In college I worked at a grocery store during the summertimes. I have a lot of memories from my time working there and a lot of memories of my coworkers, especially the lifers that started when they were in high school and now were counting the years until retirement. They were good people, sometimes wiser than they knew. I remember one summer we had a problem with a sink in the back part of the store. It was tucked under the stairwell in a dark corner, and for some reason it wasn’t draining properly. If you stayed at the sink and made sure to rinse it out things were fine, but if things weren’t flushed out you ended up with a disgusting situation pretty quickly… and not all the other high school students had a personal drive to do care about things like I did. So before long it came to the attention of the upper management at the store and they had all these grand ideas about how to fix the problem… intensive employee training, getting rid of the sink, leveling the floor even. One of the lifers, the manager of the frozen department, had much a simpler solution: install a light. The sink was in a dark corner under a stairwell, and as he put it, “people don’t care about what they can’t see.”
Today and for the next two Sundays the readings are placing a light on something that we tend to keep tucked away in the corner… but something we need see and we need to care about. In a few minutes you will profess the creed and say “he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” And deeper than just our belief it is our prayer as well, when after the Our Father all of us together pray through the words I speak that “we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” Plain and simple this is a part of who we are. Just as Jesus Christ took on human flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary in the fullness of time, so too there is a day and a time coming when he will return. As real as I am speaking to you today, he will return and speak to you himself. So stay awake.
And yet… did you notice that both the foolish virgins and the wise virgins fell asleep? Foolish or wise there are times in life that we have to take our eyes off of that future hope. We have jobs and families and plans and can’t assume that today is the end and tomorrow doesn’t matter. Instead the difference between the foolish and the wise was that the foolish needed everything to happen on their schedule as they planned things, whereas the wise were prepared to let things happen on the bridegroom’s schedule and as he planned things. Will you be offered the true peace and happiness that only comes from the presence of God? Yes. Will you find the chance to end your struggles and worries? Yes. Will those things happen this week? I don’t know. I don’t know that they will happen this year… or this decade. All I know is that these things will happen. So we must have enough oil for our lamps, enough devotion to what we believe, enough goodness in our lives… so that if that day is far off and far away we have the provisions to endure.
Two weekends ago I went to a special event up in Michigan. Someone who sees me for spiritual direction became a consecrated virgin. Don’t be surprised if you have never heard of that… I hadn’t either when she first asked me about that vocation and to help her discern if God was calling her. As part of the ritual, after the Gospel she was called to come before her archbishop while holding a lighted oil candle just like the virgins of this Gospel. It was a symbol, just as her very life is now a symbol, that she is completely focused on the return of Christ and is already living with her heart in the Kingdom that is coming. She gave up any possibility of marriage and children to remind us that our life extends far beyond what we see and know right now.
So here’s my challenge to you: try to pray earnestly for Christ to return and for judgment to come upon us before this time next year. Do that and listen for how your heart reacts. If your heart is scared because you are not ready for life as you know it to end… then you are not awake yet. Wake up, and stay awake. Start waiting for the dawn. On the other hand if your heart is scared because you are not ready for judgment and you need more time… then you don’t have enough oil in your flask. You shouldn’t waste any more time and start growing your faith and building up goodness. But if you can pray that Christ return next year and your heart is at peace with that prayer… blessed are you, the wise virgin. Pray for the rest of us poor souls.
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.