Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—A
The theme of the Christian’s need for vigilance or watchfulness is clear enough in today’s readings, and helps lead us into the approaching season of Advent, when we quietly await the coming of Christ in a deeper manner. However, there is something more at stake than merely anticipating either the birth of Christ or the end time and final coming of Christ. That is not good enough, as the Gospel parable of the 10 virgins in a wedding party demonstrates. All 10 kept vigil, but only five entered the wedding feast of the bridegroom (Christ).
Phrases throughout all three of today’s readings exhort us to keep vigil, be aware, and stay awake. But since we, the Church, are the virgins awaiting Christ the Bridegroom, we must also be prepared. We can’t simply wait. Being vigilant also means being attentive to our day-to-day reality—yet always from an eternal perspective.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we participate (positively or negatively) in spiritual realities that extend infinitely beyond the visible world. But we participate in those realities not merely when we die or when Christ comes. We do so here and now. Each moment in time has eternal significance for each one of us—as individuals and as collective humanity. As the New Testament authors tell us, we must work out our salvation (cf. Philippians 2:12), not merely wait for it. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).
Being vigilant means working out our salvation through the good works that come from God as a result of our faith. As the Letter to the Ephesians states: “By grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (Ephesians 2:8-10).
This is the why the Incarnation which we will soon celebrate is so central not only to our Advent and Christmas celebrations, but throughout the year. Each liturgical year, we come full circle to recall and be renewed by this mystery of our faith.
Like the 10 virgins, we as Christians hold lamps in hopeful expectation of the coming of the Bridegroom. These lamps—our good works—are meant to bring the light of Christ into the world for all to see. We are the light of the world, Jesus tells us (Matthew 5:14). Our good works—feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, counseling and instructing in the ways of the Gospel, forgiving offenses, praying for the living and the dead, etc.—bring Christ to life and impart his saving grace here and now.
However, these lamps of good works must have oil. They must be fueled with “little drops of love,” as Mother Teresa said. We cannot keep watch and light the way in hopeful expectation without the oil of love. Five of the 10 virgins forgot this, and were shut out of the Kingdom as a result!
There is yet a third element required to light the oil of love within our lamps of good works performed in hopeful expectation of the Bridegroom. We need the divine spark of faith that comes from God to make us glow and burn brightly. And here is where vigilance takes on a very interior nature which goes beyond mere exterior waiting. We must keep vigil within our very hearts—seek Wisdom, as today’s first reading urges us. In this reading, and throughout much of Scripture (Proverbs, Wisdom, Sirach), wisdom personified (female) is identified with the Holy Spirit (cf. Wisdom 8:2-4; 9:17-18).
It is Wisdom—the Holy Spirit—that gives us light and life in Christ, that keeps our lamps of good works burning brightly. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus tells us (John 20:22). “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). This same Spirit was bestowed on us in baptism and is made present in all the sacraments. We are sealed with Wisdom, and then reignited by Wisdom in our common worship, Scripture, and in prayer deep within our hearts.
And it is only with this Wisdom, visited upon us through the divine spark of faith, that we can light our lamps of hope with the oil of love and truly keep vigil for the coming of Christ. With Wisdom, we look forward to eternity with each and every moment of our day-to-day lives. With Wisdom, we work out our own salvation while doing what Jesus commands us: “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Vigilance means not only waiting for Christ, but making him present now. Then, with Wisdom at our side, like the five wise virgins, we will go into the wedding feast of the Bridegroom, where we shall always be with the Lord--who, through Wisdom, has been with us all along.