Today, we find ourselves dancing to the drumbeats beckoning us into the infernal circles wherein are normalized, as approved human behavior and dispositions, the ideologies of transgenderism, homosexuality, and the unprecedented deification of autonomy, the so-called freedom to say, think, or do whatever the human spirit defends as fitting, right, and doable. The question of “ought” must never play a limiting role in this infernal dance. The only permissible question is, “Can it be done?” In this way, we are increasingly denying that which is truly and most fundamentally human, our contingency and the fact that we are creatures who “happen upon” themselves already in existence, prior to our willing or choosing it. Our lives are born from love, of love, and for love, no matter how hard we try to ignore or refute this truth. The love we are speaking of is the love of the Triune God, who himself is Love. For even as scripture says, “It is in him [Christ Jesus, the eternal Word, Logos], it is through him, by him, and for him that all things are made.” (Rom 11:36, Col 1:16-17). Yes, “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28).
The depth of truth herein proclaimed, to use the words of the French Phenomenologist, Jean-Louis Chrétien, is the fact that existence is always already a response, an answering ‘present’ to an originary summons or call by divine benevolence, without our prior knowledge or consent. It is a call out of non-being into being. We are thought into being by the divine intellect, or better still, loved into being by perfect Love itself. Our life, therefore, can make sense only in this dynamic of “call-and-response.” For we are constituted in being, given here and now, in time and space, as already always responding to an initial call whose whereabouts and wither surpass our own manipulation, and can only be received as a gift in much the same way as our very existence is a received gift. Sin and rebellion begin the moment when we stop viewing our existence as a received gift but try to determine for ourselves what it means to be human (cf. Benedict XVI, Values in Time of Upheaval, 110). Sin is a failing to answer generously to the Lord who has called us graciously. This explains why sin is a kind of death, for it is a cutting away of self from the love that alone can sustain the self in being.
Strangely, though, the drumbeats of today’s anti-life and relativistic culture are a celebration of man’s suicide, couched in the clamorous lyrics, “Be your own man!” What an irony! We are invited to be our own man, while we cannot bring ourselves into being. The lyrics bawl further: Say no to the ‘oppressive laws of established religion’! Do it your own way! Create for yourself your own moral code, and institute your own religion according to your preferences! In short, become the “superman,” the overman, the Übermensch, who is not naïve to remain trapped in the valley of the ghostly shadows of the dead God.
“God is dead; but there may still be caves in which his shadow lingers on. We must still defeat his shadow as well!” (Nietzsche, The Gay Science, Bk. III, par. 108). This is the agenda that remains to today’s anti-Christian ideologies, hidden beneath the banners of so-called human rights. Yes, we have the right to kill God, to make a parody of the “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine” [Grant them eternal rest, O Lord], such that we would now sing, with Nietzsche, “Requiem aeternam Deo” [Grant God eternal rest]. Not just that! We must now ourselves become gods. Only too little we realize that this means our very own death, since for us to be, is to be in relationship of response to the God whose call brings us into existence and sustains us in being.
The call of the Christian life, the invitation to life in Christ, which revelation (scripture) holds out to us, makes sense only in the context of this relationality. Of the many images of life, feasting with rich foods and fine wines are of precious significance. They beautifully anticipate the Eucharistic banquet in which Christ offers his very own life for our salvation, under the forms of bread and wine. (CCC 1382). The Eucharist is the bloodless representation of the sacrifice of love on Calvary, offered in the place of our disobedience that severed our relationship with God and plunged us into mourning, weeping, and ultimately death. In responding with the most efficacious “Yes” to the Father, Christ, having taken upon himself the curse of our “No” to God, has redeemed us, speaking “Yes” on our behalf and thus making it possible for us to once more draw near to the rich banquet of life to which God called us from the very first moment of our existence, an existence which is itself an initial “yes” to God’s summons. This is the richness of the Christian faith.
The evangelical banquet summons is foreshadowed in the Hebrew Bible, especially in the prophet Isaiah, when he announces the mountain on which “the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine, the best of meats and the finest of wines. On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.” (Is 25:6-8). The “death” here spoken of is that reality which threatens our very being with disintegration, a falling away from the relationship of “responsive yes” to God.
In this prophecy of Isaiah, the mountain most probably refers to Jerusalem (Zion), the very place where the Christ would offer his sacrifice of “Yes” for our salvation. It is on this mountain that man’s greatest enemy, death, is conquered by Christ, thereby exchanging for mourning, singing and dancing, and for gloomy tear-filled faces, joy and gladness. Therefore, the images of rich food, finest wine, meat, removal of sadness/ tears/disgrace, point to the beauty, joy, felicity, and peace of the kingdom of the Messiah. They all point to the lifelines of the banquet of his own Body and Blood, a pledge of the eternal banquet of the Lamb.
