his love and grace, so that we are not naked spiritually.

            You know, it’s amazing to see the kinds of clothes people wear these days.  People pay exorbitant amounts of money for jeans that already have holes in them!  Poor Queen Elizabeth is rolling over in her grave.  This is one reason I like the uniforms students wear in Catholic schools.  We take their attention off external appearances and turn their eyes to what’s on the inside, what really matters: learning to think, praying to God, becoming a person of character, and having an eagerness to serve those in need, those without fancy clothes.  In short, we teach our students to become “spiritual fashionistas,” and to care about how they clothe their souls.

            In the end Mark Twain may well have been right about clothes.  Clothes do make the man.  Naked people have little or no influence in society.  And that’s true both on earth and in heaven.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!

Mission Possible

Accepting our vocation from God
Matthew 19:23-30
Jesus said to his disciples: “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Then Peter said to him in reply, “We have given up everything and followed you. What will there be for us?” Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

            I love the “Mission Impossible” movies, but I am NOT a fan of the actor Tom Cruise.  Would you raise your hand if you like Tom Cruise?  Sometimes I think the biggest fan of Tom Cruise is Tom Cruise!  I am probably just jealous of his good looks, but at least I am taller than he is!  Well, every movie begins with his character, Ethan Hunt, receiving a cryptic message from his boss describing some insanely impossible mission.  And the message always ends, “This message will self-destruct in five seconds.”  But here’s why I love these movies, the more impossible-sounding the mission, the more eager Ethan Hunt is to go do it!  We’d all like to picture ourselves doing those daring and death-defying stunts that Ethan does.  I think everyone who sees one of those movies drives a little faster on their way home.

            In the first reading today, we hear about a man who’s given a mission impossible, too, by an angel.  The angel delivers the message to Gideon to destroy the Midianites, the fierce neighbors of Israel.  But Gideon is from Manassah, one of the smallest of the 12 Tribes of Israel, and Gideon himself was the least significant of his family.  Maybe he was short like Tom Cruise, too!  But here’s the difference between Gideon and Ethan Hunt: Gideon does not rely on luck and charm and martial arts, but on God, and God’s love.  That’s why Jesus tells his apostles in the gospel: “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”  You see, when God asks you to do something for him, it is always a “mission possible.”  But we have to trust him.

            Boys and girls, I’d like to suggest to you that it’s not just Ethan Hunt and Gideon who get a mission impossible, God gives each of us such a mission.  For example, sometimes I feel like being a priest is impossible!  And yet, if I trust God, it becomes “mission possible.”  By the way, did you know that Tom Cruise grew up Catholic, and was even in the seminary briefly?  I accomplished one mission that he couldn’t!  Maybe God is calling some of you to be a priest or a nun, and you’re thinking, “that’s impossible!”  That’s right, it is.  As his boss once told Ethan Hunt, “This isn’t mission difficult, this is mission impossible.”  But with God, all things are possible, even for YOU to be a priest or a nun.

            Another mission impossible for many people is marriage, especially for anyone who has gotten a divorce.  Do you know how many times Tom Cruise has been married and divorced?  The most impossible missions are not in the movies.  I'm sorry for picking on Tom Cruise.  Let’s pray for all husbands and wives who struggle to love each other, that they remember that “for God all things are possible.”

            The Mission Impossible movies are an apt analogy for the Christian life, because whatever vocation God calls us to will, sooner or later, seem like a mission impossible.  And like Ethan Hunt, we are free to choose to accept it or not.  But we can’t take too long to choose, the message will eventually self-destruct.

            Praised be Jesus Christ!