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The kingdom of heaven will be like …

November 9, 2017
Sister Maria Catherine Toon, OP

Since the kingdom of God is beyond human comprehension, Jesus’ parables each offer a dimension of the kingdom to help us understand it.

The 10 virgins represent all of humanity; each soul is feminine in terms of being receptive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The foolish virgins prove to be so because not just because they are lacking in foresight, and are unprepared for the goal they seek, but also because they believe their good intentions are sufficient to win them entrance to the feast. When the moment really counts, it becomes clear they have not prepared, and they miss the bridegroom, the prize of eternal life with him, and are left in the cold. All their good intentions and vague hopes for heaven have come to nothing.

The saints do not think or act in this way. They consider the desirability of their goal (eternal beatitude with Christ) and set about living so as to ensure getting the prize. These daily choices of daily prayer, Sunday Mass attendance, and monthly confession, leave their lamps cleaned and ready for the Holy Spirit to work acts of charity in them and through them. Prayer is most effective when accompanied by sacrifice. In fact, Jesus mentions that some prayers cannot be answered without it. A few small examples of sacrifices: Abstaining from meat on Fridays, giving up that extra cup of coffee, or taking a shower that is not quite as warm as you are used to, unloading the dishwasher when you don’t feel like it. These sacrifices are what build up our spiritual muscles and help us to detach from the “spirit of the world,” so as to be more attached to Christ. They fill our lamps with rich oil that burns well in the darkness of a world consumed with complaining, bitterness, and backbiting gossip. When we are attached to “worldly things,” they lull us into a spiritual coma, and keep our lamps empty. They whisper into our ears that “We deserve a little rest because we work so hard,” or “I’ll sacrifice tomorrow.” If that is the case, then we are well on our way to filling the shoes of the foolish virgins.

According to the spiritual writer and theologian Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, each of the virgins possess the same qualities: they are all faithful to the bridegroom, possess lamps, and fall asleep. No one can ascribe greater gifts or qualities to the others as an excuse for being unprepared. The lamps and oil are external signs of an internal reality. Thus the five foolish virgins prove to be “spiritual freeloaders. Their bridal vocation [the universal call to holiness] entails precisely maturing in the conviction of their own responsibility. My unique personhood is manifested in my awareness that no one else but I can look Christ in the eyes and utter, ‘I love you’ in my stead.”

The oil symbolizes the “uprightness” of heart for the virgins. When the bridegroom arrives the wise virgins’ habit of prompt obedience sets them apart from the foolish and gives them the means to respond immediately when they hear the voice of the bridegroom. This cultivated and well-practiced obedience makes them accustomed to the gentle touch of the Lord. Their joyful response comes easily.

This passage is an eschatological parable. It is a kind of examination for death. How are you allowing the Holy Spirit to fill your lamp with oil, so that you are prepared for the feast of feasts, the heavenly banquet? Are you prepared to meet the bridegroom?

Catherine, OP_Sr. Maria - web 100x125Sister Maria Catherine is a perpetually professed member of the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. She has a master’s in theology from Ave Maria University and teaches high school theology in Chicago.

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