Reflection by Aidan Troy [Aodhán O Troighthigh] Please note: the view of the above alone.
When the five wise bridesmaids refused to give of their extra oil to the other five who had none, I feel uneasy. As children we were taught to share – sweets, toys, whatever we had. Now in this parable the foolish bridesmaids were told by the five wise ones to go to town and buy their own oil. Not only had their lamps gone out, so had their luck! The Bridegroom came before they got back. I know the feeling – why had he to arrive while we were away?
A Parable as told by Jesus is more than a story. Oil is not the issue. Jesus is telling us that grace is a gift offered but needs to be accepted. Parents would do anything for their children and they do. But when they have given all they can, there is still a gap. The child growing into an adult, faces the awesome choice of accepting or not what they have received from Parents. Character cannot be transferred or borrowed. Many a parent has sat in a courtroom to listen to a beloved child, now grown up, being sentenced to a prison term. Where did we go wrong, they ask each other as tears fill their eyes? They didn’t. None of us can ‘make’ another virtuous or to act morally – neither does God. The same is true of Faith.
Each time a child is baptised, the Parents are pronounced as first teachers of the child in the ways of faith. Then a prayer is added, that they may also be ‘the best of teachers’. It is my guess, that Parents at that moment really want this to be the case. Very often it works out that the child does grow up to inherit a love of God and a practice of faith that brings delight to their Parents. Sometimes, this does not work out. It can happen that a child develops a life of faith and of virtue, even if their Parents lapse.
I’ve never inherited property. Some people have become very wealthy due to the generosity of a relative. But, faith is not like a property to be inherited. It is a gift from God to which we can say, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.
That is why, I believe, the wise bridesmaids did not give the foolish any oil. Even though we are surrounded by great people in family, in a parish or in a religious community, we’re not excused from taking responsibility for our choices. After the Second Vatican Council, there emerged a tremendous emphasis on ‘community’. This helped counteract a past spirituality based on a rugged individualism.
Community lies at the heart of the Christian life. But, personal responsibility lies at the heart of community. Sometimes, we can ask what are ‘they’ (others) doing about some pressing need in our parish or in our world. The Parable today, suggests that I must ask, ‘what am I doing about this’? Then I can invite others to share in this effort to achieve this dream.
Being ready with oil in our lamps is a daily call from Jesus. ‘Stay awake’ has an urgency about it that is demanding. Supposing I knew the day of my death, I could calculate the latest time when I should put my life and my soul in order. I could seek the Sacrament of Anointing and make a good General Confession. When the day and the hour arrive, I would be in prime condition to meet the Lord when He called me.
Sadly, it is not like that. Jesus will arrive like the Parable says – ‘at midnight there was a cry, ‘The Bridegroom is here, go out and meet him.’ There is no prior warning. I’ve thought about this, I’m not sure I would want to know details of my death. If the arrival of the Bridegroom was the final meeting with Jesus, I might want to know. But, for the Lord’s faithful people, life is changed and not ended. When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death, we gain an everlasting dwelling place in Heaven. No wonder, Paul doesn’t want us to be without hope. The first glimpse of the face of God when we die, will be, we pray, Eternity taking over from time on this earth.