By F. Luis Casasus, General Superior of idente missionaries
Commentary on the Sunday Gospel of 12-11-2017, Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time (Book of Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Saint Matthew 25:1-13.)
A gardener was entrusted with the care of a wondrous and immense flower garden. One day a visitor asks him when he last saw the owner. The gardener says: I have worked here for many years but have never met him; he simply sends me my paycheck in a timely manner. The amazed man says: How immaculately you tend his garden! It is as if you expect him to come tomorrow. The gardener replies: Today, sir: today.
Now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
The parable of the Ten Virgins insists on vigilance: the Kingdom may arrive at any moment. Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour. Christ cautions us often concerning our sense of conversion and timing. It has a lot to do with procrastination: putting something off or delaying something which needs to be accomplished.
The truth is that Christ is coming here and now, at every moment of our lives, in so many different ways. Indeed, God comes to us in nature, in people we meet each day, in world events and in our personal life. I think this is a good moment to recall that the Holy Spirit whispers day and night within us: You are loved forever and once and for all, and even the hardships of your life, however real and sometimes very hard, cannot eradicate this love.
It was St. Augustine of Hippo who said: God has promised forgiveness to your repentance, but He has not promised tomorrow to your procrastination. Like the Virgins in the parable, we cannot wait. Now, this very moment, is the time for us to do what God has called us to do, and that is invariably some act in service and love to others.
A story is told about St. Francis of Assisi who was out hoeing his garden. When someone asked him what he would do if he were suddenly to learn that he would die before sunset that very day, he simply replied: I would finish hoeing my garden.
Regardless whether we are preparing for His proximate coming or His final coming, we must be vigilant; this is what St Matthew is exhorting us. Our own end will come soon enough. Depending on our age, it could come in ten, twenty, thirty years or more. It could come tomorrow. It could come in an hour or less after reading this. We may not wish to think about it but we do know that death is inevitable, and have we done everything we need to do to be prepared? The reason is not just fear to punishment, but the possibility of losing the opportunity to make a difference in the Kingdom of Heaven.
What do we do to prepare for our own end? We need to live out the Spirit of the Gospel in our daily lives. Everything begins with our look at Christ. And if we are doing this, then we can follow the advice of Blessed John Paul II which he proclaimed repeatedly during his pontificate: Be not afraid!
Unless we are conscious of His presence, such graced moments would pass us by. But with the eyes of faith, we will be able to see the presence of God even in our failures, trials and tribulations, as St Paul tells us that the wisdom of God is revealed in the crucified Christ. The tragedy is that we often overlook these moments of manifestations because we are sleeping, like the bridesmaids. We fail to see the presence of love, kindness, goodness; the blessings of (good or poor) health, vocation, work, that we experience each day in our lives with His purification and His call.
To be ready means we must start preparing now for the future …for the next minute! The oil symbolizes the infinite mercy of God, but the oil-lamps also symbolize the saints themselves that their light shone according to the word of the Lord, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven (Mt. 5:16).
Thus, in today’s Gospel passage, the oil represents the persistence in a personal and intimate relationship with the divine persons. The sacrifices and inconveniences of acquiring and carrying extra oil were trivial compared to the joys of the feast to come.
Many of us are not ready for a long haul in relationships. This is so true in marriage and in religious life. We give up on love so easily. People nowadays change their feelings so easily. The regret of many married couples is always this: He or she is no longer the same as before. He or she has changed. There is no more love left except obligation to live together. Although married, we live separate lives in reality. We do our own thing and have our own friends and social activities, even in faith as well.
I do not know you. That certainly seems a very harsh thing to say to the virgins. They were invited by Him and were there waiting for Him. How could Jesus say to them, I do not know you! What did Jesus mean?
Please note: Jesus does not say: I do not love you, or I do not care about you or I never tried to get your attention. He says to those on the outside: I do not know you. It is a matter of intimacy. There comes a point where Jesus will acknowledge whether or not a relationship actually exists. This is not a judgment but a statement of fact.
