By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the ten virgins who went out to meet the bridegroom. There is a detail in the parable that offers us some very good advice. First, though, we have to understand what is happening. Wedding feasts in Palestine at the time of Jesus were very elaborate affairs that lasted for days.
At some point, the bridegroom would be announced and he would arrive at the bride’s chamber. It was customary for her to have virgins (bridesmaids) waiting with her. Since there were no lights on the roads, they would have lanterns with which to greet him. Their job was to wait with the bride and escort the groom. In this parable, the groom is delayed, they fall asleep and when they hear the cry of groomsman that, “The groom is here, come out to meet him” (that is, bring the light), five are unable to complete their task.
When I was a student at Cathedral College, there was a psychology professor who told us the first day of class to be sure to read the textbook since it would be the basis of our final exam since it contained the necessary basics of the course. However, his lectures would provide additional information that was not in the book. He was an interesting speaker and taught well. I studied his notes and considered myself fairly competent in the material. However, I did not heed his advice to give the book more than a cursory reading. When the time came for the final, I thought I was well prepared until, as he promised, it was all directly from the textbook. I passed but could have done much better had I been more appropriately prepared.
The bridesmaids knew their job. They knew the length of the festivities and the possibility of the groom being delayed. Their unpreparedness was not excusable just as my lack of preparation for that exam was no one’s fault except my own. We were told. They knew. The others could not help them by sharing their oil because eventually they would have all been in the dark. The groom had arrived and they were not prepared so the festivities went on without them.
Last Monday we celebrated the Feast of All Souls. A day when we remember those we love who have gone before. Yet, that remembrance also invites us to think about the realities of death and resurrection. We know that the only guarantee after birth is death. Every time we say the Our Father, we pray, “Thy kingdom come.” We know that one day we will each face judgment. And so, the question this parable presents is, “Are we ready?” not “Will we be ready?”
We know neither the day nor the hour but we do know that it will come and that it will make available to us a place in the kingdom. It will come not as a punishment but as a passage to something better. The message is not meant to frighten us but inspire us. The five foolish virgins could not borrow oil from the others nor could they secure more in time. On the other hand, there were five who were prepared, completed their task and entered into the wedding feast.
Etienne de Grellet du Mabillier was a member of Louis XIV’s bodyguard who was sentenced to be executed during the French revolution. He managed to escape and came to the United States in 1795. In 1796 he joined the Religious Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers. He was well known as a missionary preacher and to him has been attributed (although there is no actual proof it originated with him) the saying, “I shall pass through this world but once! Any good thing, therefore, that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now, in his name, and for his sake! Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”
Readings for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
1 Thes 4:13-18 or 4:13-14
Msgr. Calise is the pastor of Transfiguration-St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, Maspeth.