Gospel according to Saint Matthew 25,1-13:
Jesus told this parable to his disciples, «This story throws light on what will happen in the kingdom of heaven. Ten bridesmaids went out with their lamps to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were careless while the others were sensible. The careless bridesmaids took their lamps as they were and did not bring extra oil. But those who were sensible, brought with their lamps flasks of oil. As the bridegroom delayed, they all grew drowsy and fell asleep.
»But at midnight, a cry rang out: ‘The bridegroom is here, come out and meet him!’. All the maidens woke up at once and trimmed their lamps. Then the careless ones said to the sensible ones: ‘Give us some oil, for our lamps are going out’. The sensible ones answered: ‘There may not be enough for both you and us. You had better go to those who sell and buy for yourselves’. They were out buying oil when the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him to the wedding feast, and the doors were shut.
»Later the rest of the bridesmaids arrived and called out: ‘Lord, Lord, open to us’. But he answered: ‘Truly, I do not know you’. So, stay awake, for you do not know the day nor the hour».
What is being Responsible?
Luis CASASUS President of the Idente Missionaries
Rome, November 12, 2023 | XXXII Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wis 6:12-16; 1Thess 4:13-18; Mt 25:1-13
1. The oil I am missing.
A gardener had been entrusted with the care of a wonderful and immense flower garden. One day, a visitor asks him when he last saw the owner. The gardener replies: I have been working here for many years, but I have never met him; he simply sends me my pay. The man, amazed, says to him: How immaculately you take care of your garden! It is as if you were expecting him to come tomorrow. The gardener replies: Today, sir; today.
We may think that the parable of the ten virgins refers “simply” to the last moment of our life or to the last coming of Christ, but besides this, let us note that Jesus begins the parable by presenting it as an image of the kingdom of heaven, which suggests that we should meditate on how to apply it right now, in every moment, if we have understood his words: The kingdom of God is in your midst (Lk 17: 21).
Thus, it is proposed to us to distinguish what is the essential difference between the foolish and the wise virgins. Let us remember that all ten of them fell asleep, which is not suggested as a moral fault, for even the so-called wise maidens ” became drowsy and fell asleep”. This rather represents a consequence of our limits: our energy is low and we need to rest.
The virgins or bridesmaids who participated in the ceremony were chosen well in advance and had to be prepared with appropriate clothing, a careful hairstyle, perfumes and oil lamps to accompany the groom to where the bride was waiting for him. It was a true privilege. The two groups of maidens were similar in everything, except in whether or not they brought the reserve oil or not. Surely. But decisive to participate or not in the kingdom of heaven.
A group of virgins is called “prudent” or “wise” because they are able to distinguish what is important, ALL that is important, although according to the logic of the world it may seem that it is not.
It is our experience that a bad gesture, a slight, an imprudent act for which we can perhaps ask forgiveness and repent, can ruin forever what our life means to others. I remember a teenager who never spoke a word to a certain teacher. There was no trace of hatred or resentment in him, but he had the scene of that teacher insulting his best friend engraved in his mind and that produced a fear and distrust that separated him from that particular teacher.
So what is the detail, the oil that I forget? That prayer that should accompany every word and every action of the day, a prayer without words, in the form of an intimate look at the sky that means: I do it for you.
If before moving a finger, entering the operating room or greeting a person I have not done so, Christ will have to say to me as to the foolish virgins: Truly I tell you, I do not know you.
Can you imagine what the five careless virgins would respond to this phrase? I dare say possibly, something like this: The problem is that our five companions did not share their oil with us! Something similar to what Adam responded to Yahweh when he was challenged for having eaten the forbidden fruit: The woman whom you gave me as my companion gave me of the tree, and I ate (Gen 3: 12). In this case, not very subtly, Adam even wants to make God guilty “for having given him an unsuitable companion.”
2. The key word is responsibility.
One of the central messages of the parable is found in the apparently unkind response of the wise virgins, who could not be held responsible for the imprudence and carelessness of their companions. It takes no great effort to see when and how you and I are irresponsible. That is not the same as being inactive or lazy.
