Be ready for Mass by reading Opening the Word for the Ascension of the Lord.…
Opening the Word: The oil of desire
And yet, we know that the enemy of desire is complacency. Many of us, perhaps after the first fruits of conversion, want to get by with doing enough. We go to Mass on Sunday, tithe a bit, and fast when we must.
The three apocalyptic parables of Matthew 25 force us to face our own complacency. The apocalyptic as a biblical genre is God’s final judgment of each and every one of us. What is hidden will be revealed at the end of time.
|November 8 – 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time|
Ps 63:2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8
1 Thes 4:13-18
The first parable of Matthew 25 is that of the 10 virgins. Five are wise, and five are foolish. Each is charged with bringing oil that lasts through the night, while they await the advent of the bridegroom. Only the wise bring sufficient oil. The foolish run out of provisions, beg their wise compatriots for oil, are denied and then are locked out of the wedding banquet.
To a Mass-going Catholic, the thrust of the parable is patent. Be vigilant, you do not know the hour.
And yet, why does Jesus tell the parable in the context of a wedding feast?
Weddings are occasions of desire. Bride and bridegroom long to be united in matrimony. Guests desire to be present, to celebrate the nuptials of this man and this woman.
Matthew 25 does not say that the 10 virgins, who will lead the bridegroom to the bride, are devoid of desire at the beginning. Nor does the text say that those who brought oil were perfectly vigilant. Each of the virgins grows drowsy, waiting upon the delayed bridegroom.
The wise are those who brought oil along with them. The foolish have none.
To understand the contrast between the wise and the foolish, we must grasp the proper posture to assume before Lady Wisdom. In the centuries preceding the advent of Our Lord, wisdom is personified as a beautiful woman. The wise person awaits her coming, keeps vigil through the night.
In the Book of Wisdom, we hear: “She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire” (Wis 6). Wisdom is revealed, made manifest, through even the anticipation of desire.
The oil of the foolish, therefore, is the departure of desire. It is complacency.
Dear friends, we are given a choice on this very day. Shall we be wise, or will we be foolish? Will we long for union with Christ, or will we be fine with Sunday Mass and an occasional sacrament? Will we run forth to worship Christ, the bridegroom of our souls, in the hungry and thirsty?
Desire must be cultivated by each person. The oil of desire cannot be shared. And yet, we are not required to possess a perfect desire for Jesus Christ to come to us. Just like Lady Wisdom, the Word made flesh looks for even the smallest desire, a heart turning toward God.
The tiniest extra prayer. A fast for the sake of God and neighbor. A hidden sacrifice of love that no one will ever see or hear about. God is the combustible force that can turn even this bit of oil into a shimmering flame that shines and warms the darkness of our still too cold hearts.
Dear friends, as COVID-tide enters its eighth month, with the real possibility of church closures as winter grips the United States, let us turn our desire for communion with Christ and our neighbor into the richest oil.
An oil of desire for the Bridegroom of our souls.
Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the director of education at the McGrath Institute for Church Life at the University of Notre Dame.