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Our Lord’s Great Wedding Celebration, “Babette’s Feast”, and the Homeless by Fr. George W. Rutler



October 25, 2015
by Fr. George W. Rutler

As a priest, I have witnessed the marriages of over eight hundred couples. It is gratifying to hear from them on their anniversaries, and to baptize and even marry some of their new generation. Solid marriages are beacons and ballast for those whose understanding of family life may be dim and unsettled in our distressed culture. Some of the happiest weddings have been free of the extravagance that is the fashion of a meretricious society. Sometimes, a couple prayerfully decides to call the wedding off, and usually this is prudent, if it is the outcome of an awareness of the seriousness of the vows.

The other day a couple in California called off their wedding, having already paid for a $35,000 reception. Rather than cancel, the family invited the homeless of Sacramento to share the feast. Young and old and abandoned showed up, and what could have been a dismal day—something like Miss Havisham’s cobwebbed banquet table with its desiccated wedding cake—became bright for many.

That brought to mind the 1987 Danish film “Babettes gæstebud” which as “Babette’s Feast” won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In a snowy village on the west coast of Jutland, home to a graying small group who belong to a rigid Pietistic sect, a kindly woman arrives from Paris and volunteers to serve as cook for two elderly sisters whose father had founded their conventicle. Fourteen years pass during which Babette Hersant cooks the bland meals that are the customary fare of the villagers. One day she announces that, in honor of what would have been the father’s hundredth birthday, she will prepare a feast.

The villagers are suspicious that such luxury might be some form of devilry, so they decide to pretend that they are unfazed by the repast. Babette’s secret is that she has won 10,000 francs in a lottery and spent it all on delicacies delivered from France. As the dinner proceeds, barriers built by festering resentments break down, and the astringency of the people gives way to reminiscences of their romantic youth. Babette remains in the village happily penniless, because “An artist is never poor.”

If Eucharistic metaphors in the plot may be stretched by belabored eisegesis, the original story by Karen Blixen, who ironically died from malnutrition, echoes the parable of “The Marriage of the King’s Son.” Those who were first invited had excuses, so the king’s servants gathered in all they could find in the streets. One of the invitees is cast out for not wearing a wedding garment. God’s gratuitousness, by its very munificence, requires a change of heart.

The required “state of grace” for Holy Communion has been debated at the recent Synod in Rome. What is clear is that the Wedding Feast of the Lamb is offered to all, but the invitation requires a humble submission to the king’s heavenly protocol.

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