Rather, being responsible means being aware that EVERYTHING I do will have consequences on others…and on myself. Time wasted, lack of foresight in preparations, failure to think before speaking, making decisions without looking at the people who will inevitably disagree or be hurt, or not listened to.
When we speak of “responsibility” we do not limit ourselves to the wise advice that parents give to their children when, because they are careless, they break an object or do not do their homework. Possibly we have not realized that being responsible means being answerable to someone, which, in the case of one who knows he is a child of God, is not out of fear or simple obligation, but because we are aware that Someone expects a response from us. The bridegroom in the parable was waiting for the ten virgins to accompany him with their lighted lamps to appear before the bride.
When this responsibility reaches the point of becoming a habit, it becomes the simple prayer we mentioned earlier: I do this for you. Then, as the First Reading says, with the typical language of the Old Testament: Wisdom will approach us benignly along the roads and will come to us in every thought. It is a personification of the gift of wisdom, the response of the Holy Spirit to those who choose to be responsible; He most certainly does respond. Today, the Book of Wisdom explains, with striking images, how the gift of Wisdom is a very clear and decisive presence of the Holy Spirit, who “goes out to us” and makes us vividly feel His action in us.
On the contrary, if I commit an action in an irresponsible way, I am renouncing to act according to the principles, values and virtues that I supposedly consider higher and more beautiful. The consequence is then that I lose my freedom.
This is not only true for believers, but is engraved in human nature.
Surely many are familiar with Milgram’s experiment, a psychologist who 60 years ago gathered a group of his students and announced that they were going to participate in an experiment. The idea was to analyze the reactions of a person who was subjected to increasingly powerful electric shocks, which produced strong convulsions in the patient, which could be seen by the intervening students, but supposedly helped him to modify his behavior.
The whole thing was a set-up: the supposed patient was someone who did not receive any shocks, but knew when the students thought they were producing the electric shock. The interesting thing about this unique experiment is that most of the participants, while of course not wishing to harm anyone, were willing to raise the intensity of the shocks to enormous levels as the “director” of the experiment instructed them, despite seeing the patient writhe in pain. Somehow, they had given up their intention to do good, to use knowledge to relieve others.
Thus, inevitably, we lose our freedom, surrendering it to the world, to instincts or to fame.
I slip into irresponsibility especially through the Dominant Defect, which has a continuous effect on all my actions if I am not aware of it, as happens in today’s parable.
* Every time I do not take seriously a clear possibility of doing good, which seems insignificant to me and I label it in a thoughtless way: ” it doesn’t matter”. For example, not helping in small domestic tasks of cleaning, serving the table, repairing an object, changing a lamp… even if they were not those missions assigned to me.
* Also, when I do not look into the future, to imagine what consequences my actions or my omissions will have. It is the case of the foolish virgins, who could be rather capricious young girls and little accustomed to worry about others.
*And, finally, by blaming others for something that I am actually responsible for. This can be a trait of my character, which ends up having unsuspected dimensions.
There is a story in the Puranas, texts of ancient Indian literature, in which a king returns in his chariot victorious after a battle. Suddenly, a child appears running and is run over, dying under the wheels of the royal cart. The king shouts: Charioteer! You are responsible for this tragedy, because you were going too fast.
The charioteer replies: Oh king! You are responsible for this death, not me. The merit of the victory in the combat has gone to you and likewise goes the sin and guilt of this death.
The lamp represents the faith that illuminates everything I think, say and do. But let us not forget that it also illuminates in advance, a step beyond where I am now, so that I can be like the wise virgins, who took seriously their simple task in the kingdom of heaven.
It is often said that life has many surprises, of many colors, but we must learn to be ready for the most unexpected, whatever the Holy Spirit decides to ask of us when we least suspect it.
In the Sacred Hearts of Jesus, Mary and Joseph,