Under the care of the Discalced Carmelite Friars
`Be ready` is the oft repeated call of today`s readings. Remember it wasn’t actually raining when Noah began building the ark! To understand the context of today`s gospel story we need to realise that we are coming to the end of Matthew`s gospel and its towards the end of the liturgical year. In the previous chapter Jesus had been speaking about the end of the world and the fall even of the great Temple in Jerusalem.
Then Ch.25 begins with this parable we heard.Naturally if the coming of the Son of man is imminent then people should be getting prepared for that coming.
Death comes very unexpectedly to many people – accidents, violence, etc. So Jesus tells us that this is how things happen in God`s kingdom . Did you ever have a `eureka` moment when the fact sunk in that you were going to die some day? When your parents died? Or a close friend , or a brush you may have had with death? When you reached 60?
The message of the first two readings today is that one of the fruits of wisdom is to recognise the reality of the shortness of life and the inevitability of death. This is an appropriate thought during the month of November , when we are urged to remember our loved ones who have passed away and pray for them – it is likely these will incude people who died unexpectedly or prematurely.
Christians do not have a monopoly Wisdom of course. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca , a cotemporaray of Jesus, mused on exactly the same thing as the Bible does – In `The shortness of life`, he wrote : `You will hear many people saying: “After my fiftieth year I shall retire into leisure, my sixtieth year shall release me from public duties. And what guarantee, pray, have you that your life will last longer? .. Are you not ashamed to reserve for yourself only the remnant of life, and to set apart for wisdom only that time which cannot be devoted to any business? How late it is to begin to live just when we must cease to live! ` How true – and that’s a great punch line!
But we in fact have an advantage over Seneca and other philosophers – St. Paul tells us not to grieve like other people who have no hope, because we believe that Jesus died and rose again and that we too shall follow him. Its interesting that Luke in the Acts o fthe Apostles tells us that the Tribune Gallio defended St. Paul when he was hauled up before him by the Jews.
Notice that the ten bridesmaids in the parable were very different , though they all looked the same and were identically dressed. But Jesus tells us that five of them were foolish and five were wise. There used to be a difference between the wise and the foolish but I think the difference has become blurred in our day. The wise showed foresight – they took flasks of oil with them in case of emergencies.This is being practical and prudent. If you`re travelling you need to remember to bring the charger for your mobile phone with you.
In this case something delayed the bridal party – they spent too long over the preliminary photographs and the wedding was running well behind schedule.
Naturally all ten fell asleep holding their lighted lamps . Jesus doesn’t criticise any of them for falling asleep – otherwise they might fall asleep during the ceremony and that wouldn’t be nice. But when the cry went up that the bridal party had arrived, the foolish bridesmaids were caught out – they had not foreseen any delay and this was their undoing.
Perhaps the bridegroom and his bride, in today’s gospel reading, were pleased to find that at least some of the bridesmaids were there to meet them and escort them to the wedding banquet, in spite of their very late arrival. These showed the planning and foresight which the Lord obviously requires.You cannot have a candelight procession if the candles are not lit up.
We value faithfulness in others, especially when we know that it has cost them something and has made demands on them. We appreciate it when people do what is asked of them, especially when not to have done so would be understandable.
When the Lord calls us, it is always for the long haul. When he addresses us as ‘the light of the world’ (Mt 5:14), he looks to us to keep our light burning to the end. The British Foreign Secretary is reputed to have made a famous comment to his Prime Minister in the lead up to WW 1.It was this: “The lights are going out all over Europe and I doubt we will see them go on again in our lifetime”. It was a powerful symbol of the gathering darkness and the breakdown of peace.
In the times in which we live, it can be a struggle to keep the flame of faith alive in our hearts. Like those in the gospel reading today, we may be tempted to cry out, ‘our lamps are going out, for want of oil`, or perhaps we may be runnning on empty – and that won`t get you very far ‘. But if we have faith the Lord will comes to us in our time of need with his high octane help. The oil of his faithful presence to us, ensures that our lamps need not go out. What is asked of us is that, in the words of the responsorial psalm, we may have the courage to address God `You have been my help,in the shadow of your wings I rejoice.`
As we turn in prayer to the Lord in our need, he will keep us faithful, and the fire of his love will keep the flame of our faith burning brightly .Followers of Christ are called to be long-haul people. We are to keep the flame burning through the long hours of darkness when the Lord seems to be absent from our lives. Jesus tells us the moral or purpose of his story was that we stay awake because we do not know the day or the hour of the Lord`s coming.
So we are called to have a faith that endures to the end, which is the only kind of faith worth having.
The saints knew how crucial it is to pray for perseverence. Hear St. Alphonsus; `Father your Son Jesus has promised that You will give us whatever we ask for in His name. By the merits of Jesus Christ, I beg You, for myself and for all , the grace of never being separated from Your love. May we always love You in this life and in the next.`
Tadgh Tierney ocd