08 November 2017

'You know neither the day nor the hour.' Sunday Reflections, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

Christ and the Wise Virgins
Mediaeval German Sculptor [Web Gallery of Art]

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus told his disciples this parable:

‘The kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.'

In the unlikely event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down from the panel above your head… Secure your own mask before helping others.

I have heard those words hundreds of times before a flight takes off. I have never experienced having to use one of these masks and I hope that I never will. The others mentioned in the instruction refer to children and persons with disabilities of one kind or another who would need help. But the instruction is clear: Secure your own mask before helping others.

Oxygen masks dropping [Wikipedia]

The introduction to today's Mass in Magnificat, a wonderful monthly daily missal that also includes daily morning and evening prayer, reads: Why do the five wise virgins not share their oil with the five foolish ones? Because it is something that simply cannot be shared. The oil is our personal virtue. 'The wise maidens represent all those who possess the ensemble of virtues which characterise a complete Christian life. The burning oil lamps which they carry . . . symbolically portray Christian wisdom . . . This Christian wisdom empowers all those who embrace prudence and the other moral virtues to fulfil the requirements of an integral and holy life' (Fr Romanus Cessario OP). 'God, through Jesus, will bring with him those who' seek wisdom with the same ardour with which the wise virgins seek the bridegroom. For Christ is the Bridegroom.

Airlines instruct adult and able-bodied passengers to put on their own masks first. If they don't they may not be in a position to help others for whom they have a responsibility. The situation is an emergency and everything has to be done quickly. Adults are asked to behave as responsible adults.

The ten virgins in the parable are also adults, albeit young. Every one of them made a decision. The five wise virgins decided to buy the oil necessary for lighting their lamps even though they did not know when exactly they would be using them. The five foolish virgins decided not to buy the oil they needed. There was no 'emergency' as there is in a plane if the oxygen masks drop. Being ready to meet the bridegroom whenever he might arrive wasn't a priority with them. It was for the five wise virgins.

If we see the bridegroom in the parable as representing Jesus  we can see that Jesus is asking us to direct our lives constantly towards him. 

At the vigil in Toronto during World Youth Day 2002 St John Paul II said to the young peopleI say to you this evening: let the light of Christ shine in your lives! Do not wait until you are older in order to set out on the path of holiness! Holiness is always youthful, just as eternal is the youthfulness of God.

Perhaps the heart of the parable is expressed in those words of the great pope: Do not wait until you are older in order to set out on the path of holiness! The five wise virgins did not wait.

The path of holiness is following Jesus, as the wise virgins knew. And we are never too young, or too old, to decide to 'buy the oil needed for our lamps' to decide to set out on the path of holiness by following Jesus in every aspect of our lives, strengthened especially by the Bread of Life that we are invited to receive when we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and, when we fall through sin, by the Sacrament of Reconciliation/Confession/Penance.

We know neither the day nor the hour when or where the path of holiness this side of death will end. But the end of that path is meant to be our eternal home as St Columban tells us in his Eighth Sermon: Since we are travellers and pilgrims in the world, let us ever ponder on the end of the road, that is of our life, for the end of our roadway is our home.

Communion Antiphon (Cf Ps 23 [22]: 1-2)

Dominus regit me, et nihil mihi deerit:
The Lord is my shepherd: there is nothing I shall want. in loco pascuae, ibi me collocavit:
Fresh and green are the pastures where he gives me repose, super aquam refectionis educavit me.
near restful waters he leads me. Music by contemporary Japanese composer IZAWA Nobuaki (伊澤 信昭)

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