Now For Later
by Rev. Matthew H. Zuberbueler
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Matthew wrote to show that Christ
Messiah and fulfilled the Jewish prophecies.
Jesus told his disciples this parable: "The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise ones replied, 'No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.' While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, 'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!'; But he said in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.' Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour."
The liturgical celebrations of All Saints and of the Holy Souls remind us of the eternal context of our lives. We are called to live holy lives, lives dedicated to attaining eternal happiness with God in Heaven. We strive to be faithful and yet we also benefit from God’s mercy along the way. Children reflecting on the truths of our faith will ask the logical questions. For example, the obligatory one: if someone dies on the way to confession will he be forgiven for the sins he wanted to confess? Questions about the state of our relationship with God at the moment we die are good questions. We will receive our individual particular judgment from God based upon the state of our soul as it is precisely at the end of our earthly life. How we will be then is related to the choices we make now.
Jesus teaches an important lesson in this Sunday’s Gospel parable: now is the best time to prepare for the moment He returns for us. The lesson is brought home to us in the story of the 10 virgins. Five are foolish, five are wise. The foolishness of the foolish ones occurs early in the story. The wisdom of the wise occurs at the same time. On their way to meet the bridegroom all 10 reach for their lamps. The five foolish ones take no time and give no thought to the possibility that they might run out of oil. The five wise virgins, on the other hand, take a little extra time and preparation. Considering that they might need more oil, each of them takes the time to obtain and bring along with them an extra flask of oil. The simple choice to plan ahead and to be prepared makes all the difference for them. Rather than presume everything will go well or quickly or exactly as planned, they prepare for other possibilities.
We can place these ideas in our modern world. There are many things that enable us to rely on having what we need later in the day. The fact that our fancy phones can give us answers and maps and connections to all manner of resources can allow us the luxury of “traveling light” and disregarding some previously needed things. (Remember printing up directions before driving?). With such luxury we can be lulled into thinking we have all that we need. Which one of us hasn’t felt the sinking feeling that comes when our phones break or get stolen or lost? How can we do anything without them? Another comparison from today that mimics our parable is the need to bring along our phone chargers. Perhaps this is comparable to the flask of oil in the parable. It is easy to forget to bring it but it matters a great deal. Careful travelers think of these things in advance.
The wise virgins don't share in the parable. This emphasizes the fact that no one else can do for us what we are responsible to do for the Lord. The parable presents their readiness to welcome the bridegroom as a special honor, one to be taken seriously.
Our lives are right now moving toward the moment at which they will end. At that moment Jesus will be there. He will have come for us. Given these facts it makes good sense that we think about what will need in that moment. We should be enthusiastic about being part of the celebration of the eternal wedding feast. We should also recognize that there is nothing more serious happening in our lives than the preparation for welcoming Him. The lifetime of waiting for His return might be long and it might be short. He clearly teaches that everything we do should be about being ready when He comes. What did the foolish virgins gain by their failure to prepare and plan ahead? What do we gain when we fail in the same way?
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