We Can Do All things in Him who Strengthens Us
I hate wedding receptions. I do my absolute best to avoid them. At least I’m honest: I tell the bride and groom that I’d much rather go to the dentist. I mean, what does a priest do at a wedding reception? I know what the family of the bride and groom do. They look at your replies to the wedding invitations and say, “Oh my God, nasty old Aunt Harriet is going to be coming. Who can we seat next to her?” So there I am for two to three hours listening to Aunt Harriet tell me how she doesn’t go to Church anymore because some lousy priest wouldn’t let her put flowers on the altar in memory of her husband just because it was Lent. Meanwhile all the eyes in the room are on me to see if and how much I am drinking, if I will dance or not. And the family has to pay quite a lot for me to have such a lousy time.
Anyway, we are all acquainted with wedding receptions, so this is a good framework for today’s parables. The wedding banquet is used as a reference to union with God. There are really two parables in the Gospel. In the first parable people who are invited to feast with the Lord find reasons to ignore the invitation, or even to try to destroy his presence. The scary thing for us is that we have been invited to feast on the Lord’s love, and we are tempted to decline the invitation in favor of carrying on an improper relationship, getting drunk, getting high, being hateful, etc. In the second parable, the King comes and finds a man not dressed properly. He throws him out. Why is the King so upset? Maybe, the poor guy didn’t have money for fancy clothes. He was probably hungry. Why was the King being so mean? Well, we have to go deeper than that. The man was welcome into the Banquet of the Lord, but he refused to put on Jesus Christ. “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ,” St. Paul tells the Romans, and the Galatians, and the Colossians. The man wanted to enjoy the gifts of God without being committed to His Kingdom.
This parable confronts us with the question: How do we wear our Christianity? I have a cross around my neck. That’s nice. But that’s insufficient. That’s a mere sign of the Presence of the Lord. To wear our Christianity, our lifestyle must consist in choosing Jesus in every aspect of our lives.
And that is pretty hard. How can we wear Jesus Christ? How do we develop the Christian attitude of life? How do we inculcate Christianity into every aspect of our existence? The wonderful Fr. John Fullenbach, SVD, a theologian I took a few workshops with, has this suggestion for living as a Christian. He says that every morning after we wake up we should reflect on three concepts, pray over them, and talk to God over them. This brief meditation will transform our lives and clothe us in the Lord.
The first thought is this. “God’s love for me is unconditional.” God doesn’t love me because He wants this or that from me. He doesn’t love me for what I do. He loves me for who I am. We need to reflect on this every day. God sees me and sees you as a parent sees his or her child. Only infinitely better. A parent doesn’t love a child for what the child does. A parent loves a child for whom that child is. That’s a hint of how God loves me and loves you. We are loved by the Tremendous Lover. We are infinitely lovable. We are worthwhile. We have value. Negative thoughts about ourselves are foreign to Christianity. We are good because we are loved by the One who is All Good. Don’t take this for granted. Reflect on it every day. Sometimes we get down on ourselves. Many Teens, including those who appear to be the most conceited, are down on themselves. It is also true for adults. We have to remember: God loves me and God loves you unconditionally. We have value to the One who is the Source of all Good.
The second thought we need to strengthen each day is this: God forgives me. He also forgives me for the times that I have not loved Him unconditionally. He forgives me for the times I have been lazy or selfish or self centered. He forgives me for the times that I have thrown off the garment of the Lord. When we recognize our sins, we are full of self loathing. God doesn’t want that. God loves us too much to allow us to wallow in guilt and self-loathing. He forgives us. He wants us happy.
The third thought flows from the first two is: God is with me. We need to meditate on this each day as part of our hello to God in the morning. God is with me. What is today going to throw at me? Is it going to be more than I can handle? No, it will not be. And here is where St. Paul’s words in today’s second reading fit in. “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.” That’s Philippians 4:13. Write that verse in your heart. There is nothing that is going to happen today or tomorrow or next week or month or year that I will not be able to handle together with the One who loves me so much.
Am I a recovering addict? Do I fear that I might give in and go back to square one? Don’t fear. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.
Am I a widowed retiree? Perhaps I have met a nice person who wants to share the rest of his or her life with me. But that means sacrificing some retirement salary. Can I withstand my peers who are saying that we should just live together? Can I stand for my Lord Jesus and either get married or tone down the relationship? Sure, this is very hard, but I am wearing Jesus Christ. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.
Am I a business person in an office where everyone takes it for granted that the only way to succeed in business is by knocking down and climbing over others? Or perhaps dishonesty is taken for granted. How can I be a Christian in an un-Christian workplace. Is it too hard? No, I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.
Maybe the peer pressure is coming from school. Everyone tells me that I am the only one who is still a virgin, or who doesn’t have sex, or who doesn’t drink or do drugs. Young people, this is a lie. In fact, it’s the big lie that takes its origin from the prince of lies, the devil. You are better than that and so are most of your friends. Sadly, for some people, the best way to justify their own sinfulness is to get others to join them in sin. But how do I stand up to all this? How do I exist if my friends scorn me? Remember, I wear Jesus Christ. I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.
People long for the Truth. And people need us to stand up for the Truth Incarnate. The world needs us to wear Christ proudly. To put His wedding garment on, we need to meditate every day on the three realities of Christian life. God loves me with an unconditional love. He continually forgives me. And He is always with me.
Life is beautiful. Jesus is beautiful. You are beautiful, and I am beautiful. Jesus has made us beautiful.
How can we protect this beauty in the face of temptations?
We can do all things in Him who strengthens us.