This eternal banquet is imaged severally in the gospels. One such imaging, which highlights the aspect of relationality and response as important dimensions to this kingdom, is found in Matthew 22:1-14. In this text, Christ speaks of a wedding organized by a king for his son: Invitations were served to a select few but they refused to join the feasting, and they even killed some of the messengers sent to remind them about the invitation. Next, a general invitation was then served to everyone possible. Many people gathered for the feast; but the king spotted a man without the wedding garment, bound him up foot and hand, and threw him out into the dark, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.
How beautifully does Christ show us that “responding” to God’s invitation is a pre-requisite for admittance unto the mountain upon which the rich foods and fine wines are laid for our enjoyment – symbols of eternal life. Our life’s journey is therefore bound up with a constant “response” to that initial call we received unto life at our creation. Deafened and blurred by sin, God chose to echo definitively, in his Son Jesus Christ, that initial call. His love calls out to us amidst the miry clay of our fallenness. Some, today, like those of old who killed the prophets sent to foretell this great news, and even John the Baptist, who pointed out the Lamb of God when he arrived among men, are likewise rejecting this invitation to life, and are trying to silence the voice of truth by their malignant campaigns and lobbying.
There are, however, others who like to flirt with the idea of “being called to this banquet of life” but remain trapped by the enticing drumbeats of secular ideologies. This latter group want to have it both ways: A Christianity without doctrine and morals; a Feuerbachian religion without God, or rather, with man, his anthropological projections, as the new god, as that which decides between right and wrong; or again, a religion in which nothing is wrong, but some things are simply preferable than others. This is like showing up for the wedding feast without the garment (of faith and virtue). We have it on the authority of scripture that while all might be invited or are welcome, showing up without the “wedding garment” only ends in the “death” that results in weeping and grinding of teeth. (Mt 22:12-14). Should we still be in doubt about what garment is in question here, then, Paul’s account is instructive, “You must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience… Above all, clothe yourselves with love.” (Col 3:12-14). Isn’t love the greatest commandment of God, who further says, “If you love me keep my commandments… and the Father and I will make our home in you…” (Mt 22:36-40; Jn 14:15).
One of the severest heterodoxies of our days is the ambiguity of the unqualified claim, “Everyone is welcome in the Church.” Yes, all are indeed welcome. Even scripture says as much. However, we must immediately add to this statement, that being welcomed does not mean changing the faith or doctrine to accommodate our ideologies and whims. Rather, it means all are invited to say “yes” to God according to how he has revealed that we “ought” to worship him and love him and so come to life with him forever. This entails commandments, laws, rituals, moral codes – in short, the received content of faith. God’s love impels us to conversion. His grace does not confirm us in our sin but seeks to transform us into new creatures. For instance, Christ loved the woman caught in adultery, welcomed her, forgave her, but said unto her, “Woman, go and sin no more.” (Jn 8:11). This reinterprets for us the meaning of the words of the gospel, “Many are called but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14), to mean that “Many are called but few choose to respond with a sustained ‘Yes’ to the God who calls.”
It was G. K. Chesterton who once said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” (What’s Wrong with the World, pt. 1, chp. 5). In this vein, one could confidently say that the problem, today, is hardly that the Church shuts its doors to some groups of individuals. It is rather that some find the Church’s faith, doctrine, and discipline unbearable. They would rather have the Church change her teachings to accommodate their tastes than change their ways and embrace the life-giving truth of faith proposed by the Church. Accordingly, the most-needed message today is not so much that “All are welcome” but that “All are called to say, ‘yes’, to the God of Jesus Christ and his truth as revealed in scripture, preserved and handed down in and by the living tradition of the Church.”
If the gospels (e.g., Matthew 25:31-46) teach us one thing about the apocalyptic character of the banquet of the Lamb, to which the Church is only a sacramental beginning, it is, to use the words of C. S. Lewis, that there shall be “The Great Divorce” between those who belong and those who do not, between sheep and goats. It is a matter of “either or” – heaven or hell – and this divide depends on the very divide between good and evil, right and wrong, virtuous and unvirtuous, truth and falsehood, those for Christ or those against Christ. It is thus illusory to live as though “all ways” are equally right, or all ideologies are equally valid. Therefore, true freedom, true life, is to be found in saying “Yes” to the God who calls, according to how he calls, and for the purpose he calls, and this purpose is enshrined in us at the very moment of our coming to be.
May God help us to let go of our own agenda, and so find our lives in our “Yes” to him!
– Fr. Tegha A. Nji –