Time runs so fast! We are approaching once again the end of the liturgical year. Today the liturgy presents us with the reality of our own mortality, with the upcoming time of judgment and with the Second Coming of Christ.
We know from observation that life on earth is temporary. We know by faith that there is a greater life awaiting us after this earthly sojourn. But when and how will we pass from this life into the next? For some, the moment will come with the arrival of sister death. Others will witness the glorious Coming of the Lord with his angels and the sound of trumpets. Either way, we do not know the exact time when these events will take place.
Our ignorance of the time should not make us afraid or anxious. On the contrary, as St. Paul tells us, we who believe in the Resurrection of Christ should be filled with hope and consolation. We do not view death as unbelievers do, those “who have no hope.” We know that God’s plan is for us all to rise with Christ and live with him forever. “Thus we shall always be with the Lord.” Still, eternal life does not come on a silver platter. We also need to do our part, by living by faith and love, and by remaining always prepared and vigilant, for we do not know when Jesus will come to judge us.
Preparedness and vigilance are clearly illustrated in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins. The virgins, in their role as bridesmaids, are waiting for the coming of the Bridegroom. When the Bridegroom is delayed, all ten of them fall asleep. Only half of them are wise enough to prepare extra oil for their lamps; the other half are caught unprepared and are left out of the wedding celebration. The parable ends with a stern warning, “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”
The characters and events in the parable are symbolic. The Bridegroom is Jesus Christ and his Bride is the Church. The marriage of God with his people is a theme found throughout the Sacred Scriptures. The Bridegroom’s delay and eventual arrival affirms that the return of Jesus, the Second Coming, is certain, even if he seems to be delayed. The ten virgins represent us, the Christian community. We are all awaiting the Coming of our Lord, but that does not mean we are all wise. Only those who are vigilant are wise. Being vigilant does not mean never falling asleep; it means being always spiritually prepared. The wise will be welcomed into the Wedding Feast of Heaven.
What about the supply of oil? We can view it as a symbol of wisdom. The five virgins who had enough oil for their lamps are called the “wise virgins.” We see that wisdom is necessary in our spiritual life, especially as we wait for the time of judgment and the glorious Coming of our Lord. This virtue is so important that St. Thomas says: “Of all human pursuits, that of wisdom is the most perfect, the most sublime, the most profitable and the most delightful” (Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk. 1 Ch. 2).
Today’s first reading opens with praise of this wonderful virtue: “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom.” The reading encourages us to devote ourselves to seeking wisdom, even keeping vigil for her. “Whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed.” To grow in wisdom is to grow in relationship with God: “For she is an unfailing treasure; those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God, being commended by the gifts that come from her discipline” (Wis 7:14). Seeking wisdom also means seeking Jesus, the One whose Coming we anticipate, for St. Paul says, “Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God” (1 Co 1:24). Wisdom gives us ready access to the will of God; once we know his holy will, we are halfway to holiness. Doing it is the other half.
The wise know that we are all personally responsible for our own inner life. If we are not ready, we cannot blame anyone else. If we find that death and judgment are frightening, it is a sign that we need more oil – more wisdom for how to remain faithful, more faith in the Lord’s unfailing mercy, more love for him and for our neighbor. May our Blessed Mother Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, intercede for us and lead us to her Son, the Incarnate Wisdom of God.
Am I living by faith and love by remaining prepared and vigilant for eternal life? Do I seek wisdom since it is perfect, sublime, profitable and delightful? Am I being wise and prudent by cooperating with the grace of God now and not when it is too late?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 16, no. 8. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.