To “know,” in biblical terms, describes knowing through personal experience. Hence it implies an intimacy, a personal experience of another person, thing, or event. Sometimes the Scriptures use “knowing” as a euphemism for sexual intercourse (Gen 4:17,25).
God, who does not force us to be in an intimate relationship with Him, is warning us that some people seeking entry to Heaven (probably more for its pleasures than for its supreme purpose as an intimate union with God) have refused His invitation to intimacy. He does not “know” them because they never wanted to be known by Him in any intimate way. They may have known OF Him, and even spoken and taught of Him. But they did not want to cooperate in ALL the tasks of the Kingdom: buying oil, letting themselves being purified, being patient with our neighbor… They may have used him for their purposes, but Him they did not want. Jesus stands at the door and knocks; He does not barge in and force Himself on anyone.
Thus, we must personally and individually accept the Holy Spirit’s invitation to enter our lives and transform our hearts. We cannot simply say: I have been a missionary for 50 years, or I already have left everything. Without patience, time and perseverance, the relationship, regardless how beautiful when it started, will deteriorate to one of distance, from being cool to cold and then indifferent.
Give us some of your oil. The wise ones then told the foolish that they could not do this because there was not enough oil for all ten of them. This oil cannot be shared. It behooves us to spend time to meditate on the Word of God, to take full advantage of the Eucharist and to make progress in prayer through our Examination so that we can become conscious of His presence in our lives throughout the day and accordingly, live out the kind of life He wants us to live
There are some things you just cannot borrow and some things you just cannot lend. You cannot lend your readiness to meet God to someone else. You cannot borrow someone else’s intimacy with God. The bottom line is that you have to know Jesus for yourself. You cannot borrow your mother’s intimacy, relationship, or readiness. You have to have your own. No one can follow Christ for you. You cannot borrow someone else’s holiness.
It’s not enough to quote the Gospel; it’s not enough to say what a saint said. You have to know Him yourself. Do you know Him? It is not to know about Him. This is more than intellectual knowing; this is the act of accepting His acts of trust. Have you experienced that He has ministered to you in the Sacraments? Have you heard His voice resounding from the suffering and the aspiration of the people you meet? Do you know Him?
In this respect, growth in our spiritual life is something which, although are assisted by the community, is essentially personal. No one can take our place or work at it on our behalf when it comes to our relationship with God.
Even though the foolish virgins had said yes to the bridegroom’s invitation, failure to bring extra oil meant the foolish ones could not attend the feast. A regrettable lack of sensitivity
Many things can be dealt with if we would pray preventively. Jesus taught us to pray that we would not be lead into temptation. That is preventive prayer. Lord, whatever shape I find things in, let me be gracious and act wisely. Prepare my heart. Let me handle whatever I find like a true disciple of yours.
For example, there is hardly a mission field where there is no relationship problem between the workers. When unity and family spirit are lost, there is no blessing in the work. Prayer must be constantly made that we, as missionaries, glorify God with one mind and one mouth.
When we are tempted, (according to 1Cor 10:13) God always provides a way out. However, finding that way is often difficult and a terrible risk. Preventive prayer for God’s help in not allowing us to be led into temptation is a much better way. Beyond “in the moment” warfare prayer, the disciples can engage in preventive prayer, like Jesus did. When the Master said: This kind of demon does not go out except by prayer and fasting, (Mt 17:21) he is not just saying that they had to pray and fast at the time. What we do know from the Gospels is Jesus practiced a life of prayer and fasting. This prayer is not intended just to be shielded and protected, but also to be ready for the concrete mission we are entrusted with in this very moment.
Firemen are trained and equipped to fight fires. They know there will be fires, but they don’t know when. And so they are in a constant state of readiness, even when they sleep. Their clothing is all laid out so they can quickly dress and get to the fire.