Two months ago I had the opportunity to con-celebrate the Divine Liturgy at the Ukrainian Catholic Church across the street from ours … What a beautiful liturgy! First … it lasted 1 hour 30 minutes … and it was a weekday!! So … 40 minutes – you’re welcome!! There were a couple things I noticed … first the priest faces the tabernacle for the duration of Mass – everyone faces the Lord … every now and then he would turn to the people and make this proclamation: “ATTENTIVE; BE ATTENTIVE” … This is precisely the message of the gospel today… be attentive!
To understand this parable we have to first understand the social customs of the time. It was not uncommon, after a period of waiting, for a groom to come “retrieve” his bride from her parent’s home and bring her to their new home. The custom would often include an entourage of younger women to celebrate this solemn transfer, which would begin when the groom showed up. When he arrived, they would commence a special procession to their new home and the festivities would begin. In this case, the groom shows up at midnight, unexpectedly. While the entourage is waiting, some of them run out oil for their lamps. Here the question is will the bridal party be ready to greet him when he comes … The bridegroom in this case is Christ, the virgins represent the whole of humanity … some of them are wise – they’re ready; some are foolish, careless because they did not bring enough oil. The oil represents our vigilance, our readiness to meet Christ. The time of waiting symbolizes our lives on earth and how we spend our time. This parable brings to mind that fateful moment that will befall us all – will we be ready to meet Him when He comes to us?
That which strikes me here is this: one might ask the question … why wouldn’t those who had more oil give to the ones who had less? Wouldn’t that be a matter of justice? Wouldn’t it be a matter of “loving thy neighbor”? Clearly Jesus wants to make a point here – not everything is a matter of social justice and particularly if it distracts us from the obligation to be attentive to our own salvation. The virgins were entrusted with a serious responsibility – some took it seriously and others did not. The foolish neglected their primary duty … What is the message? God is our ultimate end, we have a responsibility, as time passes, as life goes on, to seek Him, to pursue Him to be vigilant … everything else flows from this primary obligation.
At times I think we get confused as to what it means to be a Catholic living in today’s world – in a world that is becoming increasingly irreligious. There is a tension in meeting other people’s and secular society’s expectations of the true nature of Christianity, primarily viewing it a social entity – since the world has turned its back on the moral integrity, the dogmas of the Church, and the Commandments of God. Not everything is a matter of social justice … We have to be careful not to fall into carelessness in the neglect of our own souls and spiritual lukewarmness, to not get attached to the things of this world in detriment to the things of God… Our souls are at stake and our attentiveness to things of God matters … How we care for others will inevitably flow from this attentiveness.
Pope St. John Paul II died in 2005. While being treated he uttered what would be his last words: “let me go to my Father’s house.” This is our eternal destination … and it is our responsibility, it is our duty to be attentive to the things of God that leads to eternal life.