The Oil of Charity

Forgetfulness is a daily occurrence and a universal experience. It is not a prerogative only of senior citizens. It happens to everyone. It can cause inconvenience, great and small. I should know. How often I had to return to my room just when I thought I was ready to leave. Either l forgot my phone or I left my keys. Forgetfulness can be costly too. Sometimes I could not work or function, as I waste hours trying to remember the digital commands or retrieve my password. One time, I missed my flight because I forgot to bring my ticket. Thank God, we now have e-tickets and screenshots!

Worse still, forgetfulness can be fatal. In April 1988, the evening news reported the sad accident of a 35-year-old photojournalist who joined a group of adventurers to video their antics as they dropped, skydived, and opened their parachutes. After filming his colleagues, he reached for his own ripcord only to find out that he did not have a parachute. The camera suddenly went out of control as he precipitated free falling to his tragic death.
Today’s gospel is about the ten virgins who were invited to a wedding banquet. The story is not just about some social event. It is a parable about the kingdom of God, and the wedding feast is a symbol of eternal life.

As we approach the end of the liturgical year, the Church reminds us of our own end. We started the month of November with the celebration of All Saints Day (a reminder of our own final destination). The day after, we reconnected with and prayed for our beloved dead. In the days following, the liturgical readings speak of the end times and the final judgement. In the remaining Sundays of the year, we read from chapter 25 of Matthew which contains the 3 parables about the end of time. Our communal reflection on the “last things” culminates with the celebration of Christ the King, who will return to judge the living and the dead and to establish his kingdom definitively.

In the parable of the ten virgins, five were wise and the other five were foolish. The wise virgins provided themselves with sufficient oil which kept their lamps lit and so succeeded to enter the banquet. Instead, the other five forgot to bring extra provision and ran out of oil just when the bridegroom was arriving. And so, they were left behind and kept out of the banquet.

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 burning 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? St. Augustine and the Fathers of the Church interpret the lamp as a symbol of faith and the oil as the symbol of charity. It is love that nourishes our faith and keeps it alive and ablaze.

St. Paul tell us that “if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1Cor 13:2) On judgment day, only one question will be asked, “Did you love?” Love is the only ticket to enter the kingdom of God. “Then the King will say to those on his right, those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink…’” (Mt 25:34-35)

As I said in an earlier homily, if all the commandments are summed up in love, then all I really need to do in life is to love. Love is all that matters.

I think this is something we should never forget. No wonder Jesus left us two legacies before he died: his new commandment of love and the Eucharist, the memorial of his own saving love for us.

“Do this in memory of me.” (Lk 22:19) I love how Gregory Norbet paraphrases this verse in his song, “All I ask of you is forever to remember me as loving you.”

In the end, it really does not matter that we forget. We can forget everything else, but not the oil that keeps our lamp aflame, the oil of love.

In omnibus, amare et servire Domino. (In everything, love and serve the Lord.)

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