Whenever we arrive at a familiar spot on the calendar, we are naturally drawn to recreate some of the same experiences that have given us comfort. With Thanksgiving this week and the Christmas holidays just around the corner, we return to traditions that mark this time of year, but always our own version of tradition with our unique take on when and how we gather, what we put on the table, who we want with us, who can’t be with us and how we want to remember them, and what is and what is not acceptable to bring up in conversation. Keeping these traditions can create stress since everyone will have a different opinion on what is and what is not important. At least this year we don’t have to revisit the previous election cycle. But there are other lingering contentious issues that have potential to derail the coming season of gratitude and giving. So perhaps it can be helpful to set some ground rules.
Whenever you gather with friends and loved ones, whoever is hosting by default gets to set a lot of the parameters. If gathering in a public neutral location, the host is the restaurant owner and the service staff. By allowing you into their establishment and seating you at table, they are extending you a courtesy they are hoping you deserve. So, behave yourself. The same is expected of all other guests at other tables. Don’t be rude. Say please and thank you. Be patient especially if the place is short-staffed. Take every precaution so they will allow you to come back. Expect to pay a portion of the bill. Tip generously. If you have a good experience, it’ll be worth the trouble. If you show up convinced from the start you should have stayed home, do everyone a favor. Go home.
When you are invited to someone else’s home, they get to make most of the rules. They are welcoming you into their home, so you will have to acknowledge that initial kindness by pretending you are happy to see them and spend time with them. Being a family member or a close friend does not give you an automatic invitation to just show up. And if you are bringing a guest, make sure your host is aware of it. As the guest who gets to tag along, you owe your host even greater respect and consideration. Sending you home early will not inconvenience them one bit. And if you come upon confidential information at that gathering that you did not already know before, unless you might have to testify in a court of law, remember that they welcomed you into their home and you probably have family and friends who are just as messed up.
The more senior members at the gathering will always presume their knowledge of facts is the most accurate. Unless they claim outrageous untruths disrespectful of the dead or of people unable to defend themselves, give them the benefit of the doubt. Just nod once to acknowledge their contribution. And if you must shake your head, smile but keep your thoughts to yourself. Friendly banter is welcome. Just know who you are sparring with. Be kind and forgiving. Don’t take yourself too seriously. But steer clear of thorny subjects. You can’t unstep on a toe after you’ve stepped on a toe. And watch your volume especially in a restaurant or if there are small children and pets nearby.
Eat and drink in moderation. No one wants to drive you home or call 911. If you are tempted to use the occasion to troll for new clients or sell merchandise, don’t. If they invite you to take food home, take just a small portion, not enough for the whole week ahead. Always thank the hosts and take leave of the senior members at the gathering. Compliment the cooks. Smile a lot. And if anyone says you should get together again soon, they’re just being polite. They don’t mean it unless they actually look for you and extend the invitation again.
On this Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, the church invites us to bring the liturgical year to a close by reminding us of that glorious eternal wedding banquet and its most distinguished Host who awaits us in the life to come. The journey of Christian discipleship is at best tedious and predictable. I can’t imagine anyone here among us will be singled out by God particularly and be held to a greater account for their stewardship within the church or civic society. It’s probably not very likely either that God has called any of us to give greater witness to our faith to the point of martyrdom. Rather our Christian discipleship involves professing a set of revealed truths handed down to us from the apostles, a practice of the faith that might demand a challenging level of patience and perseverance, a way of life that sincerely and convincingly acknowledges God who is gracious and merciful and that we should be as gracious and merciful to our neighbor in return, and a genuine and joyful desire to embrace and partake of God’s ultimate plan for all creation. If we have already been invited to the eternal wedding feast, we’re off to a good start. Just when and how we get there though is not something we determine. But our conduct in this life will have far-reaching implications for that initial encounter with our distinguished Host when we make an appearance at that glorious eternal wedding feast.
I’m not saying the ground rules I mentioned earlier should govern our speech and behavior when we sit down to the wedding feast. Unlike any of our human hosts, the Lord Jesus will be forewarned about the quality of those he receives into the great hall and seats at his table. Although it will already be extremely intimidating to meet the Lord Jesus himself at the doors of the feast, imagine his Immaculate Virgin Mother standing by her Son, and the great multitude of glorious saints and angels rounding out that receiving line. First, it would be an incomparable honor to just be invited. But this will be even better than walking down the red carpet at the Oscars. Here you and I, if we make it, will be the least significant people in attendance. And yet that glorious line-up of heavenly dignitaries and celebrities will be looking at us and welcoming us and applauding our arrival. I believe at that point there will be nothing we can ever say or do to impress our Divine Host of which he has not already been made aware.
Second, our only concern at this point is to make certain our invitation to the eternal wedding feast is secure and well-deserved. We surely wouldn’t want to jeopardize our chances with something careless we said or did that we can’t stand by or account for. Imagine showing up uninvited to a grand banquet and coming face to face with a distinguished host who never invited you nor wanted you there. Yikes! Now imagine that encounter going viral for all the world and all of history to see.
Jesus said to Pilate, “My kingdom does not belong to this world.” If we have been pursuing a kingdom far from what Jesus lived and died for, we could be in for a surprise. “Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Are we listening?
Rolo B Castillo © 2021