28th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year A
First Reading: Is 25:6-10a
Second Reading: Phil 4:12-14, 19-20
Gospel Reading: Mt 22:1-14
our loving Father, made us “to know him, love him, and serve him in this world
and to be happy with him forever in Heaven.” Do we believe that?
He is our shepherd, we hear in this Sunday’s liturgy; we shall “want for nothing.” He has prepared a wedding banquet for us, at which he “will fully satisfy every need” and “wipe away the tears from all faces.”
Instead, we often picture him as a tyrannical father who says “no” to everything we enjoy. Even if we do not go that far, we behave “like honest but reluctant taxpayers,” says C.S. Lewis. We approve of the tax in principle, and we file our returns honestly, but we are careful to pay as little as possible. “And we hope – we very ardently hope – that after we have paid it there will still be enough left to live on.”
Like the poet Francis Thompson in The Hound of Heaven, we are afraid “lest, having (God), (we) must have naught beside.” Accordingly, we try to compromise, hoping to learn, with skill and, above all, time, how to remain friends with God without totally rejecting evil.
“We must get rid of the idea – which surfaces in every temptation – that there is some place apart from God into which he forbids us to trespass,” Lewis says. “Some kind of delight which he does not appreciate or arbitrarily forbids, but which would really delight us if only he would allow it.”
Actually, he says, “any man who reaches heaven will find that what he has abandoned – even in plucking out his right eye – is precisely nothing”; that the “kernel” of what he really wanted is there, “beyond expectation, waiting for him.” As God says in Thompson’s poem, everything we think we have abandoned for God, God has stored for us in heaven.
God wants our happiness. It is he, not Satan, who has made everything we find pleasurable. All Satan can do is tempt us to enjoy it at times, or in ways, that confound God’s purpose in creating it – namely to make us happy. It is God who teaches us how to use his creation for maximum pleasure, not Satan.
Take our sexuality, for example. God, who made us, designed us to enjoy it, and he teaches us how to do so through his Church. When we pervert it, we reject the fullness of that enjoyment, even in this life.
Then, like a loving Father, God has to say “no.” Like children, we have to trust him, obeying him even when we cannot see how obedience will make us happy.
In her book Rome, Sweet Home, Kimberly Hahn tells how her daughter Hannah, aged one and a half, was hospitalized with dehydration, and how Kimberly and the nurses had to use ice-cold cloths to bring down her 105.2-degree temperature.
“Hannah was lying there with one arm bound by an IV tube and the other stretched toward me as far as she could reach, her whole body shaking hard,” Kimberly said. “She was screaming, ’Mommy! Mommy!’“
Kimberly knew she was doing “the most loving thing” for Hannah, but Hannah could not understand why her mother was “causing her such pain and discomfort.”
“Kimberly, do you see what a good parent you are?” God said. “You love your daughter, so you are causing her pain to heal her. Do you see how much I have loved you, my daughter? I have caused you pain to heal you, to draw you to myself.”
We have to accept pains as well as pleasures from God. They are unavoidable “growing pains” as we learn to reject the illusory happiness Satan claims to offer and accept the infinite happiness God truly promises. As St. Paul says, we must learn “the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.”