This Friday is the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
It is not very hard to understand the parable our Lord spoke to the Pharisees, which we read in this morning’s Gospel. It may sound a bit familiar to us—at least to anyone who has invited all of his friends to a party, only to have them call up with lame excuses just hours before they are expected to attend. Of course, in this case, our Lord is speaking about all of those who have been called to the Kingdom of God, but who have refused that call. Since He was speaking to the Pharisees, the ruling class among the Jews of His time, we can be fairly certain that He original intent was to describe those of His Chosen People who would reject Him because they were looking for a different kind of Messias. They were looking for a military leader who would kick the Romans out of Israel, and not a Prince of Peace.
Certainly, the parable applies, as well, to those who have been born into Christian families, but who, like the Jews of old, will also find reasons for rejecting Christ the Savior. Historically speaking, it is possible to think of Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa, and all of the Americas as Catholic territory. Even with the rise of Islam, the Great Schism, and the Protestant Reformation, it is possible to think of most of this territory as nominally Christian, at least into the last century. But our own experience tells us that, even in nominally Christian lands, there are many who have very little commitment to Christ, and a growing number who outright reject Him.
Part of the problem of Christendom’s rejection of Christ comes from a misconception that the “Kingdom of Heaven” or the “Kingdom of God” is entirely something of the next world; something not to be concerned with until being on one’s deathbed. Altogether too many people go around with the idea that they will be able to accept this invitation to dine at our Lord’s table for the very first time when they meet Him in the Kingdom of Heaven. So to speak, they conduct themselves as though their party invitation were not dated until the day of their death.
What they fail to understand is that their invitation into the Kingdom of Heaven was actually dated with the day of their Baptism. They fail to understand—or they refuse to accept—that eternal life is supposed to begin and to grow here in this world. They fail to understand—or they refuse to accept—that eternal life consists, first of all, of living in the state of sanctifying grace, and knowing, loving, and serving God in this world. Only if we do those things, can we expect to be happy with God in the next world. Literally, we must look back to the day of our Baptism, for Baptism is like a seed that is planted in the earth. And from that seed springs a shoot, and then a sapling, and then the tree of eternal life, which reaches up to heaven. The tree cannot be planted in the sky! It must take root in the earth, and may take many years to mature, as it grows heavenward. The eternal life of the soul is no different: it must begin here, and mature, before it can grow in heaven.
Of course, what used to be called Christendom still contains a goodly number of people who call themselves Christians—a larger number who identify themselves as being somehow “religious”—and even more who claim to have “religious morals and values.” Unfortunately, as a society, we have forgotten that such terminology can be meaningless, and that it is no indication that individuals or society as a whole is “moral” in the sense that God defines “morality.” The prevailing philosophy of former Christendom abhors definitions. Modern society considers itself above definitions of morality and doctrine, indeed often censuring those who still cling to “old fashioned” ideas like right and wrong, or who cling to the idea that the One God who revealed Himself to mankind through Jesus Christ is uniquely deserving of our worship.
Modern society considers God’s well defined moral law divisive. Not only might it offend those coming into Christendom from other cultures (usually it does not), but is particularly offensive to those who want to do whatever they well please. God’s Law is offensive to worldly people who grew up right here in Christian culture, but who want to put off eternal life until the moment of death, or would like to deny that there is such a thing as eternal life at all. For such people, authentic Christianity is a constant reminder of a shirked duty. Often, we have much more in common with the religious Jew, or Moslem, or Buddhist, or whatever, than we do with the secularized children of former Christendom.
The secularized society of former Christendom recognizes that it is still dependent to some degree on the religious people who live within its borders—for religious people, largely Christian, must still ratify secular society’s choice of politicians at election time, furnish its tax revenues, buy its products, and fight its fights.
Rather ingeniously, secularized Christendom manages to sound moral even when it is not. Claes G. Ryn, a professor at Catholic University, explains that its morality is based on an abstraction of God’s Moral Law, though rarely on God’s Law itself. For example, modern moralists will speak grandly of “universal peace and social justice,” as long as they are not called on to do anything more concrete toward peace and justice than spend large sums of tax money on bureaucracies and conferences to “dialogue.” about it. They will wax eloquent about “eliminating teen age pregnancies,” or “wiping out worldwide AIDS,” as long as no one (least of all they) is called to greater chastity. A “well armed World Government” is necessary, they will insist, to deal with the various malcontents who insist upon being unhappy in this new world paradise.
Secularized morality is pretty much free of individual responsibility—except, perhaps for the responsibilities which the secularists enshrine in civil law. People may get fined or heavily taxed for producing greasy french fries, or cigarettes, or alcohol; but it is beyond the conception of the secularist that a citizen could take personal responsibility and just not buy any of these products. And how can you complain about a man’s minor sins—like cheating on his wife, or stealing from his neighbor—if he goes off every way to wage war on poverty, or drugs; if he is one of those committed to world peace, and actively involved in the struggle for universal justice?
The reality, though is that we work out our salvation as responsible individual Christians, and not as concerned representatives of global civil society. “Mankind” and “global citizenship” are very abstract concepts that can mean almost anything—except, perhaps, they cannot mean God. Our salvation depends upon feeding actual hungry people and not just combating world hunger; of being personally chaste rather than fighting international AIDS; of getting along with family and neighbors rather than volunteering for the “world army”; of loving real people and not abstractions, for “he who does not love abides in death.... Let us not love with in word, neither with the tongue, but in deed and in truth”
And finally, let us never lose sight of the reality that we must love our neighbor so that we may ‘abide in God, and God in us.’ The God who “laid down His life for us” personally. We have been invited to banquet with the King of Heaven. Be sure not to turn that invitation down because you “have bought a new farm” or because you “have married a wife,” or any of the other lame excuses of the world. Eternal life begins here and now—if you wait too long, you may find your invitation cancelled.