We welcome today’s invitation, “Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!” (Prov 9:5). Then, just as we are ready to dive in, St. Paul seems to slap our reaching hand and admonishes, “Do not get drunk on wine, in which lies debauchery” (Eph 5:18). We are conflicted because we are hungry and thirsty and sometimes desperately so. What are we to do?
First, the first reading refers to Wisdom’s feast: her delights and fruits. We are invited to “be filled with the Spirit” (Eph 5:18). St. Paul is referring to quite another table. Even still, haven’t we all found the worldly spread enticing, even the subtly (or blatantly) distorted portrayal of the person, of truth, of beauty? Many times we don’t even RSVP to Wisdom’s feast because we don’t crave that food of holiness. We need to develop the refined palate necessary. John Paul II marks a path when he links wisdom (the hostess of today’s feast) to purity, and purity to temperance. All are for communion. We start with temperance.
Temperance is not just the ability to say no to another drink (or cookie). It has a most noble and important end: the correct orientation of man’s deepest desires of self-preservation and self-gift. The Catechism states that temperance “seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason” (CCC 2340). What an image! The passions become fully saturated with reason, with truth. They are educated to crave and savor rightly. They pull us out of ignorance and help us understand the desires of the Lord (see Prov 9:6). So, we restrain our impulses and misdirected desires, which seek to grasp, possess, indulge, or escape. For, to gorge in sinful behavior leads to indigestion of the spirit. What tasted good has left us with a sour heart.
But, we need to eat. Our rumbling tummies remind us of our restless hearts. The next step brings us closer to the table. It purifies our palate. Think purity of heart—to be pristine, clear, whole, good, like pure water; nothing is there except what belongs. Pope John Paul II says that we must be made pure and also keep pure: “the task of purity…is not only (and not so much) abstaining…from ‘lustful passions,’ but, at the same time, keeping one’s body, and indirectly that of the other, in ‘holiness and reverence’” (TOB 54:3). This means to revere the other as one worthy of receiving the life-giving foods from Wisdom’s feast.
St. Paul says, “Watch carefully then how you live” (Eph 5:15). We do this through “‘abstaining’ and ‘keeping,’ [which] are strictly connected and dependent on each other.” (TOB 54:3). They only make sense when seen and lived together and in tandem they lead to understanding and wisdom (cf. Prov 9:6). We are now ready to talk about the banquet’s hostess.
Another passage from the wisdom literature confesses, “Toward [wisdom] I turned my desire and I found her in purity (Sir 51:20).” The pope comments, “wisdom…is a condition for purity as a particular gift of God. … The virtue stands at the service of wisdom, and wisdom disposes one to receive the gift that comes from God” (TOB 57:4). If wisdom is the one preparing the feast, then wisdom enables us to desire and appreciate the gifts offered. Without wisdom, there is no purity of desire, no true sight, no true partaking, no true communion. But with her, we come to the feasting, the singing, and the communion. Indeed, “Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in…spiritual songs, singing and playing to the Lord in your hearts” (Eph 5:18-19).
Now, both the drunk man and the Spirit-filled man sing. The manifestations are similar, but the inspiration and tune are so very different. Admittedly, it may seem a little strange to go around like the cast of La La Land or The Greatest Showman, breaking sporadically into song. But, maybe we should. While walking down a wooded path along a canal, I began listening to Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Nature came alive! Music can awaken our hearts and our hearts have a song to sing. If you don’t know the words, then start by remembering that “God ‘is love,’ the essential love shared by the three divine Persons… [T]he Holy Spirit…‘searches even the depths of God,’ as uncreated Love-Gift. … He is Person-Love. He is Person-Gift” (Dominum et vivificantem, 3). And ‘The Church truly knows that only God, whom she serves, meets the deepest longings of the human heart, which is never fully satisfied by what the world has to offer.’ (DV, 26).
But God’s gift satisfies: “[God] gave himself to us through his Spirit. By the participation of the Spirit, we become communicants in the divine nature. … For this reason, those in whom the Spirit dwells are divinized” (CCC 1988). This gives us a beautiful context for the Gospel: the food of the feast is none other than the Body of Christ. It knows this because Jesus declared (repeatedly), “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him” (Jn 6:56, emphasis added). The banquet, then, means communion with Christ, which means “Participation in the divine nature, participation in the inner life of God himself, penetration and permeation of what is essentially human by what is essentially divine…the life of the human spirit will reach a fullness that was absolutely inaccessible to it before. This new spiritualization will thus be a fruit of grace, that is, of God’s self-communication in his very divinity, not only to the soul, but to the whole of [man, body and soul, his own person]” (TOB 67:3). And he communicates it through a feast!
So, let not “your faces…blush with shame” (Ps 34:6b) by getting drunk on counterfeit wine, but repent and “look to him that you may be radiant with joy” (Ps 34:6a) through communion with the Lord. Yes, let all whom Wisdom invites today, at this mass, “taste and see how good the Lord is.”
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Father Steven Costello was ordained a priest with the Legionaries of Christ on December 12, 2011. Prior to entering the seminary, he majored in Music Education at the University of Central Florida. His main instrument is trombone and he particularly enjoys Mahler’s Symphonies. He is currently in the revision process of his doctoral dissertation through the John Paul II Institute in Washington, DC. The topic is the human person in light of the heart of Christ. He has participated in both the TOB I: Head & Heart Immersion and TOB & Art: The Way of Beauty courses and served as chaplain for TOB I. In August, he began his role as chaplain at Divine Mercy University in Arlington, VA.