Keeping our Lamp Lit

As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the Church invites us to meditate on “the last things” (eschatology, in theological language), namely, death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

Thus, the month of November started with the celebration of All Saints’ Day, followed by All Souls’ Day. In the weeks ahead, the liturgical celebrations will focus on themes about the end times and culminate with the Solemnity of Christ the King, bringing to a close the liturgical calendar. Christ is then presented as King, who comes again at the end of time to bring the kingdom of God to its fulfillment.

Meditating on the eschatological realities may seem scary and gruesome, but it is actually helpful and healthy for the soul. Death is the most certain and inevitable reality in life, and on it hangs our fate for all eternity. The important question is: are we prepared for it, “since [we] know neither the day nor the hour”?

Our gospel reading tells the parable of the ten virgins who were invited to the wedding banquet, a symbol of the kingdom of heaven, and of eternal life. The five, who were wise and well prepared, succeeded in entering the banquet, while the other five, who were foolish and ill-prepared, did not.

The lesson of the parable is to be ready when Christ comes to take us to his kingdom, whether it be at his second coming (second reading) or at the hour of our death. How? By keeping our lamps lit at all times. The foolish virgins missed the banquet because they could not keep their lamps aflame; they did not bring enough oil with them. Their fault was not in having slept while waiting; the wise virgins too fell asleep in the wake. Their fatal fault was their failure to be prepared.

What is this lamp that must remain lighted at all times if we are to enter the eternal banquet in heaven? Pope Francis offers an interesting interpretation. He says, “The lamp is a symbol of the faith that illuminates our life, while the oil is a symbol of the charity that nourishes the light of faith. The condition for being prepared for the encounter with the Lord is not only faith, but a Christian life abundant with love for our neighbor. If we allow ourselves to be guided by what seems more comfortable, by seeking our own interests, then our life becomes barren… and we accumulate no reserve of oil for the lamp of our faith [which] will be extinguished at the moment of the Lord’s coming… If instead we are watchful and seek to do good, with acts of love, then we can be at peace while we wait for the bridegroom to come: the Lord can come at any moment, and even the slumber of death does not frighten us, because we have a reserve of oil, accumulated through everyday good works. Faith inspires charity and charity safeguards faith.”

One curious detail in the parable may sound a bit disturbing. The refusal of the wise virgins to share their oil seems selfish. But if we are to understand the parable as explained above, we realize that there are certain things we cannot borrow or inherit, like another person’s life of faith or works of charity. Much as the parents love their children and want them to be saved, they cannot walk for them the road to salvation and or make for them the right moral decisions. They can only teach, inspire, and encourage.

Our readings today speak of wisdom, which enabled the five virgins to enter into the messianic banquet (salvation). How badly we need wisdom today more than ever! While there is today an overload of information more than anyone can absorb, there seems to be little of intelligence, much less of wisdom. I once saw a cartoon representation of a student busy preparing for his online class with its many attending concerns regarding laptop, earphone, wifi, apps, etc. Turning to his father, he asks, “When you were studying, Dad, what did you use?” “Brain,” was the father’s dry reply.

Michel Serres is more graphic in portraying today’s generation. He likens us to St. Denis who carries his head in his hands. (Legend has it that when the martyr Denis was decapitated, he miraculously picked up his head from the ground.) Unwittingly, today we may have already turned over our thinking and judging process to the iPad or cellphone in our hands.

In the face of this dark and distressing situation, the first reading offers us hope. If we eagerly seek wisdom, God is even more eager to give it to us. God’s wisdom is more than just practical knowledge on how to live rightly and well. Often personified in the Old Testament as a woman, wisdom is fully revealed in the New Testament as the Spirit of God himself. It is the Holy Spirit who illumines our mind to see as God sees (faith) and empowers our heart to pursue the true good (charity). The Holy Spirit is the flame given to the Church on Pentecost and to us in baptism. Let us keep this holy flame ever burning.

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