You have heard today’s parable of the 5 wise and 5 foolish virgins many times, People of God, and you might therefore be inclined to think: “Oh, not that again”. If, however, you have too much reverence for the Lord and respect for His Holy Word to think in that way, you still might be predisposed to welcome a homily that would deal with other matters such as important and/or contemporary issues in society, or good causes that cry out for greater attention; it is, after all, much more interesting to hear something new, even if you do not fully agree with it, than to hear, and go over yet once again, something you think you already know very well.
However, Dr. Samuel Johnson, one of the wisest men this country has ever produced, once remarked that Christians have much greater need to be reminded of things they have already been taught than they have to hear of new things. Following his advice, therefore, let us look at the parable once again.
Who is the bridegroom mentioned in the beginning?
The kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.
We know for sure that it is Jesus, from the answer Jesus gave when He was once being questioned about the behaviour of His disciples:
The disciples of John and of the Pharisees were fasting. Then they came and said to Him, "Why do the disciples of John and of the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus said to them, "Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. (Mark 2:18-20)
And John the Baptist gave most beautiful testimony to Jesus as the Bridegroom, when he declared (John 3:27-30):
A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.' He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.
Jesus, therefore, is the Bridegroom come to prepare for the wedding feast of the Kingdom of Heaven. However, there is, strangely enough, no mention of who the Bride might be; let us, therefore, think about her.
One of the most momentous and uncompromising statements ever made by Jesus concerned the relationship between a man and his wife:
Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate. (Matthew 19:4-6)
Man and wife, Bridegroom and Bride, become one flesh. The Bride for Jesus, the heavenly Bridegroom, is Mother Church; that is, saved humanity, all those who will be one with Jesus and with each other as members of that ultimately glorified, heavenly, Body of which He is, even now, the Head. As we read in the letter to the Ephesians:
May (we) grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ -- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. (4:15-16)
And at the heavenly wedding-feast, all those true children of Mother Church, all those living members of the Body of Christ, will be recognised as children of God the Father because of their sharing in the flesh of Him Who is both the heavenly Lord of Mother Church and the only-begotten Son of the eternal Father.
Therefore, the ten virgins waiting for the Bridegroom represent the whole of mankind called to become the Bride, called to enter with Christ as members of His Body into the wedding-feast of Heaven; and of them, five – half their number -- behaved so irresponsibly and foolishly that they were found to be unfit to enter into the feast.
For, although all ten of the virgins grew tired, just as we ourselves, indeed, would become somewhat tired under such circumstances, the irresponsibly foolish ones never once, during the whole of that protracted delay, ever thought about their lamps and their diminishing oil supply. Those lamps were quite small, not being meant to light up the way so much as to indicate that someone was attentively waiting, ready and willing to welcome the Bridegroom; and so, their shortage of oil showed up quite brutally that the hearts of those five virgins had wandered elsewhere, on to other matters of personal interest and distraction; for, their having become cold with regard to the much-anticipated public arrival of the bridegroom and his entourage was made manifestly clear to all when they were unable to provide a warm welcoming light to greet Him: indeed, a most glaring insult to the Bridegroom, and also a betrayal of the careful preparations previously set in place by the whole community.
Many hearts, Jesus said, indeed -- near the end – most hearts, will grow cold through having to wait without receiving signs. Jesus was acutely aware of this human weakness even in the case of those near to Him and of whom He had expected more (for example: Martha, but not Mary):
Jesus said to Martha, ‘Did I not say to you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?’ Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead man (Lazarus) was lying. And Jesus lifted up His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You that You have heard Me. And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ (Jn. 11:40-43.)
How movingly does Jesus there, as it were, assure His Father that His love for Him was not dependent on signs being given!
I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.
Jesus, as you will well remember, once Sadly however, very many Christians do grow tired of waiting for the Lord to manifest His presence and His power in their lives; and, not being sufficiently established in virtue, are found to be too proud in mind, too impatient in temperament, and too weak in faith, to be able to continue waiting for the Lord with humble expectancy. Jesus once said:
Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. (Mt 24:11-13)
And in these our days when lawlessness does most surely abound, many Catholics want to experience something happening in their lives; they want themselves to be seen, or at least to see themselves, as achieving and doing something rather than apparently wasting their time and fraying their temper by merely, and above all, invisibly, loving the Lord and humbly waiting patiently for Him. If He does not quickly show His hand, so to speak, by bestowing tangible signs or blessings, they stop looking for Him and turn to proving their own virtue and winning the comforting approval of men by jumping onto some bandwagon of popularly approved good works
Here we should try to get things clearly into focus. Good works are always, as the words say, good of themselves. However, good works can easily be diverted so as to proclaim the goodness of the one doing those works; they can also be dwelt upon in such a way as to provide the doer with a warm feeling of self-approval, self-esteem; or again and finally, they can be an escape from more demanding spiritual effort. And for someone who has grown tired of waiting for the Lord to show Himself in their life, the relief afforded by activity, not to mention the warm glow of self-satisfaction it can produce, and perhaps above all, the subsequent and most welcome praise of others, can be very dangerous substitutes for the real though not manifest presence of the Lord Himself.
Now, Jesus wants, above all, our personal love; He wants us to make personal love for Him the centre and the aim of our lives; He in no way wants us to be centred on doing good, ostensibly for Him, but really for our own relief, self-esteem, and/or public appreciation.
said (John 15:13):
Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.
Now, love for Jesus has grown cold when a Christian is unwilling to die to self for His sake: when waiting patiently for Him is too like dying and therefore unacceptable; when the distraction of being busy, when the affirmation of one's own worth and the achieving of a good reputation, are considered to be both more desirable and necessary. In such cases, the works remain good works in themselves but they no longer bear witness to a true love for Jesus; just as the foolish virgins, though they were waiting together with the wise virgins, could not trim their lamps when the Bridegroom arrived and were unable to welcome Him with sincere love. Those five foolish virgins could not light the flame of personal love for Jesus because He, personally, did not occupy, fill, their minds and hearts so much as the distractions they had followed and the self-seeking which had motivated them. And this type of thing, carried, however, to its worst extreme, once led Jesus to say to the Pharisees:
You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15)
People of God, seek, above all, to love Jesus at all times and in all circumstances. When you are In Church, try to keep your eyes lovingly fixed on Him: listen to His Word, seek to appreciate His teaching; receive Him in the Eucharist out of a desire to sincerely open up your whole life to the purifying flame of His Spirit; and pray that you might be enabled to love Him ever more and serve Him ever better. For, only work motivated by such personal love and reverence for Jesus can bear fruit ripe for eternal life.
The love of many will grow cold. The five irresponsibly foolish virgins were not able to light a flame of love for the Bridegroom on His arrival. What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. Think on these things, and may God’s blessing be with you.