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XIX Sunday after Pentecost

Collect: Almighty and merciful God, in Thy loving-kindness do Thou keep us from all things that war against us, that, being unhampered alike in soul and in body, we may with free minds perform the works that are Thine.

Epistle: Ephesians iv. 23-28
Gospel: Matthew xxii. 2-14

When this Sunday comes around, with its snappy Collect, I am reminded of the early 4th c. martyr St. Expeditus.  While the editor here already provided an English rendering of the Collect at the top of this web entry, here is the Latin and my own slavishly literal version.

Omnipotens et misericors Deus, universa nobis adversantia propitiatus exclude: ut mente et corpore pariter expediti, quae tua sunt, liberis mentibus exsequamur.

Almighty and merciful God, having been appeased, keep away all things opposing us, so that, having been unencumbered in mind and body equally, we may with free minds accomplish the things which You command.

You spotted “expediti” of course, in this prayers clearly military language. This is from expedio, “to extricate, disengage, let loose, free up from impediments, liberate any thing entangled.” When applied to persons, it means “to be without baggage, unimpeded, free.” Thus, the noun expeditus, i, m., is “a soldier lightly burdened, a swiftly marching soldier.”

St. Expeditus, whose feast day is 19 April, is a patron saint of procrastinators and computer programmers… for reasons which are perfectly clear. Expeditus is appropriately depicted as an ancient Roman soldier holding aloft a Cross upon which is written HODIE or “today” as he treads on a crow or raven croaking by means of a speech ribbon the corvine sounding Latin for “tomorrow”, CRAS.  In our prayer, expediti refers to our freedom from the chains of sin which entangle us and doom us to eternal hell. St. Expeditus reminds us to keep moving forward swiftly in the face of the enemy and not to rely on tomorrow in dealing with immediate problems. Like being in the state of mortal sin.

God wants your heart and service NOW. Hodie. Not cras. You might not have a tomorrow.

The Earl of Chesterfield advised his son in 1749, “Know the true value of time; snatch, seize, and enjoy every moment of it. No idleness, no laziness, no procrastination: never put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.” He wasn’t talking about going to confession… but I am.

Speaking of “putting off,” our Epistle reading from St. Paul to the Ephesians has admonishments which only the inveterate sinner will find off putting. The context, in chapter 4, is Paul’s plea to the Ephesians to treat each other properly, to “grow up” into the Christian life and to embrace the behavior such an identity entails. In particular, Paul tells them to put off, like dirty garments, the “old nature,” their former manner of life, and to put on, like beautiful new clothing, the “new nature, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24). As your trusty Douay-Reims Bible puts it, “put off the old man… and put on the new man.” The Greek verb is endúo, “to sink into a garment, invest, array, clothe.”

For you who are close to the altar in liturgical service, or for those of you who are close through keeping the gear of the altar boys in good shape – thank you! – this image from Paul in Ephesians 4 is at the core of the prayer that boys and men, priests too, are to pray when donning the abbreviated form of the white baptismal garment, the surplice, worn over the cassock:

Indue me, Domine, novum hominem, qui secundum Deum creatus est in iustitia et sanctitate veritatis. Amen.

Invest me, O Lord, as a new man, who was created by God in justice and the holiness of truth. Amen.

Think of that, gentlemen and boys, ladies and girls, as you carefully, reverently put on that surplice, or as you lovingly, generously extract wax, wash and iron. Put on the new nature, as you are intended to have, God’s image renewed in Christ, no longer a slave burdened under the old ways of sin, but freed and “sealed unto the day of redemption.” Expediti.

Putting off the old man and clothing with the new happens in baptism and in the confessional. Those are but the starting points. We have a lot of hard work and suffering afterward, a lot of falling and getting up again with the essential hand of God.

Speaking of suffering, the same image from Ephesians 4 of putting off the “old man” is to be prayed by bishops when they remove the cappa magna. Once very common. Now, not so much.

