Saturday, October 8, 2011

Twenty-Eight Sunday Year A:Reflection- Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo

Twenty-Eight Sunday Year A: Reflections – Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Isa 25:6-10a; Ps 23; 1-3a, 3b-6; Phil 4:12-14, 19-20 and Matt 22:1-14

Wrong Responses to Divine Initiative

Today’s Bible lessons deal with wrong responses to divine initiative. From creation God took the initiative in loving and calling us. How do we respond to this call and love of God as an individual, as a family, as a community and as a Church?

This time the central image relating to these lessons is that of a wedding banquet. We know throughout the Scriptures,banquet is a frequent image  which  expresses not only eschatological event, but  the reign of God, in which God gives himself freely  in order to save us.

In the first reading prophet Isaiah of Judah employs this familiar image of a banquet to describe the fullness of life  which God out of his own initiative has bestowed upon us, not just to Israel, but to people of all walks of life and culture, men women and children, married and unmarried.

The Lord, the Good Shepherd (Ps 23) invites us to attend this banquet: “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will provide for all peoples, a feast of rich food and juicy wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this (same mountain) he will destroy the veil that veils all people, the web  that is woven over all nations, he will destroy death for ever… and  he will wipe away tears from all cheeks”( Isa 25:6-8).  All will take place during this special dinner or banquet.

In the Gospel Jesus uses this same banquet image in his parables of the invited quests and that of the man not wearing the wedding robe. Both parables deal with being invited to the kingdom by Christ.  It is a banquet, a call to intimacy with God, even through the Eucharist we celebrate daily. It is a call to a deeper and more personal relationship with Jesus and with our neighbors.

For the Evangelist Matthew this call is so important here. In verse 3 of the 22nd  chapter just read, he uses the verb kalein with double meanings (“to call” and “to invite” or summon), “summons and invitation are the same. They have a double duty here: “the servants were dispatched to “summon the invited guests” or literally ‘to call the called." A call that was being rejected by many who were invited.

As the parable went down we saw in verse 9 that this invitation or call and summons to this banquet, this Kingdom of God is irrevocable. God love for us is irrevocable. His love is not restricted to a particular social class or groups people, elite of or wall street, but even those on the main street are invited as well; everyone is invited, the good and the bad.

 Do you feel called to be here? Each of us is called. And what is God calling you to do? What is God calling me to do? And how do I respond to this call? God invites all of seated here to follow him in a different number of ways- good wife, husband, child, good and holy seminarian and priest! With him who strengthens us everything is possible (Phil 4:12-14).

On Friday, October 7th the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin I celebrated my 16th anniversary as a priest. I have always seen and cherished my priesthood as a “call.” In the various pastoral places which I have worked and studied since 1995, be it in Africa,  in the Middle East, Europe and here in the United States, I have always endeavored each day to remind myself that I am called to be a man of prayer, a missionary, and a man of communion who strives to imitate Christ the Good Shepherd- the same Shepherd song in Psalm 23, John chapter 10 and spelt out for by the Blessed John Paul II in the Pastores Dabo Vobis.

One thing that also struck me on my ordination day was  the homily by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, then Nuncio to Nigeria, now in the Governotore of the Vatican City.  His emphasis was on the missionary Church. The Archbishop said, “Four of us were called to be missionaries even to our own families.” And this point is repeated today by the Congregation for the clergy, in the Circular Letter, The Missionary Identity of the Priest in the Church: that ‘the missionary dimension of the priestly ministry emerges clearly from the Christological starting-point’ Jesus was crucified and risen for all people, whom he wishes to gather together into one flock… the priest cannot fail to open his heart to all people” (cf. pp20-21).

At 16th I also had the chance yesterday to respond to an invited dinner. I didn’t turn it down! But I also had the chance to reflect on what Bishop Fulton Sheen wrote many years ago on the priesthood in one of his works entitled A Priest is Not His Own. Here Sheen stresses the uniqueness of the priesthood of Christ, which we all share in one way or other. In Christ’s priesthood, different from every other one which we read in the in the Letter to the Hebrews, Christ is both the priest and the victim.

In a changing world, where some of us will soon be ordained to serve, we must be ready to be ‘victim’ with Christ. We must put selfishness in all its ramifications aside and be ready to pour out our lives in the service of Christ, in the service of the Church and in the service of our neighbors. We do not want to act like those unresponsive guests, without garments absorbed in their personal activities, except God.

But we want to constantly cherish God’s divine initiative, which calls and loves us. He invites us to be in communion with him. He summons us into that intimacy with himself. He brings us into community with others and calls us to constantly work with the hope of salvation at that final invitation, prophesied by Isaiah, and fulfilled in Christ’s Eternal banquet.