Have you ever received an invitation to a party or some sort of gathering and ignored it? Or worse yet, received an invitation that you accepted, and then as the event neared you wished you hadn't accepted the invitation? And then came up with an excuse to not go? I certainly have. And I've been on the other end as well, planning a gathering or celebration of some sort and sending out invitations that are ignored, or reaching the big night and people you wanted or hoped would be there didn't show up for one reason or another. That feeling of sadness, that feeling of rejection must be felt by God when we refuse or ignore His invitation.
Every day God invites us again. And every day we have to decide for ourselves whether or not we're going to accept that invitation. And many days we surely start out with the best of intentions. We may arise feeling thrilled to be alive and thankful for all God has done for us. We work through our morning and perhaps attend Mass, and we feel strengthened and renewed by having accepted Christ in the Eucharist. Maybe in the course of our day we're planning on visiting a sick friend, or calling on a relative we haven't spoken to in a while. And maybe throughout our day we say little silent prayers again and again for all the needs in our world.
But like any invitation to participate, things sometimes get in our way. We grow tired of the routine, the "everydayness" of what it means to be a Christian. We fudge a little here, fudge a little there, and eventually that little bit of fudging and avoiding and straying begins to become the norm. And it gets easier and easier. We create a new routine, a routine that encourages us to ignore that invitation from God. A routine that seems to justify in our minds that it's okay to miss this one party, that it's okay toss away that one invitation. Because there will be other invitations, right? Unfortunately, we can fall into a cycle of ignoring the invitation, and then we just stop checking the mail. Because we don't want to see what's there. It becomes burdensome. It is annoying. It has become junk mail to us.
But God continues to invite us. Despite everything we do that says I don't want to join the party, or "I'm sorry I can't commit right now" God continues to invite us. Because like any good host, God wants us to be there. God doesn't want anyone left out.
Accepting the invitation to discipleship is a difficult one. Christ spoke about this in scripture again and again. "Can you drink the cup?" "I am sending you like sheep into the midst of wolves." "You will be hated by all because of my name." When Christ tells the parable of the man who gave a great dinner party and people didn't come, he is speaking to us about the occasion to sin, and how it gets in the way of us coming closer to God. He is speaking about the opportunities we have to demonstrate our faith in God, and yet we allow ourselves to get caught up in the burdens of the world that divert us from God. He speaks of the desire for all of us to join him in heaven and yet we still struggle with answering that invitation. This is normal. We are, after all, human. And for us there are times when rejecting an invitation seems much easier than accepting it.
Certainly there are times in life when we thrilled with invitation, look forward to it, and have a great time at the party. And ideally, that's the relationship we want to have with God - excited, anticipating, joyous in participation. But there's one other invitation scenario. That's the invitation we accept, and immediately make ourselves crazy because we're sorry we did so. It's not convenient, it's not something we want to do, it's a commitment of our time and energy when we feel like we can't commit any more. But out of a sense of obligation we go through with it. And we get to the party, and have a great time. All our worries and cares and anxieties are stripped away and we just live in that moment.
That's what I think heaven will be like. We're invited to discipleship and it's always going to be a rewarding and sometimes difficult journey. And we may have ambivalence about accepting the invitation at all. But the promise of the big party is always there for us as believers. The promise that by accepting the invitation with strong commitment and excited anticipation we will some day meet our host face-to-face, and be welcomed with open arms to a joyous eternal celebration.