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Sunday, October 11th, 2020

‘Dicite invitatis’: a Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Tell those who are invited, Behold, I have made ready my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves are killed, and everything is ready; come to the marriage feast (Matthew 22, 4).

Remember what our Blessed Lord says in the Gospel of St John. Speaking of himself, the good Shepherd, he says:

and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice. But a stranger they follow not, but fly from him, because they know not the voice of strangers.[1]

Thus, Catholics are a people who hear and who recognize: when they hear Christ, they follow him; when they hear a stranger, they flee.

Today’s Gospel gives us a mystery to train our hearing.

Now, you’ll remember that the motto of 1790 was ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité.’ [2] Robespierre had it emblazoned on uniforms and flags and façades. There may be nothing reprehensible in the words themselves; however, taken by themselves—that is, taken for the entirety of one’s thinking and perspective—they are impossible and pernicious.

But this motto is not only the cry of the French Revolution; one hears it repeated often, and in many different contexts and by many different voices. It is rephrased here and there, but the message is the same. It is the aspiration for a kind of universal brotherhood; for a condition in which all conflict will be abolished; and when, at last, a human society free of discord and suffering will be established. It will be possible if our politico-economic structures are regulated carefully enough; if all forms of prejudice are eliminated; if man can have unhampered access to material goods and comfort—then he will be well; then he will be safe; then he and his society will flourish and be complete. In sum, man, by his own efforts, must strive to establish a kind of heaven on earth.   

How often have we heard such things? However, sad to say, one even hears it repeated by those who purport to be members of the Church. And yet, as we said earlier, today’s Gospel reveals an alternate vision.

The parable of the king’s wedding feast is instructive at many levels. It utterly shines! For our purposes, we focus on the person of the king; and we note well how he acts. And the first thing we notice, is that he makes preparations.—The banquet hall, the array of servants, the food and drink; nay the very marriage itself was provided for by him. ‘The kingdom of heaven is likened to a king, who gave a marriage for his son.’    

Having prepared the feast, he would share the happiness and bounty with others. In order to do this, he makes not one, but three successive invitations. And there is the central insight for our discussion today: God is both the provider and initiator of human flourishing and salvation.

It is at this point that we should mention, however briefly, the doctrine of predestination. For this doctrine reminds us that human salvation is caused by God alone. Now there is no way we can exhaust the topic here: but what do we mean, most basically, by predestination? We go to St Thomas. He calls predestination the ‘direction of a rational creature towards the end of eternal life. For to destine, is to direct or send.’[3]   

To Catholic ears, the word predestination may carry certain associations. We may think of the controversies of Luther and the subsequent errors of the Protestants. Now it is certainly true that this doctrine was the center of the great theological controversies of the sixteenth century; but the mystery of predestination, properly understood, is an entirely Catholic doctrine. We hear of it spoken of in St Paul, after all: ‘And whom he predestined, them he also called. And whom he called, them he also justified. And whom he justified, them he also glorified.’[4]

Luther’s mistake was connected to his fearful obsession about his own personal salvation. He erred by making the mystery of predestination something in man; that is, some kind of hidden quality within us, to be somehow unlocked or discovered. The  very opposite is true. Predestination is not in us, as St Thomas says, but in God.[5] 

To repeat ourselves slightly, predestination is the part of God’s plan that guides rational creatures—angels and men—to salvation. Which is to say that God knows his plan and brings it about. And when we speak of God’s knowledge, we always have to understand the this: That his knowledge is simultaneous, not successive.[6] Which is to say, that God’s knowledge is connected to his being and his eternity: he knows all things at once—not piecemeal, like rational creatures. Our knowledge is bounded to time; his is not. Predestination is mystery of God’s comprehensive knowledge of how he has guided us to salvation.

Or rather, to use the language of today’s parable, God knows who he has invited to the marriage feast and who will take him up—or rather, who have taken him up—on the offer (and, indeed, those who will not.) It is like the king in today’s parable coming in to survey his guests.          

We need to move toward a conclusion and come full circle. Thus, anytime they hear the talk of progressivism and earthly utopias, Catholic ears are attentive. And the Catholic soul flees from those who promise such a vision—because it is a false vision. It is a false vision because of the doctrine of predestination. And that is our overarching point for this morning, and it is a thing that Catholics must know by instinct: that human order is neither self-creating, nor directed toward its own end. Rather—as we see in today’s parable—God initiates, God invites, and, with our freedom completely and mysteriously intact, God brings to fruition.

Lastly, remember that today is also the feast of the Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The mystery of her motherhood, in a sense, contains all mysteries. To love and serve her is to be safe in the predestining grace of her Son. 

 

 


[1] John 10, 4-5.

[2] In fact, an early version of the same motto added the clause: ‘ou la mort’ at the end.

[3] Summa Theologica, Ia, Q23, art 1, res. More fully quoted: ‘Now the type in the mind of the doer of something to be done, is a kind of pre-existence in him of the thing to be done. Hence the type of the aforesaid direction of a rational creature towards the end of life eternal is called predestination. For to destine, is to direct or send. Thus it is clear that predestination, as regards its objects, is a part of providence.’

[4] Romans 8, 30.

[5] STh I, Q23, art 2, res.

[6] Ibid, Q14, art 13, res.

[7] Ibid, Q23, art 2, res: ‘But the execution of providence which is called government, is in a passive way in the thing governed, and in an active way in the governor. Whence it is clear that predestination is a kind of type of the ordering of some persons towards eternal salvation, existing in the divine mind.’

{Art credit: The Marriage at Cana (1766), Gaetano Gandolfi (1734-1802); The Walters Art Museum}

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