28 Ordinary Time
Twenty-eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time: Wearing the Clothes of Christ
This week the church will celebrate the feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the patron of our parish. So, who was St. Ignatius of Antioch? Usually, when people hear the name St. Ignatius, they think of Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits in the sixteenth century. Our patron, Ignatius of Antioch, lived about 1,500 years before this. He was, therefore, one of the early Fathers of the Christian Church. He was bishop of Antioch in Syria, the largest Roman city outside of Rome. Antioch became one of the early centers of Christianity after the Christians were driven from Jerusalem. In fact, you might remember that it was at Antioch that the followers of Jesus were called Christians for the first time. This was not just a new faith. It was a new way. The followers of Jesus would embrace a new way of life, a life of sacrificial love, the life of Jesus Christ.
Ignatius would have been among the second generation of these followers, being born around 50 AD and dying about 117 AD. This was a time when the Church was rapidly spreading throughout the Roman Empire. It was a time when the basic beliefs of the Church were beginning to be codified. It was also a time when persecution against the Church began in earnest. It was both an exciting time and a difficult time for Ignatius to be the leader of the largest Christian Community of the East.
In his teachings, Ignatius spoke about the sacred and human dimensions of the Church. He wrote about bishops and priests, and about the holiness of matrimony. Even though the Christian Church at Antioch was probably larger than the Church in Rome, he spoke about the pre-eminence of Rome, because Peter went to Rome and died there, giving to his successors the charisma of the leader of the Apostles.
It is in the writings of St. Ignatius that we first come upon two terms that are fundamental parts of our religious language. Here we first read the term Catholic in referring to the church. The word Catholic means universal. All people, from all lands, are called to the Church. It is also in Ignatius’ writings that we first come upon the word Eucharist. The Eucharist is the action of the community at prayer united to its head Jesus. The community gives thanks to God, Eucharist, by offering the Body and Blood of the Lord to the Father.
Ignatius gave witness to Christ not just by what he wrote, but by dying for the Lord in the witness of martyrdom. When the emperor Domitian began openly persecuting the Christians, Ignatius wrote that they should remain strong in their witness to Jesus. They should become martyrs. His time came when he was brought before the Romans at Antioch, then condemned to death in the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome, the Colosseum. During the long trip to Rome, Ignatius wrote his seven most famous works. He did his best to convince the wealthier Christians to refrain from bribing the Romans to let him go free. He pleaded with them in the words you find a bit abbreviated on the cover of our bulletin and parish stationary, "I am the wheat of God. I must be ground by the teeth of the lions into flour. I must become the pure bread of Christ." He died at Rome as a true bishop and martyr.
St. Ignatius of Antioch lived his Christianity. In the words of the Early Church, he was clothed in the Lord. This takes us to the Gospel reading for this Sunday, the parable of the King’s banquet.
The gospel talks about the wedding banquet that a king prepares for his son, only to have the invited guests refuse to come and even mistreat his servants. The King then invites strangers to the meal, who have a great time. Then, in what really is a second parable, the king spots a man without the proper wedding garment. He throws the man out into the streets, away from the Banquet of Love, where there will be a weeping a gnashing of teeth.
Perhaps you might wonder, as I know I have, "Why is the Host so upset over this man's clothes?" After all, this is a traveler or a vagrant. How can he be expected to have a fine wedding garment? That would be missing the point for the sake of the detail, something we always have to be careful of regarding scripture. This parable is not about wearing clothes. It is about wearing Jesus Christ. "Put on the Lord Jesus Christ," St. Paul tells the Romans, and the Galatians, and the Colossians, and the Ephesians. The man who came without the proper clothes is the Christian in name only, who refuses to put on Jesus Christ throughout his life. This is the person who accepts the invitation of the Lord, but refuses to exercise his or her responsibility in the Christian community.
We are invited to share the intimacy of the Banquet of Heaven. We are invited into God's presence. God expects us to wear our Christianity. The way we respond to His Love must be evident to the world. People should know that we are Christians by the way we live our lives.
One of the most edifying aspects of being a priest is the continual exposure we have to the active Christianity so many of you embrace. People will call me to tell me about sick or hurting parishioners. I will go to the homes of sick or elderly and find others there cheerfully caring for them. Parishioners are always mentioning that someone needs our help. People are always asking me if there are any particular families they can sponsor not only at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but also throughout the year. We have many families in this parish that have adopted a child about to be institutionalized. And anytime there has been any sort of crisis in one of our families, people have always come forward to offer to take care of the children, cook for the family, etc. I have received many calls during the pandemic from people asking if there are parishioners who need help. I also know that there is a wide range of people in this parish that I merely have to say "we need a special favor" for a struggling family or a brilliant Teen that wants to go away to college, and so forth, and they will gladly help out. These people wear their Christianity.
As Christians we know that none of this is exceptional. We know that cannot just say we are Christians. We have to live our Christianity. Now this living of our Christianity may not always be public, but, and this sounds like a contradiction but isn't, living our Christianity is always evident, even when not public. For example, a senior citizen may be very generous to someone and no one, not even the recipient of the generosity, knows who is providing for the person. However, that senior citizen's life, his or her concern, his or her conversation, is not self-centered but shows a concern for others. He wears his Christianity without bragging about his generosity.
St. Ignatius put on the garment of the Lord. In his case, that garment was the white alb that martyrs wore when they entered the Colosseum to meet the wild beasts. In our case, the garment of the Lord is not as dramatic, but it is still a garment of witnessing to the presence of Christ. The garment might be a dress or shirt that was soiled when we cared for others. The garment is always one with a bulls-eye on it. People at war with God will always try shooting down those who belong to Him. Some of our college freshmen have already experienced this when they refuse to join in the drinking and the drugs.
Wearing our Christianity is a solution to the problem of polarization in our society. When we identify ourselves first as Christians rather than as members of this or that political party or as liberal or conservative, then our primary mode of action will be to treat others with the kindness of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone is the solution to all our society’s needs. If we really want to heal our country’s ills, we need to wear the garment of the Lord.
Today we pray for an active Christianity. May we truly put on Christ, first in our homes, among God's people, and in our world. Like our patron, Ignatius of Antioch, may we live and die wearing the wedding garment of Christ.