A Reflection on the Gospel Matthew 25 1-13; 1 September 2023
(Internet Image - The Parable of the Ten Virgins)
A Sentry is Vigilant
Sentry duty in a combat zone is dangerous and tedious work, done in an isolated position, usually in the dead of night, to allow a unit respite before resuming their mission. The life of every Soldier in that unit, from the lowest ranking private to the highest-ranking officer, depends on that sentry’s vigilance. Sentries long for that moment when he or she can, “stand-down”. Sometimes “stand-down” occurs because the next sentry comes to relieve him or her. At other times, it is that moment when the first rays of the sun glimmer along the horizon and illumine the clouds announcing that the long hours of lonely watching are complete, morning has arrived. There are three general orders that every Soldier memorizes that govern the duties of a sentry. The first is, “I will guard everything within the limits of my post and quit my post only when properly relieved.” In the meantime, no matter how long it takes, sentries remain vigilant.
The Gospel antiphon for the Mass typically announces the main theme of the readings. We should always pay attention to it. For the parable of the ten virgins, it is,
Be vigilant at all times and pray, that you may have the strength to stand before the Son of Man. (from Luke 21:36 NABRE)
Like the sentry, the Church stands watch as God’s sentry in a besieged outpost in this world. The word “vigilant,” comes from the Latin verb “vigilare,” which means "to watch, to stay awake and alert." In the Gospel today, Jesus uses the parable of ten virgins to illustrate the importance of the Church’s duty to remain vigilant. The ten virgins, those betrothed to the returning bridegroom, every baptized Christian, are to wait and watch until each is properly relieved by the next sentry, the generations that pass in the waiting, or until the bridegroom arrives. The Church Fathers, especially St Augustine, saw the oil in each lamp as acts of Christian love for God and neighbor. The lamp is the light of Christ, fueled by the charity which every Christian brings into the world. That love cannot be a short-lived blaze that then grows cold. It must be a constant burning flame fueled by continual acts of love. That love, that light, must endure to the end. Jesus tells us,
Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness. If your whole body is full of light, and no part of it is in darkness, then it will be as full of light as a lamp illuminating you with its brightness.” (Luke 11:35–36 NABRE)
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Keeping Your Lamp Filled
So, how do we keep our lamps full of oil? Foremost, we are ever watchful. We remain aware that the Lord could return at any time and live in constant expectancy. His return may be in the next second, or it could be generations from now. It does not matter to the sentry. So, like the sentry, we cannot become drowsy, we cannot quit our post. Therefore, seek other believers to remain spiritually awake. We do not have to wait alone. Find a group within your Parish, fellow wise virgins, that keep engaged in charity. Join a Parish ministry that actively seeks to fuel Christ’s light in the world.
Second, we stay strong! We remain fueled with the grace of the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Jesus tells us,
“…unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. (John 6:53 NABRE)
To keep your lamp burning you must first be filled with God’s life, pure love. The virgins in the parable must have charity in plentiful supply. That abundance comes in the form of heavenly grace, Christ, poured into us.
We also must remain a people in prayer. We pray for strength and for our Lord’s return. We pray for those who have fallen asleep, those who no longer worship or proclaim Christ in the world. We also pray for those who are not betrothed, those who do not know Christ. That locked door is real. That outer darkness is terrifying. For all those who have convinced themselves that hell isn’t real, you have not really listened to what our Lord is very consistent in proclaiming. Therefore, remain vigilant, be strengthened, through prayer!
We remain careful to ensure our reservoir of oil, love, is overflowing for the day we stand before our Lord. It is not by accident that St Matthew has the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14–30), and the account of the Judgement of the Nations (Matthew 25:31–46) follow the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Like the wise servants, we grow our master’s wealth with those who hear, receive, and live out the Gospel. We proclaim the Gospel such that none will be locked out in the darkness when our Lord returns.
“Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” (Luke 12:48 NABRE)
Finally, St Matthew reminds us with the Judgement of the Nations, there is a time when the Bridegroom, our King will return. It is then that the oil in our lamps must burn bright with charity. That charity is demonstrated through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Those who have filled their lamps feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, and burying the dead (Mathew 25:34-46) will enter the wedding feast. Those who have kept their lamp ablaze instructing the ignorant of the Gospel; counseling the doubtful; admonishing sinners; bearing wrongs patiently; forgiving offences willingly; comforting the afflicted; and praying for the living and the dead will enter through the doors of eternal life.
Endure to the End
Is your lamp full of the oil of charity? Are you ready for the bridegroom to arrive at the gates? St Augustine writes of the five virgins admitted into the wedding feast,
They would not be admitted within unless they had “endured to the end.” No coldness of love crept over them. In them love did not grow cold. Love preserves its glow even to the very end. … therefore are the gates of the bridegroom opened to them. (Augustine Sermon 93.5 as quoted in Simonetti)
The Gospel today reminds us that we have a responsibility to remain vigilant as we await the return of our beloved Lord. We rouse each other to stay awake! We maintain our strength through the Sacraments and prayer. Finally, we actively increase our reservoir of oil through corporal and spiritual acts of mercy. In this, we remain vigilant at our post, awaiting our Bridegroom. Maran’athah! Come Lord and do not delay!
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
“The Parable of the Ten Virgins.” Gospelimages, www.gospelimages.com/paintings/92/the-parable-of-the-ten-virgins?thema=2. Accessed 29 Aug. 2023.
Simonetti, Manlio, ed. Matthew 14-28. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002. Print. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture.