“Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour,” Jesus warns. As the church year winds down and fall turns toward winter, our readings these next several weeks focus on the end times. Be ready we are advised, be prepared, be wise. The parable of the ten virgins is one that clearly points out the ramifications of being wise and prepared or being foolish and not prepared. It urges us to keep the light of faith alive with sufficient oil of faith, hope and charity.
The Gospel reading scholars tell us is based on the wedding traditions of the day when it was the custom for the groom to come at an unknown hour to lead his wife to their new life together. However the gospel teaching is not about wedding protocol, but about the end of time, our own and of the world as we know it, when we will be led to our new life together in heaven, in hell, or for a time in purgatory.
A youth was asked what would happen at death to someone who lived a holy life. “Welcome to heaven” was the response. And to someone who did not live a holy life? “Welcome to the other place” was the response. And to those like most of us who have lived spotty lives? The response was that God would say, “I’ll see you later.” The assurance that God will see us later, after the cleansing of purgatory, is reassuring.
In the month of November we as church have the beautiful practice of remembering in a special way those who have died, all saints, all souls, especially those who have died in the last year, those who have already faced the last things. We do so consoled by the words of St. Paul in the 2nd reading that while we grieve for them we do so with hope for the Lord will raise them as he promised. This gesture of remembrance also reminds us that we live in a passing world, and that we do not know when the day or hour when our time on earth or the world itself will end. That it will happen is assured.
This gospel reading of the ten virgins clearly points out to us the ramifications of being prepared for that hour or not. All fell asleep but only some were prepared when suddenly awakened.
Five brought sufficient oil with them. They thought ahead, made adequate preparation. When the groom came in the middle of the night they were ready. The foolish ones were not prepared and learned several hard lessons. They first went to others to make up for their failings but learned that there are some things that cannot be borrowed from another, such as character, personal history, or one’s relationship with God. At the moment of judgment we must stand on our own merits as wise or foolish as our lives reveal us to be. Then the unprepared ones went off to replenish their supply of oil and learned that some things cannot wait to the last minute; time runs out.
There is an old song entitled “The Cat’s in the Cradle.” It speaks about a father – son relationship. The boy asks at varying stages of this growing years, “when are you coming home dad, when are you coming home?” The father replies, “I don’t know when, son, but we’ll get together then son, we’ll get together then.” As the years go by the roles change. The father yearns to spend time with his now adult son. He asks, “when are you coming home son, when are you coming home?” Having lived without his father’s presence the son replies, “I don’t know when dad, but we’ll get together then dad, we’ll get together then.”
Relationships cannot be forced at the last minute; they must be built and sustained day by day. Too many times have I experienced the loss of a relative or friend who I did not keep contact with and missed the opportunity to express my appreciation for them. Once I moved to South Dakota as bishop I was not as present to some friends in Wisconsin as I used to be. One of my best friends died in a winter auto accident. I have regretted not keeping in touch more with him and his wife. So it is with our relationship with God. We choose whether we keep in touch with God. He is always present to us, waiting for us; we choose whether to spend time with him.
Two men lived in a place where water was in short supply. They journeyed to a river. One stooped down and filled water bottles to take home. He told his friend: “I think I will come here every six months or so with a bottle or two.” The other decided to build a house by the river so the water supply would be ever present. The point of the story is that it is not enough to come to the Lord only in our periodic need, though he is there for us in those times. If we are wise we will build our lives around Christ. When we build our spiritual home on prayer, the sacraments, moral living and works of justice and charity, and the Blessed Mother, we will be able to live each day with joy and be prepared for that unknown hour.
What separated the virgins was wisdom, which our first reading assures will be found by those who truly seek it. There is an old proverb that says: “the first step to wisdom is to know what is false.” Our culture offers much that is false: live for today, me first, there is no truth, there is no sin, there is no judgment, there is no god. The truth is that God created us, God loves us and God wants us to come to him to be relieved of our burdens, to be set free from our sins and failings and to be prepared to enter the wedding feast in heaven when that unknown hour comes. He does not impose himself on us however.
St. Augustine wrote: “watch with the heart, watch with faith, watch with love, watch with charity, watch with good works . . . , make ready the lamps, make sure they do not go out . . ., renew them with the inner oil of an upright conscience; then shall the Bridegroom enfold you in the embrace of his love and bring you into his banquet room, where your lamp can never be extinguished.”
Stay awake, for you, for we, know neither the day nor the hour. May we watch with faith, watch with love, watch with charity, that our lamps of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through His Church may never be extinguished by what is false. May we strive to always be prepared.