During the month of November, we remember our loved ones who have died. We have the hope that that they are in heaven or are being prepared for entry into heaven. Our prayers can help those who are in purgatory. As we approach the end of the Church year the readings focus on the end times. Christ will come again for the final judgement and our love ones who died in Christ will be raised. We don’t know when that will be, but we are assured he will return. We will all be called home to our Lord at some time as well. We want to be prepared when he comes.
The second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, one of the earliest Scripture of the New Testament, addresses a community concerned about Christ’s return and their loved ones who have died. The Thessalonians expected Christ to return in their lifetime. As some of them died there was concern they wouldn’t be raised when Christ returned. St. Paul wrote to encourage them that those who had died with faith in Christ would be raised first. This same reading encourages us two thousand years later to assure us of Christ coming as well and that our loved ones with faith in Christ will rise with him.
So we know that Christ will return, but we don’t know when. How can we prepare for his coming? The parable of the ten virgins gives us some insight. We can learn from the wise virgins who were prepared. Some background on marriage customs at the time will help understand the special role of the virgins in the wedding. In the first stage of marriage the bride was betrothed to the bridegroom. She was usually in her teen years and continued to live with her family until the groom was ready to take her into his home. When time came the bridegroom would come late in the evening dressed in his finest clothes to take the bride to his home and to begin the wedding festivities. The virgins were family members, sisters and cousins, who would lead the couple with lit torches to the bridegroom’s house in the middle of the night. This was two thousand years ago and there were no lights in the streets, so it was important for the virgins to be prepared to light the procession to the entire way. The wedding feast was a joyous celebration that lasted for a week and everyone looked forward to attending. The wedding feast is an image of heaven, where the bridegroom, Jesus, welcome his bride, the Church into heaven.
As we heard there were some wise and foolish virgins. The foolish ones didn’t have enough oil to keep their lamps burning to get to the wedding feast. They asked the wise virgins for some oil, but they turned them down. Why would they do that? Were the wise virgins selfish and not willing to share? I don’t think so. I think it’s because the oil was produced by themselves. Their oil represents the preparation to be welcomed into the wedding feast. The foolish virgins went off to obtain oil from the merchant, but returned to find the doors locked and the bridegroom not recognizing them. The message we learn is that only those prepared for the wedding feast will be granted entry.
So what did the oil represent? What is something that can only come from us and we can’t be given away to others? Faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. This is the main component of the oil. Faith can only come from our own conversion in our own hearts. We have to obtain it for ourselves. We can have others who can lead us to faith in Jesus. St. Paul was a great example of that. Our parents, family, friends, teachers, religious and clergy are others who can influence our faith. But we have to make the decision to come to faith in Christ ourselves.
What else makes up the oil that lights the lamps? It’s the things we do living as disciples of Christ. Spending time daily in prayer is an essential element. This is how we develop a relationship with Christ. A relationship is something we cannot give away and takes time to develop. It’s nurtured through time studying Scripture and good Christian media. Acts of mercy in showing love for our neighbor is another essential component. We can’t give away these acts of mercy to someone else. We have to perform them on their own. The oil is also made up of grace received by participating of the life of the Church through the sacraments. We are first initiated into faith in Christ through our baptism. For most of us baptism was a gift our parents chose for us to receive, but a few made the choice on our own later in life. After Baptism we grow in our faith through the sacraments that nurture, heal, and strengthen us. We have to approach God’s ministers to receive the sacraments and it’s not something that we can give away to others.
So how can we prepare to have an abundance oil to burn brightly in our lamps to enter the wedding feast? By living in the present moment ready to accompany the bridegroom. How can we do this? By weekly attending the Sunday Mass and Holy Days to receive the Eucharist. We can pray daily to share our joys and struggles with Jesus and ask for His help on our journey. Frequent reception of the sacrament of reconciliation will allow us to receive God’s Mercy. We can love our neighbor through many ministries of our parish: Thanksgiving food distribution, food pantry, and Gabriel project just to name a few. We can also be beacons of light burning brightly in our schools, workplace, homes, and where we recreate by being kind, patient, and merciful to others.
If we put off living our faith Christ till later, the door to the wedding feast may be locked. We don’t want to hear the words our Lord told the foolish virgins: Amen, I say to you, I do not know you. Choose to live in the present time as Christ’s disciple. It’s each of our responsibility to prepare for the wedding feast. We don’t know the day or the time Christ will return, so start preparing now.