6 Nov, Thirty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Also: Feast of all the Saints of Ireland
Wis 6:12-16. A poem in praise of Wisdom, which is “radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her.”
1 Thess 4:13-18. Our natural sorrow at the death of loved ones is relieved by the hope of meeting them again at the second coming of Christ. We should “not grieve as others do who have no hope.”
Mt 25:1-13. Through the parable of the ten bridesmaids, Jesus urges us to be always vigilant. We must be ready to meet the Lord when he comes.
Theme: Underlying Hope
At some time everyone suffers from grief and bereavement, and some losses in our lives are especially difficult to bear. But if we hope in the resurrection we should not grieve like others who have no hope. This underlying optimism shines through today’s text from the book of Wisdom, and is given a very personal focus by St Paul’s assurance that all that was lost will be restored when Jesus returns in glory. The gospel repeats this theme of the Lord’s return, but with the warning that we must be ready to welcome him on that day.
– for all those who grieve that the Lord may wipe away their tears.
– that those who are berieved of those they love may find hope in the resurrection.
– that we may keep alight the lamp of faith, as we continue to seek what is truly important in life.
– for the souls of the faithful departed that they may rest in peace.
Responsible for Yourself
The refusal of the wise virgins to share may appear selfish. But here we are not talking really about lamps and oil but about people and life. There are certain things you cannot borrow or inherit. Your parents or my parents may have been the best people in the world. If so, that is a blessing beyond measure. But for all that it cannot be taken for granted that we will automatically become decent caring men and women.
We can learn from one another, be inspired by one another, but in the last analysis we shape our own destiny. Character cannot be transferred or borrowed. We must build it for ourselves.
The same is true of the faith. Parents and other people are reminded that it is their responsibility to hand on the faith to the younger generation. But again faith is not like a farm of land or a legacy. It cannot be given by a parent to a child. Yes, all kinds of encouragement and good example can help enormously, but in the end, the young person as they grow up to maturity must accept or reject the invitation in his or her own heart.
The arrival of children of their own can often be a decisive moment for young parents as regards the faith. Some never seem to come back, but always remember God has his own way of welcoming people home even if along unexpected routes.
Life after Death
Our present-day western civilisation derives, in great part, from Greek, Roman and Jewish cultures. But in attitudes, in ancient times, towards life after death, there could be no greater gap between, on the one hand, the Graeco-Roman tradition, and on the other, the Jewish tradition. In particular, when confronted with the inevitability of death, the response of the person without faith was, and today is, one of despair. On a pagan tombstone from the classical period can be read the grim inscription, “I was not, I became; I am not, I care not.” This reflects the thinking of the living rather than the state of the dead person. In the words of a pagan Greek poet (Theocritus):
There is hope for those who are alive,
But those who have died are without hope.
One of the greatest lyric poets, the Roman writer, Horace, who died the year Christ was born, had this advice for the reader:
Enjoy the present day,
Trust in tomorrow as little as you can. (Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero).
No wonder then that he motto of the time was, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”)
In the Jewish tradition, belief in resurrection after death did not gain acceptance until the first century before Christ. But there was belief in a shadowy existence of the departed in a place called Sheol, where they could neither know God nor praise him. If we take the Book of Ecclesiastes, for example, written about 300 B.C., we find its author agreeing, yes, there can be a certain happiness in eating, drinking and being content with one’s work while on earth, but because of the futility of earthly pursuits and possessions, there is in human beings a God-given yearning for something deeper, especially for the meaning of all experience and all time. And God is the only one who is wise, the only one who knows.
In a beautiful last chapter, full of vivid imagery, the author of Ecclesiastes describes how, without being touched in the least by the passing of man to his eternal abode, the things of nature carry on with their own pursuits. Even those who mourn the passing from this life of one of their own are already walking to and fro in the street before, as the writer says, “the silver cord is snapped, or the golden lamp (of life) is broken, or before the dust returns to the earth from whence it came, and the spirit to God who gave it.” There is some element in each person which this world is not worthy to retain; it is of God, and after its sojourn here it returns to God.
The greatest change in attitude to life hereafter came about with belief in the resurrection of Christ. “For us,” St Paul wrote to the Philippians (3:20), “our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the Saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these lowly bodies of ours into copies of his own glorious body.” We should not therefore, he tells us in the liturgy today, remain without understanding concerning those close to us who have passed away.
We should not grieve as others do, who have no hope of resurrection, or of eternal life. Note, he does not tell us to avoid all sorrow, for sorrow over the death of a loved one is a natural reaction, but rather not to be like others, who have no hope. The necessity of losing somebody in death causes us anguish, but hope consoles us. Our human frailty is tried by the one, but our faith is strengthened by the other. The liturgy this month asks us to respond in two practical ways. Firstly, it tells us to be prepared, not to let things go too late. No tolling funeral bell can cause greater anguish than the words “too late.” Those who live all their lives close to Christ will never be unprepared to enter his presence, will be with Christ even in death, and will finally share in his glorious resurrection. Secondly, it invites us to assist with our prayers those who have gone before us.
