FRIDAY HOMILY: Give Me Oil In My Lamp
The Parable of the Ten Virgins
In our gospel today Jesus is talking about spiritual preparation and conditioning. The parable gives us some strong direction that needs to be in place here and now. We don't want to wait to be sure our lamp is lit and we have plenty of oil. But what does this mean?
My bike was fairly new and I spent time outfitting it with a new water bottle holder, saddle bag and bike lock. In the weeks leading up to the ride, I would periodically take the bike out but never really conditioned myself for the journey. Oh, by the way, I had never been on a bike trip like this before in my life.
We started at the shore of Lake Erie in Leamington, Ontario after a trip by ferry from Sandusky, Ohio. After a brief check of our equipment, we took to the road on the first day of our journey. After about 30 minutes of riding I found myself getting a little light headed and woozy, but I peddled through it. Nausea was next, followed by a complete loss of strength, which ultimately ended up with my falling over into a ditch.
As one of the leaders, I found myself in an embarrassing and humiliating position in front of the teens I was leading!
I did successfully finish the ride but with a major lesson learned about preparation and conditioning.
This is exactly what Jesus is talking about in our gospel parable today - spiritual preparation and conditioning.
Jesus told his disciples this parable: "The Kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise ones replied, 'No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.'
While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, 'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!'
But he said in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.' Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour." (Mt. 25:1-13)
There's an interesting little word in the Bible's rendering of this passage that is omitted from the lectionary reading - "then." That little word really sets the context for the parable, as Jesus is using this parable to get his followers ready for a time in the future that he talked about in the previous chapter, what we call "the parousia," the coming, referring to the Second Coming of Christ.
That being said, while we are looking far forward into the future, the parable gives us some strong direction that needs to be in place here and now. We don't want to wait to be sure our lamp is lit and we have plenty of oil. But what does this mean?
This parable is full of symbolism. First you have the bridegroom and the bride, which is Christ and his Church.
Then you have the bride, represented by ten virgins. Ten was an important number to the Jews and represents an indefinite multitude. Virginity reminds us that the Church is the innocent and spotless bride being prepared for a permanent union with Christ at his second coming.
St. Augustine describes it this way. These five and five virgins are all Christian souls together. But that I may tell you what by the Lord's inspiration I think, it is not souls of every sort, but such souls as have the Catholic faith, and seem to have good works in the Church of God; and yet even of them, "five are wise, and five are foolish."
So we have five that were sensible (wise) and five that were stupid (foolish). All ten were preparing for the nuptial celebration but only have of them did it well and entered into the fulfillment of their relationship with the bridegroom.
Well, back to the lamp and oil. In the days of the New Testament, the bridal party would meet at night under the light of torches. Again, our Lord uses these symbols to talk about the light of faith that is within us and the need for this faith to be sustained by a continuing supply of grace that comes from God.
Honestly, the parable is pretty straightforward and the message is clear. You need to have your lamp lit before the bridegroom comes and you have to do make sure it does not go out.
Lighting the Lamp of Faith
It is not coincidental that one of the symbols used in baptism is a candle. When the candle is lit, the priest or deacon says, Parents and Godparents, this light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours has been enlightened by Christ. He (she) is to walk always as a child of the light. May he (she) keep the flame of faith alive in his (her) heart. When the Lord comes, may he (she) go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.
With the light of faith present at our baptism, the main work is just now beginning - to keep the light burning brightly. This is where the virgins are really revealed as wise or foolish. Both groups have the light but only one will be able to keep the light.
Keeping the Light Alive
Sometimes we make the faith so complicated that we need to go back to children's CCD or vacation Bible school to recapture the wonder of our life in Christ. Our little kindergartners know what faith is all about, singing "This little light of mine, I'm gonna let it shine."
If you look at a lamp from the days of the New Testament, this is an opening where the flame is lit. The opening is in a spout that extends down to a large reservoir. Even if there is a good supply of oil in the lamp when it is lit, the oil will soon be used up and replenishment is needed.
The five wise virgins, watchful and alert, writes St. Macarios the Great, had taken oil in the vessels of their heart. That oil, not part of their own nature, means the grace of the Spirit. They were enabled to enter with the Bridegroom into the heavenly bridal chamber.
This grace comes to us in many forms after baptism. We receive the grace of Christ himself, body, blood, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist; the grace of forgiveness through Confession and many other forms of grace in the other sacraments.
Strength also comes through prayer, reading of Holy Scripture, doing works of charity and simply offering ourselves to the Lord in love and service during our day.
St. Macarios goes on to describe the condition of the other bridal party. The other five virgins, however, were content with their own nature. They neither watched nor busied themselves to receive the oil of gladness [Ps. 44:6] in their vessels, while they were yet in the flesh. Instead, they sank into sleep through carelessness, slackness, idleness, and ignorance, or even fancied righteousness.
Without getting over-dramatic or apocalyptic, we need to remember that we don't know the "rest of the story" when it comes to our life of faith. The Lord will come again, as we declare in the Creed, but we don't know the hour or the day. He will come even sooner to those who die before the parousia.
Over the years I've heard so many people say, "I'm not ready to really get serious about my faith; maybe later." They have never joined the bridal party.
Others are like the five foolish virgins. Having begun in the Church, their lamps are dim or dark due to the cares and allurements of this world.
Back on my bike trip, at night we would all sit around a fire and talk about spiritual things. One of the leaders would share a reflection, followed by testimonials from the teens and prayer. There would also be a time when the guitars would come out and the proverbial campfire songs were sung. One of them would be:
Give me oil for my lamp, keep it burning
Give me oil for my lamp I pray
Give me oil for my lamp, keep it burning
Keep it burning till the light of day.
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
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