The reflections for October are by Bishop Francis Alleyne, Bishop of Georgetown, Guyana and Vice-President of the Antilles Episcopal Conference
The gospel for this Sunday is one of the Kingdom parables; “the Kingdom of God can be compared to a King who gave a feast for his son’s wedding”. Wedding celebrations in our own time and very much in our region still win a lot of attention; the invitations, the gifts, the dress, decor, food, drink, music, the atmosphere for the reception, who will speak etc. There are balloons and bubbles and chocolate fountains and a sense that no detail is spared and lavish expenditure is the order of the day. In Guyana there is a popular custom of the wedding party and guests driving in convoy through the city or district blowing horns with the newly wed couple riding in an elaborately decorated car.
In recent years I have observed a practice at weddings whereby the turn out of invitees at the reception is significantly larger than the attendance at the church ceremony. Maybe extenuating circumstances such as baby sitters, traffic, working hours could account for this though I more get the impression that the faith aspect of the celebration is judged to be less important. I recall one wedding where the focus and attention of the young couple was on the church ceremony. Readings, hymns, dress and decorum were about the sacrament, the sacredness and about what was happening between the bride and groom and between God and this couple. The couple and gathering were standing before a great mystery; a mystery of two becoming one and something very unique and special beginning for the couple and wider community. The celebration was about love and trust and forgiveness and expansiveness of life. In the congregation I could recognise a number of couples who were part of Marriage Encounter, their presence giving endorsement, encouragement and affirmation to the newly weds. In that church that afternoon was laid out the banquet that Isaiah speaks of in the first reading of today’s liturgy. In that celebration were the finest foods and drink in abundance in the form of hopes, dreams, aspirations, mystery, desire, belonging and a confidence that so much is possible when God is with us. That is the wedding feast to which God invites us.
Marriage at its best it is the most profound expression of human relationship. This image is frequently adopted in scripture to describe the relationship between God and his people. God’s invitation to the wedding feast is for everyone to share with Him and one another something profound. Last year at the International Stewardship Conference I attended a workshop on “Growing an Engaged Church”. From polls done in faith communities in North America the findings were that on average in a parish community about 16% of the members were actively engaged in the life of the community. Using their gifts they would be committed to ministry, they would be generally interested in the life of the community and have a strong sense of ownership, loyalty and responsibility. The individuals in this group were found to have a strong and lively faith and through their example and interaction with others were a source of inspiration and encouragement to other members. This is a win-win situation. But why only 16%? The ideal would be that the full membership would enjoy a greater celebration of their faith. I think of that famous quote from St. Irenaeus “The Glory of God is in a human being fully alive”. How much more the glory of God would shine in a fully engaged community. The same poll showed that on average about 50% of a faith community were quite passive, they would be present at Sunday Mass but not involved in ministry and may not interact at all with other members. My own sense is that persons that could be described this way are selling themselves short, depriving themselves of a deeper communion with their God and neighbour. This, as it were, is coming to the wedding feast without a wedding garment, without the best attitude and disposition, not fully attuned to the spirit of the celebration, perhaps not fully free to participate. God’s invitation to his wedding feast is continually being extended to us. May our hearts be increasingly free and ready to join in celebration and communion with him and one another.
God our Father, you continually call us to new and more abundant life. Give us listening hearts to hear your call, touch us with your healing presence and dispel all fear and distress, so that with our brothers and sisters we can grow in your love and further your kingdom here on earth.