04 November 2011

'So stay awake . . .' Sunday Reflections, 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, Hieronymus Francken II, c.1616

Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Gospel Matthew 25:1-13 (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Jesus told this parable to his disciples: '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 sensible: the foolish ones did take their lamps, but they brought no oil, whereas the sensible ones took flasks of oil as well as their lamps. The bridegroom was late, and they all grew drowsy and fell asleep. But at midnight there was a cry, "The bridegroom is here! Go out and meet him." At this, all those bridesmaids woke up and trimmed their lamps, and the foolish ones said to the sensible ones, "Give us some of your oil: our lamps are going out". But they replied, "There may not be enough for us and for you; you had better go to those who sell it and buy some for yourselves". They had gone off to buy it when the bridegroom arrived. Those who were ready went in with him to the wedding hall and the door was closed. The other bridesmaids arrived later. "Lord, Lord," they said "open the door for us." But he replied, "I tell you solemnly, I do not know you". So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.

An Soiscéal Matha 25:1-13 (Gaeilge, Irish)

San am sin dúirt Íosa lena dheisceabail: “Is iad dála ríocht na bhflaitheas an uair sin mar a bhí ag deichniúr maighdean a chuaigh amach agus a lampaí acu in airicis an fhir nuaphósta. Cúigear díobh seo, bhí siad gan tuiscint agus bhí an cúigear eile ciallmhar; mar, thug na mná gan tuiscint na lampaí leo agus gan aon ola acu, ach thug na mná ciallmhara ola ina bpróiciní leo chomh maith leis na lampaí. Bhí an fear nuaphósta ag déanamh moille, agus tháinig sámhán orthu uile agus thit siad ina gcodladh. Ach glaodh i lár na hoíche: ‘Chugaibh an fear nuaphósta! Amach libh ina airicis!’ D’éirigh na maighdeana sin uile ina suí agus dheasaigh siad a lampaí. Ach dúirt na mná gan tuiscint leis na mná ciallmhara: ‘Tugaigí dúinn braon de bhur n-olasa, mar tá ár lampaíne in éag.’ D’fhreagair lucht na céille iad: ‘Le heagla,’ ar siad, ‘nach mbeadh ár ndóthain ann dúinn féin agus daoibhse, b’fhearr daoibhse dul go dtí lucht a díolta á ceannach daoibh féin.’ Bhí siad ag dul á ceannach nuair a tháinig an fear nuaphósta, agus iad seo a bhí ullamh, chuaigh siad isteach in éineacht leis chun na bainise, agus dúnadh an doras. Sa deireadh, tháinig na maighdeana eile freisin: ‘A thiarna, a thiarna,’ ar siad, ‘oscail dúinn!’ Ach d’fhreagair sé agus dúirt: ‘Deirim libh go fírinneach, níl aithne agam oraibh.’ Bígí ag faire, dá bhrí sin, mar níl a fhios agaibh an lá ná an uair.


Entrance Antiphon

Let my prayer come before you, Lord; listen and answer me (Ps 87:3).
Intret orátio mea in conspéctu tuo; inclína aurem tuam ad precem meam, Dómine (Latin).

As we come towards the end of the liturgical year the them of vigilance and preparedness becomes prominent in the readings at Mass. Today's gospel highlights those two themes. The grave above is that of Liam Whelan, a 22-year-old man from the next parish to my own in Dublin, who died in an aircrash in Munich on 6 February 1958 with other members of the Manchester United soccer team, officials and journalists. Hearing the news of the disaster that evening from a street singer was my first experience, at 14, of what has been called a 'private public moment' when everyone remembers where they were when they heard of a tragedy.

For people of an older generation in Europe the word 'Munich' conjured up the picture of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain at an airport in London on 30 September 1938 waving a piece of paper signed by himself and Hitler in that German city, the Anglo-German Declaration, assuring 'peace for our time'. Less than a year later Germany and Britain were at war. For me Munich, which I have visited twice, will be for ever the place where Liam Whelan and his companions died so tragically.

But I remember being inspired when I read what Liam Whelan's last words were: 'If this is the end, then I'm ready for it'.

Here, slightly edited, is what I wrote in my blog on the 50th anniversary of the Munich disaster, because I think it powerfully brings out the meaning of today's parable.

A stamp with Liam Whelan's photo, issued by An Post, the Irish Postal Service, for the 50th anniversary of the Munich Disaster. The clock is in Old Trafford, the Manchester United stadium, shoing the time and dated of the crash.

'If this is the end, then I'm ready for it'. (Posted 6 February 2008).

These were the last words of Liam Whelan who died 50 years ago today and who is buried near my parents. Only last year I learned that when they were both around 14 Liam rescued a close friend of mine who had got into difficulties in a swimming pool. [I am baptising a grandson of that friend tomorrow, 5 November].

The average age of Manchester United's players was only 22. One who was only 21, Duncan Edwards, from the English Midlands, was considered by many to have the potential to become perhaps the greatest footballer ever. He died 15 days after the crash.

These young men were earning only £15 a week, about 25 percent more than a tradesman could earn. Endorsements could bring in a little more income for a few talented players whose career would end for most at 35, if not earlier. Their counterparts today are often spoiled millionaires. Imagine if the top players in the Philippine Basketball Association were paid only the same amount as a public school teacher, or if the members of the New York Giants or the Boston Red Sox were limited to earning little more than a bus-driver. That’s how it was with these young men who filled stadiums week after week.

Those who knew him describe Liam Whelan as a ‘devout Catholic’. I know that he sent his mother some money for her to go to Lourdes. 11 February 1958 was the centennial of the first apparition of our Blessed Mother to St Bernadette. Mrs Whelan, a widow since 1943 when Liam was 8, used the money instead towards a beautiful statue of Our Lady of Lourdes over the grave of her son. I pass it each time I visit my parents’ grave.

Clearly young Liam Whelan had his life focused on what was most important. He was ready to meet death. I spoke about him at Mass this morning. I see Lent as a time to focus on the essentials, God’s love for us sinners, the hope that the life and death of Jesus offer us, the necessity of acknowledging our sinfulness to enable God’s love to break through. [6 February 2008 was Ash Wednesday].

But the deaths of so many talented young men still leaves a deep sadness among those who saw them play and followed their fortunes. I was feeling that sadness quite heavily this last week but it has lifted now. The February issue of The Word has an article, A Sporting Tragedy, in which John Scally speaks for me : ‘Their funerals were like no other. Most funerals are a burial of someone or something already gone. These young deaths pointed in exactly the opposite direction and were therefore the more poignant. Normally we bury the past but in burying Liam Whelan and his colleagues, in some deep and gnawing way we buried the future’.

You can listen to a wonderful interview with Harry Gregg, one of the survivors, on Bowman Sunday Morning on 27 January. [This interview on RTÉ, Ireland’s national radio and TV service, is no longer available. Harry Gregg, who was a goalkeeper for Manchester United and Northern Ireland, survived the crash without injury and rescued a number of passengers. He has often told the story of Liam Whelan's last words. I think he was sitting next to the young Dubliner].


'So stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour'.


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