In its 22nd chapter, Matthew’s Gospel contains the parable of the king who gave a wedding feast for his son. One of the men called to attend eschewed the use of a wedding garment (customarily presented to guests as they entered the feast). Upon seeing his inadequate attire the king asked him: “My friend, how is it you came here without a wedding garment?” Unable to provide a satisfactory reply, the would-be guest was evicted from the celebration as the king proclaimed: “Many are invited, but few are chosen”. In other words all of us are called to the party but some of us willfully decline the terms of engagement.Think of the souls who are called and who want to participate but—through no fault of their own—are unable to accept the terms. There is a community in Southwestern Pennsylvania that helps the likes of these. It is called Sisters Place (www.sistersplace.org) and it was founded in 1993 by representatives of 14 women religious communities in that area concerned about the plight of the poorest of the poor in that region—especially the plight of single mothers with young children.
The mission of Sisters Place is to assist these families toward self-sufficiency by providing housing and supportive service. With space to accommodate 27 families, the case managers of Sisters Place help each mother set and achieve goals of independence by completing education, gaining decent employment, learning life skills, improving parenting ability, repairing credit history, and more. In 2009 they assisted 74 children with 44 mothers, 17 of whom became employed, 19 of whom increased their income, and the vast majority of whom moved into independent housing.
What does this have to do with wedding garments?
One of the paramount goals of Sisters Place is to enroll the children who come under its care into school and to do so as soon as possible. However, the local public school requires all children to wear uniforms. The kids’ mothers usually arrive at Sisters Place with nothing more than a couple of plastic bags with some clothing and a few keepsakes they managed to save during their homelessness. While Sisters Place provides shelter, nourishment and security, it does not have the wherewithal to come up with the $175 needed to outfit each child with the necessary school attire.
So, as eager as they are to set off on the academic path to self-reliance, and as anxious as their mothers are that they do so, these youngsters are unable to benefit from the invitation because they cannot meet its terms.
From friends and “community partners” the good folk at Sisters Place manage somehow to secure the funds to enable these kids to get started. Not only do they provide the wedding garment, they persuade the “wedding guest” to wear it. Come to think of it, they also provide the mothers with the vestments of self-confidence, self respect and hope.
As we advance toward the Kingdom, toward that eternal wedding feast, how many of us are without a wedding garment by choice? How many by circumstance? Isn’t it curious how the solution for one somehow relates to the solution for the other?