I don’t know if many of you have had weddings lately or big events where you have to send out invitations, but if you haven’t, let me tell you, it’s a bit of a pain. I had experience with this sort of thing not too long ago, when I was ordained to the priesthood, and had to send out invitations for my ordination, First Mass of Thanksgiving, and reception. Now, to be honest, my mom and dad did most of the work, but I think we all felt frustration during the process. But people receive invitations in different ways. You have some very enthusiastic guests who respond within a day or two, usually with some cute message like “Congratulations! LOL!!”. Then you have some that respond quickly, informing you that they can’t come, but they send a little gift, which is always fun. Then you have some people whom you wait a couple weeks for, and once they discover they have nothing else better to do, they send you their affirmative response. But the most frustrating of responders aren’t the ones who respond negatively, but who don’t respond at all. I mean, how hard is it to send something back? Well, in Jesus’ parable today, he reminds us that we receive an invitation as well – the invitation to the divine banquet of the Lord in heaven. Most of us who are here, I would imagine, check the column for “Yes! I want to come!” whether enthusiastically or not at times. But as Christians, we who have responded positively to that invitation, we also have a special responsibility to check another box – number of guests.
This is what we call evangelization – the spreading of the Gospel to the corners of the earth. Evangelization is a major part of our lives as Christian men and women, but I think at times, it’s somewhat neglected. In ages past, spreading the faith was a very important part of people’s lives. We think about the Early Church – St. Peter went to Rome, St. James went to Spain, St. Paul spent his life travelling around the Mediterranean, and St. Thomas went even as far as India. We think of the time as the Church expanded and flourished, with St. Francis Xavier travelling on mission to Japan and others who spread the gospel far and wide. Even with the exploration of men like Christopher Columbus, who we remember tomorrow, came missionaries like Bartholomew de las Casas, who used exploration as a means to teach the Gospel to those who had not heard it. Like the individuals in the Gospel, these missionaries were sent to gather all, good and bad, to the wedding feast of Heaven.
But today, I think many of us have a negative view on it. Our faith is something that has become private and individualized. Going door to door talking about Christ is something foreign to most of us, and it makes us uncomfortable (it does for me at least). We feel that we don’t want to intrude on other people and their beliefs. But evangelization isn’t about pushing our beliefs on others, it’s about an invitation. You and I have received that invitation, and now we are called to invite others. And so we live and act in a way that points to Christ, so that when people ask us what it is that makes us who we are, we can answer, “Well, it’s my faith.”
You see, evangelization, extending that invitation to others, is an essential part of the Christian vocation, and in a special way, it is essential to the vocation of the laity. As a priest, I can preach fiery homilies, zealously teach children and adults the glorious teachings of our faith, be present in the school or community. But the closest I can come to preaching the Gospel in your workplace or family is putting a big sign out in front of the church. I mean, you should see the looks I sometimes get if I go to the grocery store or a restaurant in my clerics. People clam up, thinking that I’m going to pull out my metaphysical notepad and write down their sins to report them to God later. But when you sit down with them, or chat about the weekend with them, or report on the soccer or volleyball games with them, you send a totally different message. If we live our lives as Christians, there is something very different about the way we appear. And it’s attractive. One of the greatest inspirations for me is seeing large Catholic families that are trying to live their lives open to life as Christ and the Church teach. It’s not that those large families are any better than smaller ones, but they’re definitely noticeable, and sometimes they catch flak from coworkers or friends. How do you possibly deal with a family that large? What could possess you to live like that? But the answer to that question is based in their faith, and it is attractive to others. A single solitary role in the Church like a priest can’t complete the mission of Christ alone. It’s impossible. And that is why the vocation of the laity is so important! We have to work together, assisting each other in our vocations to spread the Gospel. Indeed, the mission of evangelization that Christ entrusts to us is impossible without the laity.
Now, please know that I’m not saying you should go knocking on your neighbors’ doors and asking them if they’ve accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, or that you should cover yourself in religious articles so that people know you’re a Catholic. The best way that people can know that we’re Catholic and that we can invite them is through being warm, welcoming, and loving. It’s about saying hello to that person next to you in the pew, especially if they’re not parishioners. It’s about doing something special, like offering a prayer before meals when you’re out to eat. That goes a long way! One of the greatest opportunities to evangelize is coming up in December and January with the Catholics Come Home initiative in the Archdiocese. This is really an all-hands-on-deck affair too. Imagine sitting down in the evening to watch your Desperate Housewives or NCIS or Monday Night Football or Glee or whatever you watch, and seeing a commercial about being Catholic, inviting viewers to come home. The main thrust of this will be a media campaign that is very vast and visible. It’s a time to be proud of being Catholic, and a time to live in a way that invites others to come home to the banquet.
You and I have received the Lord’s invitation to the banquet, and hopefully we’ve responded “Yes” with a number of guests. Let us then take to heart these words from Almighty God, our banquet host: Go out, therefore, into the main roads, and invite to the feast whomever you find.