As some of you know, I am coaching our parish’s 6th grade football team. A couple of weeks ago as the team was warming up for a game against St. Brigid, one of my player’s shoe fell off. I admittedly got frustrated with that happening – certainly not at the player, who is great. It was not the first and probably not the last time it will happen - they often put on and off their cleats like slippers or flip-flops. My frustration was that I want my players to be prepared – focused and ready for the immediate game, and I also want them to approach everything with a bigger purpose in mind. So, little things like not tying their shoes tightly to play a game do matter. Sure they will remember 6th grade football by wins and losses and that is okay. But I really want them to see 6th grade football as a time that they matured as Christian young men and that through this time playing they obtained the skills they need for the rest of their life – things like: humility, responding well to adversity, obedience, helping others, teamwork, sacrifice, endurance, and controlled emotion. All of these are great virtues that they will need as they mature into manhood – as husbands, fathers, and even as priests and deacons.
I share this story – not to talk about football – but because it mirrors the point made in today’s Gospel: that God is inviting us to know and experience something even bigger and better than what we know now - the kingdom of God: this wonderful peace and joy that we are invited to know and experience now and eternally. The kingdom of God is like the wedding feast presented to us in the First Reading and Gospel. A celebration filled with great company, much happiness and joy, and the best of food and drink.
While our loving and merciful God is persistent in extending his invitation to join this celebration, just as the father in today’s Gospel – offering again and again an invitation to all, we too often do respond properly or at all to the invitation. We are often like the people in the parable who refuse the invitation, ignore it completely, make excuses why we can’t attend, and might even be hostile to the messengers of the invitation. We do this in big and small ways every day – by our sinful thoughts, words and deeds against ourselves, others, and God. More often, however, we are like the rejected guest who comes under-dressed – who has accepted the invitation but failed to respond appropriately to God’s invitation. In other words, like him, we say “yes” this is what we want, but we do not respond with acts of kindness, justice, humility, love and compassion to others. All words and no action. We must live out our faith by our actions - our believe must be evidenced by our actions.
I know too well that is hard at times to respond as we should. Going back to my football team, I challenge them to persist and endure through aches, pains, even loss because that is what they will do as men. I get that for a 6th grade boy the trials and tribulations of a grown man are as remote as the man on the moon. However, I still want them to begin to understand that they need to move beyond themselves – their own wants – to be part of something even greater. I want them to respond properly and well to God's invitation. The same is true for each of us. This is what God wants and challenges us to do. We must move beyond our own wants and respond with acts of kindness, justice, humility, love and compassion towards others. This is what it means to accept the invitation to live in the kingdom of God. And this is the only way that we truly and fully experience all that the kingdom of God offers.
This point is reinforced by Paul in today’s Second Reading. Writing from jail, Paul is consumed with Christ – eliminating his earthly concerns, but never his desire for Christ. It is Paul who recognizes that he is part of something much bigger and that he is called to something even greater. He has a single purpose in mind. We see this not only in his words, but by his actions – selfLESSly thinking of and acting for others. It is in Christ that Paul finds the strength to do this and it is in Christ that he is filled with great joy and thanksgiving for God and those who have supported him in his times of need.
And this is a good starting point for each of us as we try respond to God’s call. Let us also find strength Christ, just as Paul did. Let us find strength in the Eucharist, the Real Presence of Christ, we are about to receive. Let us find strength in Christ’s example of love and obedience to God. Let us find strength in Christ’s out pouring of grace to help us respond as we are called to respond.
It is in Christ that we like Paul can trust that: “God will fully supply whatever we need, in accord with his glorious riches.” It is in Christ that we can also say with confidence and thanksgiving “To our God and Father, glory forever and ever. Amen.” And it is in Christ that we have the strength and courage to respond to God’s invitation.
My friends, we are called to live in the kingdom of God. I pray that we have the courage to say yes to God invitation to join this celebration and the strength to respond with great acts of kindness, justice, humility, love and compassion.