Preached at Holy Sepulcher Parish on October 14, 2017 at 6:00pm and October 15, 2017 at 8:00am and 10:30am Masses
A married couple were in their 90’s and had been married for 70 years, but they still had excellent health, because the wife always insisted that they both eat right and exercise. Unfortunately, as they drove to the beach on vacation, they were in a terrible auto accident and they both died.
When they arrived in heaven they were greeted by St. Peter who said, “Welcome to heaven! Right this way! The feast is about to begin!”
They entered a large room filled with the most magnificent meal ever prepared. There were tables filled with steak, lobster covered in butter, Primanti’s sandwiches, potatoes with gravy, curly fries with cheese, snacks and desserts, and pitchers full of beer and wine as far as the eye could see.
Knowing he should eat healthy, the man looked at his wife and then asked St. Peter, “Well, where are the low fat, low cholesterol foods, and the unsweetened iced tea?”
“If you are interested they are at the far end, but the best part,” St. Peter replied. “you can eat and drink as much as you want of whatever want and you will never get fat or sick. This is heaven.”
The man glared at his wife and said, “You and your ‘eat right and exercise!’ We could have been here 25 years ago!”
That joke is not a call for you to stop eating right or to quit exercising. Heaven is a great place, but God has called each one of us to live out our personal vocation on earth and to do so for as long as we can.
Many of us spend a percentage of our time trying to live a longer life: eating healthy, exercising, taking vitamins and supplements, getting health screenings, and visiting the doctor. There are apps to track the number of miles we’ve walked or run and how much weight we have lost or lifted, and there are those health bands that let some people know their hearts are still beating. We take classes for yoga or Pilates, and we buy old exercise videos like Sweating to the Oldies or those new ones like P90X or Insanity. I think we are prepared to live long and healthy lives. But are we as well prepared to live for all eternity?
Today’s first reading from Isaiah describes heaven as “a feast of rich food and choice wines.” Today’s gospel describes the kingdom of heaven as “a wedding feast.” Heaven is a great place, but it is so much more than an “all-you-can-eat” buffet. As Isaiah tells us today in the first reading, heaven is a place that “the Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face” and God will “destroy death forever.” It’s clearly the place to be, and yet we probably don’t spend as much time preparing ourselves to be there as much as we should. It would be nice if there was a workout program that prepares us for heaven.
First, every workout program needs a goal. For example, if you are overweight, your goal would be your target weight. If you want to run a marathon, your goal would be the date of the race. All of us have the goal to make it to heaven, it’s the ultimate goal, the most important goal. Whatever your goal is, it is recommended that you should write it down and put it in a prominent place so that you are constantly reminded of it. I’m sure some of us have had goals that we have written down at one time or another, “I want to write a book,” or “I want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro,” or whatever your goal might be, but how many of us have actually written down our ultimate goal “I want to get to heaven?” Writing it down helps you to focus on it.
Next, once you have a goal, you need to devote time to reach that goal. If you are going to run a marathon, you don’t run 26.2 miles on the first day. It won’t happen. If you try it, you will give up in frustration rather quickly. You have to have to months or years of gradually building up the endurance to be able to run that far. You also have to exercise regularly or the fitness you have achieved begins to diminish. I know people who do their daily run “religiously.” I know people whose exercise time is “sacred” to them. We need the same type of attitude that we bring to our workouts to our spiritual life. We need to get in our daily walk with the Lord no matter what. Going to Mass despite the rain, reading scripture or praying even if we are a little tired or unmotivated. We must be “religious” about our religion. We must treat our spiritual life as if it is “sacred.” Father Bob and I were both on retreat this weekend getting in our spiritual workouts, but if that was the only time we worked on our spiritual life we would be in trouble. Spirituality is much like exercise, when you reach a certain level of fitness, it is a very important part of you and your life that cannot be missed. We must give regular and generous amounts of time to our relationship with the Lord and achieving our goal of getting to heaven.
Finally, one of the most important aspects of achieving a goal is to have a partner, a spouse or a friend that can help motivate you, inspire you, and keep you on track toward your goal whenever you don’t quite feel up to it or you just feeling giving up. It is important to note that our spiritual life is not something we do alone or a goal that we achieve as an individual, but it is us and the Lord. I love the imagery from today’s responsorial psalm that describes what he does for us. “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose. He leads me. He refreshes my soul. He guides me in right paths.” The Lord is not just our shepherd, but he is our spiritual coach leading us to the goal of heaven.
Our Lord has given us a personal invitation to his wedding feast. We are not like those in the gospel who declined the invitation. We have accepted it. But we cannot be like the man in the gospel who accepted the invitation, but was not ready. It does not say in the gospel why he was not in a wedding garment, maybe it was the fact that he was dragged off the street without warning to attend, or maybe it was because the garment he had did not fit. He just might have been out of shape. Heaven is a great place, but we must be spiritually in shape and fit for the kingdom of God. Our most important goal is to make it to heaven, so we must put in the time to prepare. Our Lord and coach is waiting to guide us. Follow him.
As Isaiah says in today’s first reading, “Let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us!”