Today’s Gospel likens heaven to a wedding feast, and Jesus with his parable warns us against being like the people whose busy lives kept them from the feast. The first reading enlarges on that comparison of heaven to a wedding feast. It says the feast will consist of rich foods and choice wines.
If any of you have heard me talk you know how I go on and on about the dozen years I spend as pastor in a Korean county place at the end of their war over there. When I took over my parish in 1954 some U.S. soldiers gave me a jeep to drive. I had it for less than a year when the Korean government took it off me. But in the beginning of 1955 I chauffeured three couples to their wedding banquets. They had been near starving, and the banquet was going to mean more to them than the wedding night.
I remember one young groom from my backseat going on and on about the foods his village was laying out for them. He used a Korean phrase that stuck in my mind. He said, “Opnungot opsumnida.” Literally: “The delight that isn’t there isn’t there.”
Now, those enticements fall flat with most of us. We take long tortuous walks to walk off the rich foods and choice wines that are making us fat. To make us work for heaven we need something quite different to entice us. But what would that be?
My father was a busy, happy man through his seventies and eighties. He had two regular bridge games and one all-night poker game each week. But at ninety he couldn’t tell clubs from spades, and he couldn’t get around in his Mercury coupe. So, he asked his priest son, “Tom, what is heaven really like?”
That was thirty-five years ago, but last summer I came on something that supplied a bit of an answer. I went line for line through Dante’s Divine Comedy. As a twelve year old Dante had fallen in love with a nine year old Beatrice Portinari, and she died young. When he was thirty-five, and straying from the path of virtue, he conceived the plot for his Divine Comedy.
He imagined Beatrice from heaven acquiring the service of Virgil, who was Dante’s ideal poet. In twenty-four thousand verses Dante described Virgil leading him through hell and purgatory, leaving it to Beatrice to lead Dante through heaven.
In heaven Beatrice let Dante see that all the gorgeous sunsets and the music that had enchanted him were only faint echoes. They were echoes of the forms God saw in the Word when he made all things in and through him. Beatrice explained that in one cryptic verse. Here is the English translation of that verse.
She began: “Al things among themselves
possess an order, and this order is
the form that makes the universe like God.”