God’s Invitations

God’s Invitations

I’d imagine that a pet peeve of most organizers of wedding receptions is invited guests who do not respond to invitations one way or another—especially if they then show up anyway for the celebration. Such invitations usually say RSVP—the abbreviation for the French respondez si vous plais, or “Respond if you please,” stating whether or not one will be attending, so that the planners can make sure there’s enough space and food for everyone coming. On one occasion a professional singer named Ruthanna was asked to sing for a lavish society wedding in Seattle, her hometown; it was the social event of the season, and she was thrilled and honored to participate. Ruthanna was especially looking forward to attending the reception with her husband Roy; since the bride and groom were from wealthy families, the party was being held on the top two floors of one of the most elegant and exclusive buildings in the Northwest United States. When they arrived there, they saw how the maitre’d, wearing a stunning black tuxedo, was escorting guests toward tables filled with delicious hors d’oeuvres and exotic drinks. When it was their turn, the head waiter asked for their names; after Ruthanna answered, he looked through the guest book, but finally said, “I’m sorry, but your names aren’t here.” Ruthanna protested, “There must be some mistake—I was the singer at the wedding!” To this the maitre’d responded, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you did; if your name isn’t in the book, you cannot attend the banquet.” Then he signaled for one of the waiters and instructed him, “This couple is leaving; please escort them to the service elevator.”

Ruthanna and Roy were led past the tables filled with mouth-watering foods, past the bar were people were lined up to get their drinks, past the orchestra whose white- tuxedoed musicians were getting ready to play, and past all the other guests who were clearly enjoying themselves, and taken to the service elevator in a back hallway, and ushered inside. The waiter pushed the G button for the parking garage, and down the two of them went. Roy asked, “Honey, what just happened?” Ruthanna answered, “When the invitation to the reception arrived, I was so busy I put it aside, and never sent it in. After all, I was the featured singer at the ceremony; I thought surely there would be room for us at the reception.” With that, she began to cry as she realized she was going to miss out on the most wonderful and lavish party of her life. Through her carelessness, she and her husband had a small taste of what it would be like on Judgment Day to stand before God and be told, “I’m sorry, but your names are not in the Book of Life” (Dr. David Jeremiah, The Book of Signs, p. 191). It is never enough just to assume there’s a place for us in the Kingdom of Heaven; we must actively respond to Our Lord’s invitation.  

The Bible often uses the image of a banquet to describe the nature of Heaven—which makes sense when we remember that in ancient times, food was not as plentiful, nor meals as regular or reliable, as they are today. St. Paul (Phil 4:12-14, 19-20) tells us that he had the experience of being well fed but also of going hungry—but through it all, he learned that God could be relied upon to supply his needs. In Heaven, of course, we’ll not only have everything we need, but also everything our hearts might ever desire—including, as the prophet Isaiah (25:6-10) informs us, an end to suffering and death, and freedom from sorrow and doubt. In God’s Kingdom, we will perfectly know and understand the truth, and will delight and rejoice in it. However, Jesus warns us in the Gospel of Matthew (22:1-14) that we must not be casual or complacent in responding to God’s invitation to be part of the Kingdom. Many of those invited to the wedding banquet in Our Lord’s parable had mixed-up priorities and ended-up being left out; some were even punished severely because of their wickedness. We are almost certainly not going to end up in that category, but there is a real danger that many Catholics and other Christians might not take their faith seriously enough—as symbolized by the guest who showed up not wearing a wedding garment. This white garment symbolizes the good deeds expected of Christ’s followers; merely claiming to be the Lord’s disciples is not enough, and those who do not actually live out their faith in Jesus cannot expect to be part of His Kingdom.

Some years ago a couple being married in California had a simple but valuable idea: everyone invited to their reception was asked to bring some canned food, which would be donated to the local food pantry. The couple’s invitation said, “Help us share our joy [with those in need] as an extension of our love” (Christopher News Notes #323). Simple acts of kindness and compassion like this do make a difference, offering hope to other people while actively helping prepare ourselves to live in God’s presence.

All of us, of course, want to make it to Heaven one day—so from time to time it’s good to ask ourselves whether we’re truly responding to the Lord’s invitation, or whether we’re allowing worldly concerns to interfere in our response to God. For instance, are we too busy to pray and spend silent time with the Lord each day—giving Him not just a few hurried or distracted minutes, but actual moments of quiet and loving attention? Is attending weekend Mass a true expression of our love and gratitude, or just an obligation or chore to be taken care of as quickly as possible? Do we obey God’s commandments primarily out of fear or guilt, or as a genuine response to our Heavenly Father’s love? Are we happy to serve others when the opportunity arises, or do we complain and do so in a grudging way? Is thinking of our own desires and convenience our default position, or are we willing to move out of our comfort zone to help someone else in need?

We cannot, of course, earn our way into Heaven; eternal life is God’s free gift, rooted in His immeasurable mercy and love. However, this gift requires our active response. If you held the winning lottery ticket, but made no effort to turn it in, sign the necessary paperwork, and collect your prize, you would miss out—and you would have no one to blame but yourself. In the same way, each of us has a personal invitation from God to attend Jesus’ wedding banquet in Heaven as honored guests—but we must give our RSVP by putting our faith into practice each day. This is what we need, and what Our Lord desires, more than anything else. 

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper