Gospel Reflection for Nov. 4, 2020, the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Koch: Each one of us is responsible to keep our own lantern burning
Every boy who was involved in Scouting knows the first and most simple of all rules, the motto: “Be Prepared.” Preparing for the tasks that we do in life help to make those tasks both simpler and, usually, more enjoyable. We would be foolish to set out on a cross-country road trip without making sure that the car didn’t need an oil change or that the tires were balding. We would not turn the oven on before we knew we had all of the ingredients in place to bake a cake. We wouldn’t go for a job interview without first learning something about the company and its mission. Preparation for ordinary daily experiences as well as for the special moments of life, make them more special. Good preparation is a sign of wisdom and prudence.
Yet, it can seem simple enough to just show up at the right time, to dash the right smile, and say the right things to the right people that skating through life can become an easy trap that allows us to foster habits of laziness and personal sloppiness.
It is also very easy to assign certain personal tasks to others to such an extent that we don’t pay any real attention to them ourselves. When the spouse makes all of the appointments or handles all of the household tasks or tends to all of the shopping, it can become an unnecessary and overwhelming burden when that same spouse is not able to do so for one reason or another.
If this is true in our professional and personal lives, how much more so can this be true in our spiritual lives?
Today, Jesus tells a parable that hits at the heart of this very lack of preparation and the sense of relying on others to do the tasks that we ought to handle ourselves. Simply there are 10 virgins with lamps awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom, but only five of them have enough oil on hand. As the bridegroom is delayed, the other five, sensing the direness of their situation, try to borrow oil but prudence dictates that the five who have enough do not share it with them. As they are then forced to leave to purchase more oil the bridegroom arrives and they are locked out of the feast.
Unlike the tasks of work, home and family, we do not generally see the immediate need nor do we suffer any immediate discernable consequences when we neglect our relationship with God. In our current condition of being excused from the obligation to attend Mass due to the pandemic it can be very easy to push off any considerations of the demands of faith until later.
The call to be alert and attentive is a persistent message of Jesus. As Advent approaches in just a few weeks, that theme of being alert and ready will be resonating again in our hearts and ears. The challenge of remaining alert and attentive, of being ready for the coming of the Lord in our lives happens on many levels. Jesus is drawing our immediate focus to the eschaton – whether that is his Second Coming at the end of time, or the moment of our own death when we are called to make an accounting of our own lives. But we must also be alert to the many ways in which God calls to us throughout our lives to follow him more carefully and specifically. Whether this is a call to a religious vocation, to a manner of living, or to seeking a deepening relationship with him, unless our lamps are properly prepared we will miss the many opportunities for grace, reconciliation, and healing that the Lord is offering to us.
Our spiritual life, attendance at Mass and reception of the Sacraments is our fundamental life’s work, and should never depend on the work of others. We do not know when we will encounter the Bridegroom ourselves and so we need to have the proper amount of oil – the grace of the Sacraments – in order to meet him with lamps alight. Otherwise, we will have to say to the Lord: “My wife/husband took care of that, I didn’t know I needed to do it on my own.”
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.