Thursday, August 19, 2010
The King's Dress Code: Optional or Mandatory?
The parable of the Wedding Banquet was the theme for Thursday's Gospel reading(August 19th, 2010). It just happens to hold the key as to the reason why the Catholic Church has suffered great declines in Mass attendance, decline in priestly and religious vocations, and an increase of secularization in the world. An excerpt of that reading is taken from the Gospel of Matthew 22:
"The servants went out into the streets
and gathered all they found, bad and good alike,
and the hall was filled with guests.
But when the king came in to meet the guests
he saw a man there not dressed in a wedding garment.
He said to him, ‘My friend, how is it
that you came in here without a wedding garment?’"
The Church, in many parts of the world, but especially in the West, does not require repentance in order to join the Church, or to receive the sacraments. Parents who show little resolve to live the life of Christ by, let's say, observing the Lord's Day every week are permitted to have their infants baptized; teenagers are not required to confirm their baptismal vows by professing to live out the Gospel before they receive the sacrament of Confirmation; engaged couples are not required to repent and abstain from living together before entering into the sacred bonds of Matrimony and worse yet, politicians who have a proven record of supporting abortion rights are not told to publicly renounce their sin against the dignity of life before approaching the altar. Of course, there are exceptions with each of these examples. But the point is that in the last fifty years repentance has become as option instead of an absolute necessity. And there lies the problem to the Church's woes.
In the Acts of the Apostles (chapter 2) the people asked St. Peter: What must we do to be saved? He replied, "Repent and be baptized." That is, repent first and then be baptized! And St. Peter could have gone on to say: Repent first and then receive the Body and Blood of Christ! Repent first and then receive the sacrament of Confirmation! Repent first and then receive the sacrament of Matrimony! Our Lord said, “Do not give pearls to swine and holy things to dogs lest they tear you to pieces.” He cautioned the Apostles and future Shepherds of His flock not to give the sacraments, the mysteries of the Faith, and even the name “Catholic” to those who would not respect holy things or be a worthy recipients of them. Jesus warned that to ignore this injunction would result in being “torn to pieces.” Perhaps the current day division within the Church, the conflicting messages coming from the Church hierarchy and the contradictions among Catholics on important moral issues is what our Lord meant when he said “lest they tear you to pieces.”
Repentance, which leads to holiness, is that white garment the Lord was referring to in the parable of the banquet. Repentance is a sincere effort to renounce sin and turn towards the Lord and the new way of life he has for us. Pope St. Gregory the Great said that the tears of repentance must come before the waters of baptism. Traditionally, repentance was the condition and the prerequisite of being a member of the Mystical Body of Christ. If this repentance was wanting, then the candidate wishing to join the Church would simply be denied. By and large, this was the pastoral practice of the Catholic Church up until the 1960's.
For instance, in early Christianity (here I refer to the first millennium) a candidate wishing to enter the Catholic Church had to demonstrate to the Bishop over three years that he or she willing to observe "all that Christ commanded." And as late as the 1940's it was common practice in the Church's RCIA to ascertain that candidates believed all of the Church's teachings before being initiated into the Body of Christ, the Church. Unlike the servants in the parable who allowed the guest to sit down at the banquet without the proper attire, the Catholic Church was a jealous mother who made sure her children were properly dressed. I would argue that her dress code in centuries past bore a striking resemblance to the dress code the King enforces in heaven.
Please read part II on the next blog.
Posted by Joe at 9:37 PM