St Monica was always anxious to be buried alongside her husband, but when she was dying at Ostia, the port of Rome, she had only one last request to make of her son, Augustine, not yet a priest, “Lay this body anywhere,” she said, “let it not be a care to you. This only I ask of you, that you would remember me at the Lord’s altar wherever you may be.” We too should keep in mind that in death life is changed, not taken away. If we do this, then God will fill the emptiness caused by death in our own lives. He will renew in us the hope of our resurrection, and he will reassure us that those we lose on earth we shall see again in heaven. This is our Christian hope; this is our God-given trust.
Awake to the Lord
The wedding banquet of today’s gospel is a consistent image of eternal life in the New Testament. We can only speak about the unknown and unfamiliar in terms of what is known and familiar. The wedding banquet highlights eternal life as that state in which the deepest hunger and thirst in our lives will be satisfied, especially the hunger and thirst for love, for God who is love. “O God. for you my soul is thirsting” (responsorial psalm.) In the second reading, Paul. without making use of the banquet image, speaks of life beyond death in a similar vein – it is that eternal moment when “God will bring them (those who have died) with him” and when “we shall stay with the Lord forever.” Eternal life will mean entering into a new” and fuller relationship with God and, through him, with all creation.
Yet, the gospel reading warns us that it is possible to exclude ourselves from the banquet of eternal life. It was only those who were ready” (gospel) who went in with the bridegroom to the wedding hall. When God comes to bring us with him (second reading) will we be ready? Life, including life after death is God’s gift to us and a gift. by definition, can be refused, However, we will certainly be ready to accept God’s ultimate gift to us, if throughout our lives we have learned to be receptive to God. Our daily attitude to God will determine our attitude towards him at the moment of death Each day God gifts himself to us, coming to meet us in every thought showing himself to us as we go (first reading.) If we welcome his daily,” Comings, his final coming to us will find us receptive and awake Ii we learn to be receptive to the daily gift he makes of himself ~ we not exclude ourselves from the full and final gift which he will make to us at the end of our lives.
Today’s gospel concludes with a ringing exhortation “Stay awake.” The first reading makes the same call on us, as is clear when we legitimately substitute “him” (God) for “her” (Wisdom) – look for him, desire him, watch for him, think about him. One important way in which we stay awake to God is prayer. “Why are you sleeping?” he asked them, “get up and pray” (Luke 22:46.) To pray is to awaken ourselves to the Lord who is always awake to us. In prayer we look for the Lord, desire him, watch for him and think about him. To pray is to become like a child, to grow in receptivity to God. It is above all when we pray the prayer of the Eucharist that we become receptive to the God who cares. There we receive the Lord in his word and in the breaking of bread.
To stay awake to God is to receive him, not only in the breaking of bread, but in the brokenness of our neighbour. God is not far from us. He is to be found “sitting at your gates” (first reading.) He comes to us in and through those with whom we live and work, especially in the suffering, the broken-hearted, those whose spirit is crushed. With Paul, we look forward in hope to that eternal day when “we shall stay with the Lord forever.” We must prepare ourselves for that day by our daily staying with the Lord who comes to us in prayer and in our neighbour.
A Time For Tears
Underlying the three texts dealt with, is a theme which appears under various facets in the Bible. It is basically and negatively expressed in the Book of Exodus: “My face you cannot see, for no man can see me and live” (33:20.) Perhaps we are more familiar with another translation: “No man can look at God and live.” For this reason sinful man, according to the Bible, falls to the ground in the presence of God. One of the main characteristics of God is his holiness, a holiness that cannot tolerate sin or wickedness. It is only through Christ’s redeeming love, expressed especially in his sacrifice, that God the Father can get to the sinner. And it is only the holy or sanctified man, that is the one touched by Christ, that can meet and stay with God.
St Paul sees the vocation of a Christian as a call to holiness: “It is God’s will that you grow in holiness: that you abstain from immorality” (1 Thes 4:3.) “God has not called us to immorality but the holiness (1 Thes 4:7.) Again he says: “God chose us before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Eph 1:4) ), His distinction between the carnal man and the spiritual one in Galatians spells out in detail part of what is involved. The carnal man is characterized by impurity, idolatry, anger and division. But it is always in going back to the life of Christ that we grasp concretely what holiness means. A reading of the papal encyclical of Pope John Paul II, “Rich in Mercy” can provide useful ideas for us of all what holiness means.
Christ lived poorly and showed himself particularly concerned with those suffering injustice, poverty and sin. His concern was to make his Father present, especially to these, as a God of love and mercy. All this flowed from this union with his Father manifested in prayer, trust and abandonment. It was an austere life too, however much we may be tempted by the comforts of modern life to think about it otherwise. It was not a spectacular life, one that captured the popularity or approval of the well off and the imagination of those eager for entertainment.
The holiness of God, manifested in Christ, when brought into contact with this sinful world, led to his death on the cross. His death is the result of the presence of such holiness in our sinful world. What is holy always finds itself in a state of tension with what is sinful. But it always has a much deeper aspect: it always marks a state of union with Christ.
