When I owned a software company for many years, I often read business books to help in running my business. One of my favorite books was Stephen Covey's Seven Principles of Highly Effective People. His last principle in that book is "Begin with the end in mind." This refers to having a vision of how you want something to end up in the long term. It’s about starting things with a clear idea of your destination, so that you make progress towards that goal.
This principle applies to many areas of our lives: including leadership, project management, and sports. If you’re sure about how to complete a project, you’ll be able to plan it efficiently, better communicate its purpose to the people involved, accurately measure its success upon completion and, above all, have the proper motivation to tackle it.
In today's readings, this principle is applied to our spiritual lives. The first reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah gives us a view of heaven. Isaiah says that the Lord of hosts will provide a feast of rich food and choice wines. The Lord will remove the veil that veils all people and will destroy death forever. Finally, the Lord tells us to rejoice and be glad that he has saved us. Certainly, this view of heaven should provide an end or a goal for our lives.
In the Gospel, Jesus gives us a parable of a wedding feast which again gives us a vision of heaven. Then, it focuses on our possible responses to being called to the feast and the judgment that we all must experience before reaching our ultimate destination of eternal bliss or eternal damnation.
In the parable, the king summons his invited guests to the feast as he has all of us. But, many refused to come. Then, the king sent his servants out a second time to invite guests to the feast. Again, some of the guests ignored the invitation and went to the farm to work and to their business. They were busy doing things that seemed more important at the time. Others reacted to the invitation by killing the servants who invited them.
The king is enraged and sends his troops to destroy the murderers and burn their cities. Then he sends his servants out another time to gather all they can find, good and bad, to attend the wedding feast. But, one of those gathered didn't have the proper wedding garment. This guest was cast out into the darkness outside. Finally, the parable ends with the ominous statement: "Many are invited but few are chosen."
This parable should be a wake-up call for all of us. Jesus is telling us about the judgment that all of us must face. When Jesus tells us that few are chosen, it should strike fear into our hearts. We certainly don't want to spend our eternal destiny in darkness where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. This should cause us to take a good look at our lives and to consider whether or not we are striving to be holy.
At baptism, we become members of God's family and are given a spotless wedding garment. At the end of our lives, to enter heaven, our wedding garment must again be spotless. That is, we must be free of serious sin. If we have turned away from God and knowingly committed a serious sin, it is critical that we go to confession and receive absolution so that our wedding garment is once again spotless.
Of course, many in the world today tell us that a loving God wouldn't condemn anyone to eternal damnation. They tell us that virtually everyone will go to heaven. This is a lie and it is the work of the devil. The devil wants us to believe this so that we won't get our lives in order and will continue to turn away from God.
God has given each of us a free will. We are free to accept him or to reject him. If we reject him, he will accept and honor our decision. In effect, we condemn ourselves to hell when we reject him by knowingly committing a serious sin.
For each of us, our ultimate destiny will be either heaven or hell, eternal bliss with God or eternal damnation. As I get older, I find myself thinking about my judgment more seriously. I wonder if I will clear the bar to at least be sent to Purgatory for some purgation before eventually reaching heaven. Like many, I face this judgment with trepidation. Today, let each of us begin with the end in mind. Let us visualize ourselves and our family in heaven seeing God face to face. And, let us begin to make whatever changes are needed in our lives to assure that our wedding garment will be unstained when our earthly journey ends.