Ready or Not: Sunday of the 32nd Week in Ordinary Time

Wisdom 6:12-16; Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

My father died when he was 55 years old. He went out golfing with one of my brothers and had a massive coronary on the golf course. According to the coroner, Dad died from a total blockage of the left anterior descending artery of his heart – known as the “widowmaker.” He died in less than a minute.

Awhile after his funeral, my Mom told me something I hadn’t known. Over the last year or so Dad had been going to Confession every two weeks like clockwork. That wasn’t typical of my Dad; he was a practicing Catholic and no stranger to Confession, but when I was a kid he didn’t go every two weeks. Now he was. It got me to wondering whether he had a sense that he going to die soon.

It also got me wondering about my own life. For example, if I knew that today was my last day on Earth, what would I change? What would I do? I think, like the foolish virgins, I would be calling out, “Lord, Lord!”

But even more to the point, I wondered what Christ would say in reply. Today and the next two Sundays are the time the Church gives us to contemplate that question and we must ask it now because Jesus makes it clear that there comes a time when it’s too late.

As we saw in the parable, that is the fate of the foolish. Desperate, they seek help from those around them: Give us some of your oil (Matthew 25:8). It seems like a reasonable request. Why can’t the others share? Isn’t their refusal cruel or selfish? No; not when we understand what the oil represents. The oil in the parable is everything we have done to build up the Kingdom of Heaven. So even if they wanted to, the wise couldn’t give away their good works to someone else; each person has to go out and earn their own.

That’s why it’s so important to seek wisdom like the first reading recommends, for when we seek wisdom it will be given to us. In fact, the reading says, she will make herself known in anticipation of our desire; will wait for us, will seek us, will graciously appear to us. It sounds simple. So then, why isn’t everyone wise? Because wisdom tends to come slowly, through trial and error; those who are wise most often got that way by learning from their mistakes, suffering some loss, making some real sacrifices.

It’s human nature to avoid that but ask yourself, when I’ve wanted something in life, really wanted it, haven’t I been willing to sacrifice time, money, comfort, or whatever I needed to, to get it? As Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, love is the soul of sacrifice. In the parable our Lord isn’t really talking about young women and a wedding; he’s talking about loving him and being his disciple. Well, what are we willing to sacrifice to get that oil of service in our lamps? Are we willing to give up even the sins that are dearest to us?

As we know, this takes work. It’s far easier to put it off, to let ourselves drift into that deadly sin of sloth, the spiritual laziness that rationalizes sin away. The problem is that sins don’t just go away; they build silently within us like a blockage to our heart that, if we let it go long enough, becomes our own spiritual widowmaker. By then, it’s too late.

But again there is the lesson of my father. He didn’t make any drastic, sudden changes in his life; he simply started spending a little more time every month examining his conscience and cleansing himself of sin. One small step, but regularly made. Like the first reading said, taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care (Wisdom 6:15).

It’s not that we have to be that vigilant in this pursuit. Notice that both the foolish and the wise virgins fell asleep waiting for the bridegroom. In the second reading, St. Paul was dealing with people in Thessalonika whose loved ones had died while waiting for Christ’s return. But our Lord did not emphasize vigilance as much as he emphasized being prepared. When our flask is full of the oil of doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with our God, it won’t matter if we have fallen asleep while waiting for Him to return. All that will matter is that we are ready.

So then, take the time given to you and ask yourself before it’s too late: “Am I ready?”

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