Wisdom and Change
To be human is to be nomadic. No matter how deeply we long to linger in the one feeling, attitude or situation, we cannot. Time is always moving. Though the moment is the finest instant of life, it never lingers. The depth of the moment is captured beautifully by Paul Murray in his poem, “The Moment:
The grace of this one, raptureless Moment
Is the place of pilgrimage
To which I am a pilgrim.
No matter how long the twenty four hours may seem, each day gets buried in the graveyard of the night. For the nomadic human, change is inevitable. Each of us is continually changing. Yet there are vast areas of our lives that seek to resist change. They become afraid and entrenched. That which resists change becomes a hindrance to growth: for to grow is to change. Sinfulness is the condition of being hindered. All negative acts, attitudes and thoughts come out of hindrance and blockage.
Because the soul that is in rhythm gives out only light and warmth. Somehow we sense where we are caught, but we cannot seem to move. Caught in a rut of habit, we see the same arrows of destructiveness fly forth from us; but we seem helpless to stop them. When we try to force change on ourselves, we only succeed in further entrenching ourselves. Unknown to our best intentions, we only strengthen and multiply our defences. Trying feverishly to move towards a new horizon, we remain struck where we are, in secret collusion with the fears that want to hold us there.
The carpenter, Jesus, was a genius on the art of changing. He awakened on this earth the Kingdom of Heaven. The Kingdom of Heaven is a new rhythm. To be in the Kingdom of Heaven is to belong to a rhythm of transfiguration. Safe, respectable, serious adults have major problems entering into this new rhythm. Their cautious natures keep them at the threshold. Maybe that is why the Carpenter said: “Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Transfiguration cannot be forced. It simply happens. It is a gift. Wisdom, today’s theme, is about being alert and ready so that this rhythm of transfiguration can begin to awaken in us. We cannot force change. We can only make ourselves ready. If we become ready, every grace and blessing, the treasures of the heart, will awaken to anoint us. The blessing that are there for us are so near us, inches away from our heads. As James Stephens, the Irish novelist says: “Readiness is our only barrier.”
The Kingdom of heaven cannot be achieved by a fierce intensity of will. The Kingdom of God is shy. It hides when the will seeks it. The Kingdom of heaven is not to achieved, rather it is to be received. There is no spiritual journey. If there were, it would be only a millimetre long: the click into the new rhythm of transfiguration. We can make ourselves ready by staying awake and alert so that we can give ourselves when its grace wants to receive us. We need a new innocence and readiness. So stay awake, because we don’t know the day nor the hour. As Boris Pasternak said: “When a great moment knocks on the door of your life, its knock is no louder than the beating of your heart, and it is easy to miss it.”
A Time For Tears
The strange thing about it is that people never really regarded them as being close. Even in their younger days they rarely went anywhere together. Of course, he was a good deal older than her, which probably explains why they never had children. In any case, as far as appearances went, they seemed more like a man and his housekeeper than husband and wife. He was a gruff sort of man and the older he got the gruffer he became. Neighbours found him off-putting. Nobody ever really got close to him. But he was one of them and they all turned out for his funeral. Everybody was kind. They called to the house and offered sympathy. The women made tea and sandwiches. The men helped with the funeral arrangements and contacted relatives. And all that time she remained composed. Even at the graveside her grief was scarcely noticeable. Some people even said it was probably a great relief to her. He must have been a difficult man to live with.
But it wasn’t like that at all. It was only in the following days and weeks and months, in the privacy of her empty house that she really broke down and wept. In fact, it took the best part of a year before she managed to pull herself together again. At first, she used to sit in a chair for hours on end unable to do anything. Every time she turned round she expected to see him sitting there reading the newspaper. Whenever a door slammed or a floorboard creaked she thought it was himself pottering around upstairs. There were even times when she thought she heard him cough or call. And each new realisation of her loss crushed her. That this should surprise us is itself surprising. After all she had shared more than forty years of her life with him. She could scarcely remember now that time in her life before she knew him. Even if their love was never demonstrative, it was nonetheless real for all that. They had grown in to each other. The man who was her “other half” was not at all the man the neighbours saw.
We have a great reputation in Ireland for attending funerals. No matter who you are you can be certain of a decent send-off. Our presence is a great comfort to the bereaved. We crowd out their sorrow at a time of great grief. We mourn with great dignity. Not so the Italians. They applaud the deceased as the coffin is carried through the streets. And the graveside can often be a scene of unrestrained emotion with the next-of-kin screaming hysterically. From what I have seen on television, it seems much the same in the Arab world. I suspect the Irish were the same with their keening women, before the English “civilised” us. Psychiatrists tell us that it is better to let it all out rather than bottle it up.
However we grieve, we should remember the advice of St Paul and “comfort one another with thoughts such as these:” We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him.
First Reading: Wisdom 6:12-16
Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
She hastens to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one’s thought on her is perfect understanding; one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought.
Second Reading: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.
For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do no know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither theday nor the hour.