Sunday, 6 November 2011

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time Year A

There is a Frank Sinatra feel to the readings these Sundays: “And now the end is near and so we face the final curtain”. You cannot miss the apocalyptic quality to the last few Sundays in Ordinary Time. It is a time of reckoning.

What shall it be when the time comes?

St Paul is of the opinion that those alive at the time of final reckoning will have no advantage over those who have died before. If that be the case, then the Gospel warns us not to be caught unawares at the final reckoning. Therefore, be prepared.

You hear, “be prepared!” and the next question is “for what?”.

This preparation may take place in the temporal sphere but it is cosmic in its implication because one is preparing for the future coming of the bridegroom. Even though the Gospel mentions about being “awake” when the bridegroom arrives, that is not really the focus. Instead it is to have enough oil. However, there seems to be an element of selfishness here because the virgins with enough oil seemed unwilling to share the excess oil they have. Schooled in Christian charity, we might consider this unwillingness as selfish. The truth is that the oil symbolises the interior preparation of the wise virgins. It has nothing to do with the external preparation like the provision that one takes along the journey. One may share one’s food with the poor or the hungry. One may alleviate another person’s physical condition but the inability of the wise virgins to share does not fall within this category. Instead, it is akin to how one may help another person by giving directions. I can tell you how to go to a place but it is you who must make the journey to that place!! It requires discipline and so the oil is symbolic of one’s interior life nurtured by prayers, expressed in good works and nourished by the sacraments and devotions. When the bridegroom arrives, we must have enough of oil.

Secondly, discipline requires commitment. However, our commitment compass might just need some realignment. It cannot be said that we are not committed if you consider all the things we are not only subjected to but also willingly subject ourselves to them. People go to the gym and they try to keep fit. They submit themselves to health regimes etc. All these are forms of commitment. The question to ask here is what our commitments are preparing us for? Bettering ourselves is a form of preparation but are we prepared just for life or are we prepared for eternal life? Many of us are caught up with preparation of a merely temporal kind.

Whatever we do, the goal is ultimately eternal life. And it requires that we judge wisely the things of this world. However, there seems to be an exponential increase in knowledge and know-how. We know a lot more and we also appear to have a solution to every conceivable ill. As a result of this exponential increase of knowledge and know-how we confuse facts with wisdom. Knowing “factoids” does not make us wise and the best way to describe this confusion is through the analogy of a jigsaw-puzzle. More and more, knowledge is becoming so specialised that people are having all the pieces of a puzzle but they have no “master-plan” to help piece them together. [1]

Furthermore the application of know-how is not an indication of wisdom. We are quite knowledgeable but not wise. In fact, our younger generation have at their fingertips so much more technical knowledge than we can ever imagine. But they are not wiser. Thus, to gain eternal life we need the wisdom to know what is necessary for us to reach our heavenly goal and wisdom is aided by our possession of knowledge but it is not constituted solely by it.

Today, the wise virgins symbolised our preparation for eternal life. We should live our lives in such a way that at any time, when Christ the Lord appears in the horizon or is already at the door we are ready. It means we are ready to die or we are ready to give our lives for Christ. How many of us can say that at the moment of death, we are at our best. This “best” is not a reference to “perfection”. Instead, it refers to our conscience. A clear conscience is the best preparation we can make with regard to the Bridegroom’s arrival. Live as if today might just be our last day on earth. That way you will find it easier to desire a clear conscience.

[1] Knowledge is knowing that the tomato is a fruit but wisdom is not putting it in a salad. This is what the Greeks call paraprosdokian, that is, a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected. It is frequently used in a humorous situation. A good example of a paraprosdokian is Where there is a will, I want to be in it.