I cannot read parable of the bridesmaids (Mt 25:1-13) without thinking of my classmate Mike McCaffrey. A seminarian from Texas, he was ordained a deacon with the rest of us on April 22, 1971. However, a couple of weeks later, on May 8, he died tragically. Mike had a typical Southern drawl and Northerners sometimes mistook slow talk for slow wit. Once a rather haughty New Englander hit him with a rapid-fire argument. After a pause - and with elaborate courtesy - Mike asked a question which demolished his opponent.
But I remember Mike most because in the year before his death he researched the parable of the ten virgins for his thesis. Often at breakfast he would tell us an insight he discovered about why some were foolish and others wise. Or he would announce that a certain commentary was “worthless.” It had focused so much on wakefulness that it ignored verse 5: “all became drowsy and fell asleep.”
The crucial difference between the wise and foolish has to do not with staying awake but with having sufficient oil. Foreseeing that the bridegroom might delay, the wise bridesmaids brought flasks of oil, while the foolish neglected the task. (v.3) Even though they all succumbed to sleep, only the wise had made the proper preparations. Salvation involves more than simply joining the wedding party. Let me illustrate.
Several years ago a minister over on the Olympic Peninsula murdered his wife. Not realizing who had committed the crime, the community naturally felt sorry for the widower. However, an investigation identified the husband himself as the murderer. The news shocked the town. But some members of the congregation had a curious reaction. They said that, since their minister had accepted Christ as his Savior, his salvation was assured - no matter what he did.
Now, I do not want to scoff at those who believe their justification is a once and for all event. They have their reasons. However, even though it is reassuring to feel ones salvation is guaranteed, I do not think the Bible gives mortals such assurance.* Today’s parable points to something more than initial acceptance. We have to maintain a supply of oil so that we can trim (prepare) our lamps when the bridegroom returns.
A man does not get up and say, “Looks like a good day to murder my wife.” A lot of neglect prepares for such an act: clinging to grievances, laziness in communication, small – and perhaps large – infidelities. Similarly, no one performs an heroic deed without smaller decisions paving the way.
For us Christians there is only one way to have sufficient oil for our lamps: prayer. I know many get frustrated, discouraged because they do not see immediate results. When we started Eucharistic Adoration, six hundred signed up for a weekly Holy Hour. Many have fallen by the wayside. Now is the time for re-dedication.
Each Christian must place himself before the Lord. Parents of small children can imagine that, if they do everything right, their child will naturally become a believer. But God has no grandchildren - only children. Today’s parable makes clear you cannot just hand on salvation to another person - like an inheritance. The wise virgins may appear selfish for not sharing their oil, but in reality they could do nothing else. We are not talking about an external possession, but internal character.** This "oil" is inalienable; it may not be transferred. A man must do certain things for himself. The most important is preparation to receive the bridegroom, Christ.
For my friend Mike McCaffrey the parable had been a yearlong preparation for his own death. I remember going into Mike’s room the day after he died. I was always impressed by how orderly he kept his room. Papers cluttered my desk, but on his was a single sheet containing a few notes. He had left his Bible opened to Matthew 25. When I went to look, my eyes fell on the verse, “Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”
*St. Paul summed up the paradox of human freedom and divine determinism: "Work our your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and work for his good pleasure." (Phil 2:12f.)
**I can give my nephew ten dollars, but I cannot give him industry.
From Archives (for Twenty-Ninth Ordinary Sunday, Year A):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Education Sunday, Anti-Catholicism at Democratic National Committee, Bishops Meeting)
Aborting Child Protection (Does Planned Parenthood oppose child abuse?)
About the Ossuary of "James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus"
The Media's Open Season on Catholicism Continues (This Time, a Mexican Film Stokes the Fires)
Parish Picture Album
40 Days for Life - Everett, WA
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Archbp. Naumann of Kansas City Comments on Charges Against Bp. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph
From Sr. Mary Ann Walsh: Bishop Lori's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the subject of religious freedom
Well worth reading as we pray for our bishops in their annual meeting (Nov 14-16 in Baltimore)