St. Jerome (+420), upon whose feast I write, commented on this very section of Ephesians with a stark image of the exchange of the old for the new. The “old man” is aged in wickedness, gone astray and acting like a beast. Along comes the Word of God. “The Word of God,” says Jerome, “kills in such a way as to make the dead one come alive. He then seeks the Lord whom he did not know before his death. He does not corrupt but kills the old man. … As the outer man decays the inner man is renewed”  (Commentarii in iv epistulas Paulinas, II in PL 26:540).

Note the distinction of “interior” and “exterior.” This same theme is in the Collect of the Mass, above: “ut mente et corpore pariter expediti… unencumbered in mind and body equally.”

There should be a harmony, integration of the whole person who is renewed in Christ, who wears the “new man.” What’s the old phrase? “Clothes make the man”? It isn’t by accident that the Latin word habitus means both a person’s “attire” and his “disposition, character.” So, the Apostle to the Gentiles gets concrete. For example, “Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another” (v. 25). In other words, “Stop lying!” He adds, “Stop stealing!” and “Stop being lazy!”, “Stop being greedy!” and, one of the most practical things ever penned, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (vv. 26-27).

Treat each other well. Let you all be exediti together, unencumbered swift foot soldiers. No baggage.

Circling back to St. Jerome on this chapter, the great Western Doctor underscores the dignity of a person who is established in Christ.

The metaphors of creating and establishing are never spoken of in Scripture except in great works. The world is created. A city is established. But observe that a house, however grand it may be, is more commonly said to be built than established or created. Note then that it is a great work of God when it is said that the new person is created by God in Christ. This creature towers over the other creatures. This creature alone is said to have been established in the same way as the world was established, from the beginning of God’s ways (Prov 8:22), when all the elements first came into being.

What an awesome thing is it to be baptized, to receive the sacraments of the Church.

Allow me to bring this week’s column expeditiously to a close with a shift into the Sunday Gospel and a brief comment from another of the Western Doctors, St. Gregory the Great (+604).

The Gospel is a continuation of Matthew, the parable of the Lord about the Kingdom of God – which is where we all want to wind up – being like the wedding banquet that a king held for his son. Many were called to the banquet but didn’t come. That’s part of the odd parable “twist,” or nimshal: people don’t turn down invitations to royal banquets. Moreover, they kill the servants who brought invitations. And if that isn’t extreme enough, the king then kills all of the them and burns their cities. Eventually, the king invites every Titius, Caius and Sempronius to come in off the streets. No pressure! He spots a man without his wedding garment and has him tied up “hand and foot” and thrown out into the darkness, which seems a little extreme, considering that he was just invited to come in. The garment, the wedding garment, is important, of course. In the Old Testament garments signal various things, such as deeds of righteousness, God’s favor or, in the case of angels, the glorious light of Heaven. St. Gregory says of this second twist:

What then must we understand by the wedding garment but love? That person enters the marriage feast, but without wearing a wedding garment, who is present in the holy Church. He may have faith, but he does not have love. We are correct when we say that love is the wedding garment because that is what our Creator himself possessed when he came to the marriage feast to join the Church to himself (Forty Gospel Homilies 38:9).

The Lord prepares a heavenly banquet and all are invited. However, some, many even, prefer their worldly concerns, their farms or businesses or whatever. The king’s reaction is a confirmation of their choice.

As the Gospel passage concludes this week: “Many are called, but few are chosen” (22:14)

The invitation is given, God prepares all that you need, the choice is made, and the separation takes place. Those who choose well and who are worthy are within the messianic royal banquet, and those who are not are in the outer darkness, bound “hand and foot,” in their state of mortal sin and old man habits.

Impediti, not expediti. It is up to you.

Faith alone is not enough. Faith must be united with charity, sacrificial love of God.

Remember the words of Christ in Matthew 7: “Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

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