In the northern hemisphere, when sunlight diminishes and leaves fall, nature reminds us of life’s fragility. Western culture annually recognizes the change with ghouls and goblins decorating houses and children teasing homeowners with the phrase ‘trick or treat” and demanding the ransom of candy.
The next day, the Church celebrates all the saints who have run the good race, and the day after that, we commend all the souls of the faithfully departed to the mercy of God. The Church continues to focus on death during November, reflected in the liturgy of ordinary time ending at the beginning of December when the season of Advent commences.
Our Jesus chooses to teach all of us about death through another parable. Today’s reading is about ten virgins awaiting the bridegroom. Five of them were prudent in bringing enough oil to light their lamps; five foolish ones did not and fell asleep. Since the bridegroom was delayed, the foolish virgins had to run off to the merchants to buy oil and missed out when the bridegroom finally arrived. The parable’s moral is to stay awake and be ready, for you do not know when your time on earth will end and possibly miss out on entering the kingdom of God.
Concerning death, most persons have three coping mechanisms to spare themselves from facing the reality of their death: procrastination, relativism and presumption.
With so many reminders about the transitory nature of earthly existence, many people know the fact they will die but do not think it applies to them just yet.
Young people especially do not believe they will die soon and sometimes engage in some reckless behaviors. The young do not have a monopoly on this thought; older folks also fall into the trap of procrastination. There is plenty of time to get my house in order. But scripture tells us differently. “For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.”
The bridesmaids also thought they had plenty of time, but much to their surprise, the time was not theirs to manage, for the bridegroom came unexpectedly. Along with procrastination, human beings use another ploy to grapple with the issue of death.
Humans are good at rationalizing the truth to fit into their reality. It usually is something like this, “If I just get close enough, that will suffice.” Plenty of people think they do not need to go to church on Sunday or pray daily. All that is required is to be good enough to enter the Kingdom of God.
The foolish bridesmaids in the parable thought it was good enough to wait without having enough oil in their lamps. Soon, they discovered their preparation was insufficient and asked the wise women for some of their oil but were refused. The foolish bridesmaids were close but not close enough. God’s mercy and forgiveness only work when we put in the effort.
The final human reaction, which is probably the worst of the three, is the presumption that God will welcome us no matter how we waste our time.
When the bridegroom was delayed, the foolish bridesmaids realized they would not have enough oil. They presumed their fellow women would give them oil, but they were wrong.
When it took time to purchase oil, the foolish found out the doors to the wedding hall had been locked. In response, they exclaimed, “’ Lord, Lord, open the door for us!’ But he said in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’”
The bridesmaids presumed they would have enough time to get oil, return, and be admitted into the feast, but the story ends differently. Too often, the faithful rely on a presumption that no matter how much time is wasted on other things, God, in his mercy, will allow them to enter the Kingdom. Regardless of what they do, the presumption of God’s mercy and forgiveness is all that matters. St. Paul thinks differently and warns the Philippians, “So then, my beloved, obedient as you have been, not only when I am present but all the more now when I am absent, work out your salvation with fear and trembling.”
The parable ends with these sobering words. “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” Nothing more needs to be said.