The Oil of Gladness

32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time – Cycle A

WIS 6:12-16, Psalm 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8 1 THES 4:13-18, 19-20, Matthew 25:1-13

What is Wisdom?
The readings today speak to us about the gift of Wisdom.  What is Wisdom?  St. Thomas Aquinas defines Wisdom as “right judgment in accord with eternal law (ST II-II, q. 45, a. 2).”  Put another way, wisdom is the ability to understand the world from God’s perspective. 

Pondering life in the light of Wisdom.
One of the questions that the readings pose to us today is this – do we examine our lives under the light of Wisdom?  Do we spend time reflecting on the events of our lives to understand how God is reaching out to us through those events.  To ponder – how is God inviting me to grow?

Three layers of imagery in the Gospel
In the Gospel today we find that there are 10 virgins awaiting the arrival of the Bridegroom from the wedding.  They are waiting in the darkness, but God has provided them with the means of light – each one has a lamp.

They are to await the bridegroom, and when He arrives they are to enter into the wedding feast with him.  As they await, they all fall become drowsy and fall asleep.

What are the symbols of this parable?

  • The first layer of symbols is the people
  • The second layer of symbols is the places 
  • The third layer of symbols are the things

The readings today invite us to reflect on the parable from the Gospel, and to join that reflection to the events of our lives in order to resolve to respond to those events with love.

The People
The Bridegroom is of course Christ.  He has invited us to a wonderful feast, but that feast cannot begin until he arrives.  You can’t have a party without the host.

We are the virgins.  We are the ones invited by the Lord to enter into the feast with Him.  The Lord desires to invite us into this relationship and celebration.  We should be humbled by such an invitation.

The Place
The virgins are apparently awaiting, seeking the bridegroom on the way, but near the house.  The virgins are awaiting the bridegroom in the darkness.  It is night, and in fact late in night when the groom finally arrives.  From this we can see that the virgins (us) are called to wait for the bridegroom in the world – in the midst of our own lives – filled with the darkness and confusion of sin.

The Lamps
Yet, each of those invited by the groom has a lamp.  Christ has given us the ability to shed light into this dark place.  To know the way to go and to be prepared for His coming into our lives at a time and place that we do not know and do not expect.

The Lamps are symbolic of the gift of Baptism in our life.  When each of us was baptized, we received a candle, and it was said to us.  “Receive the light of Christ.  This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. You have been enlightened by Christ. You are to walk always as a child of the light. May you  keep the flame of faith alive in your heart. When the Lord comes, may you go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”

God does not abandon us into the darkness of the world without help – but rather he gives us the tools that we need so that we can be prepared to meet Him.

The Oil
Oil is the fruit of the Christian life.  Oil is symbolic because it denotes a permanent change in things.  Oil is symbolic because it strengthens, it heals and it transforms.  Oil is symbolic of the gift of faith.

Oil is a symbol of our Faith
Faith is our relationship with God.  For each of us, our faith is unique – it is our experience and expression of our relationship with God.  I cannot give you my faith – because my faith is founded on the relationship between God and myself. You cannot give me your faith for the same reason – your faith is founded on your relationship with God.  Yet, my faith can inspire you to seek out your relationship with God and vice-versa.

For this reason the wise Virgins – the ones who had used the gift of Baptism in their life had sufficient oil and were ready to meet the Lord, and yet the foolish virgins were not.  The foolish virgins did not understand the nature of faith, and so had to run off to find oil for their lamps, and missed out on the feast.

How do we grow in Faith?  
How do we find oil for our lamps?
Wisdom leads us to ask the question – “How do we get oil for our lamps?”  To reflect on the answer to this question let us turn to St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux – The Little way of Love
One way to prepare oil for our lamps is to learn to love our enemies. 

The Critical Sister
St Thérèse spent her time living in the convent in Lisieux, France.  At her convent she was given the opportunity to suffer injustice at the hands of one of her sisters.  This particular sister was often very critical of Thérèse. 

For example, On one occasion, Therese remembers that she left a cobweb in the cloister. In front of everyone, the nun said: "The cloisters are obviously swept by a fifteen-year-old; it is a disgrace! Go and sweep that cobweb away, and in the future be more careful!"

This Sister would also send Thérèse out to weed the garden at half-past four every afternoon. Thérèse hated to weed the garden, but she realized that with each weed that she pulled up she could begin to pray for the Nun who was giving her such a hard time.  Even though she overheard this Nun say to her on the way to the garden "Really, this child does nothing at all. There must be something wrong with a novice that has to be sent for a walk every day."  

On another occasion someone or other had left a little vase on a window sill, and it was found broken. The Nun  thought it was Thérèse fault. She seemed very annoyed that Thérèse had left it there and told her to be more careful next time, adding that Thérèse had no idea at all of tidiness.

Without saying a word, Thérèse kissed the ground and promised she would take more care in the future. Thérèse  was able to use these events to grow in virtue, because she reminded myself that it would all be made known on the Day of Judgment.

The Lord is near to us in our sufferings
We really have two responses to injustice – One is to get angry and upset, riled up.  Another is to respond with patience – as Christ does, and to pray for our enemies.

Our Lord says:  “But to you who hear I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28)”.

Respond with Kindness
Thérèse was able to take these words to her heart and to allow God to transform her suffering into a source of spiritual growth.  She took up the habit of seeking to pray for her enemies and to perform little, hidden acts of virtue for them.  For example, when her sisters left their choir mantles in a mess, she would pick them up and fold them quietly, and without drawing attention to herself. 

Our enemies need our friendship
When Thérèse died and her Sisters read her autobiography – The Story of the Soul.  When the Nun who had been harsh with Thérèse listened to her Autobiography she was shocked that she had caused St. Thérèse such suffering, because she felt that Thérèse had loved her and was one of her closet friends. 

How to respond to unkindness
When we encounter injustice in our lives, we can respond out of anger and righteousness or we can see in our journey an invitation from our Lord to grow in Love.  I would like to leave you with three things to do when experiencing injustice.

  1. Listen to the book of Wisdom.  Make a habit in your life of reflecting on the relationship you have with your enemies in the morning each day of your life.  Take some time during your morning prayer to specifically pray for your enemies by name.
  2. When you encounter their injustice or cruelty, make it a point practice patience.  Patience means to be willing to be long-suffering.  It means to have passion as Christ did on the cross.  
  3. When we encounter cruelty, we are called to respond with kindness.  Thérèse did this by always seeking to be helpful and loving towards those whom she found to be difficult.

The darkness of our present world.
In the past two months our country has suffered terribly from the acts of cruelty and violence.  The mass shootings in Las Vegas, Thornton, and Texas along with the terrorism in New York are signs that we are waiting in a dark world for the coming of the Bridegroom.  This week let us transform the sufferings of our lives into a source of oil for our lamps by praying for our enemies and those who are unkind to us with the same love that Christ gave showed us when he suffered his crucifixion and death.

If we can return cruelness with kindness, hatred with love, and neglect with prayer then the world will be transformed because the light of the lamps that Christ has given us will shine forth with His love.