Sunday, Nov. 12, is the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Mass Readings: Wisdom 6:12-16, Psalm 63:2-8, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 or 4:13-14, and Matthew 25:1-13.
Today’s readings come as the liturgical year draws to its close, striking a sad note that will later be picked up in a more joyful way in Advent.
The sad note is this: The end of our life is coming, probably sooner than we expect, and when it comes, it will be too late to change our ways.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells the story of the Wise and Foolish Virgins, referencing an old custom in biblical times. After a wedding, the bridegroom would return to his home for a weeklong feast. In Jesus’ version of the story, 10 virgins are waiting for the feast.
The allegory is clear: The women are waiting for the bridegroom and the feast just as we are waiting for the Lord at the end of our lives.
What is a little harder to understand is the oil and the lamps. The wise virgins have brought plenty of oil to keep their lamps lit. The foolish ones haven’t, and the wise ones won’t give them any.
Origen and St. Hilary, Fathers of the Church, explain that the lamp is the faith and the oil is good works.
We are meant to let our faith shine before others, to be a light on a lampstand rather than hidden under a bushel basket.
We are the light — but that light needs to be fueled by the Christian life that we lead. If we act on our faith, the light will grow bright, like a lamp being fed oil. If we fail to act on our faith, it will weaken, flicker and even go out.
The Fathers of the Church say that the story is about how we have no idea when we will die. We don’t know when the Bridegroom will come.
We need wisdom that will match the faith we profess with the deeds that grow it.
Wisdom “is readily perceived by those who love her and found by those who seek her,” says the first reading. “Whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate.”
The words are reminiscent of the waiting virgins on purpose. We have to watch and pray to receive wisdom, just as we have to watch and pray to be ready for the end of our lives.
The second reading reminds us what the stakes are: eternal happiness. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so, too, will God, thorough Jesus, bring him those who have fallen asleep.”
St. Teresa of Calcutta stressed that being ready for the end is not arduous work — but it takes persistent effort.
“How does a lamp burn, if it is not by the continuous feeding of little drops of oil?” she said. “What are our drops of oil in our lamps? They are the small things from everyday life: the joy, the generosity, the little good things, the humility and the patience, a simple thought for someone else ... the real drops of oil that make our lamps burn vividly our whole life.”
The right oil makes a big difference, she said.
“Don’t look for Jesus far away,” she said. “He is not there. He is in you. Take care of your lamp, and you will see him.”
Tom Hoopes is writer
in residence at
Benedictine College and
author of The Fatima