Being ready for the Lord’s coming
Finally, brothers and sisters, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus that, as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God (as, in fact, you are doing), you should do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honour, not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or sister in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, just as we have already told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness. Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.
Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13
Parable on being ready: the wise and foolish bridesmaids.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.’ And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I do no know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church.
Augustine of Hippo, in modern Tunisia, (354-430), was converted to Christianity and baptised in 387. A lawyer by training, he developed his own approach to philosophy and theology, accommodating a variety of methods and perspectives. Believing that the grace of Christ was indispensable to authentic freedom, he formulated the doctrine of original sin and made seminal contributions to theology, including the just war theory. When the western Roman Empire began to disintegrate, Augustine developed the concept of the Catholic Church as a spiritual City of God in a 20-volume work that profoundly influenced the medieval worldview and the scholastic theology of Thomas Aquinas.
Eschatology–the last things
Not all even of the chosen people are assured salvation. Only five bridesmaids were there to welcome the bridal party; the others were told, “I do not know you.” The interpretation of this parable developed with time. In it Jesus was warning that salvation was not guaranteed through perfect observance of law and tradition. In this he was in continuity with Old Testament prophets up to John the Baptist, who bluntly corrected those who preened themselves on being Israelites, with Abraham as their father, “God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” Jesus, therefore, was not saying anything new, only imparting a greater urgency to the oft repeated prophetic challenge.
When Matthew wrote, a controversy was raging between Christian Jews and Pharisaic Jews. The former considered themselves genuine disciples both of Moses and Jesus, the latter condemned the Jesus-followers as traitors to Moses. Some of the chosen people accepted Jesus, some did not. The Messiah had come and some were not ready. Already in Matthew’s gospel, the interpretation of the parable was evolving further. The Christians faced the question of when to expect the second coming of Jesus. The moral is, “Keep awake, for you know not the day nor the hour.” Being baptised was no guarantee of being ready to welcome Jesus on his return. As we read this passage, we sense the pathos and tragedy of the foolish bridesmaids. They did nothing seriously wrong, but simply nodded off asleep. No matter how many excuses may explain the failure, nonetheless, people often let an important opportunity slip by. We need the repeated reminder, “watch, for you know not the day nor the hour.”
On the other hand, some are so absorbed in the quest for God and in rarified spirituality as to despise this present life and consider the material world totally unimportant. The danger is that hyper-spiritual people can weave a web of immorality without knowing it. They nod off to sleep and hardly notice the real condition of their lives. Paul warns against sexual aberrations and rejects the excuse that the second coming of Jesus makes our actions of no consequence.
Today is the feast of St Augustine. Born in 354 in North Africa of a Christian mother, Monica, and a pagan father, Patricius, he was brought up a Christian although not baptized. His study of philosophy resulted in his renouncing the Christian faith. He lived for fifteen years with a woman, by whom he had a son. After moving to Rome and then to Milan, he came under the influence of Ambrose, bishop of Milan. As a result of Ambrose’s guidance, and his mother’s prayers and example over many years, he underwent a deep conversion and was baptized in his early thirties. He returned to Africa and was ordained priest and four years later was appointed Bishop of Hippo in the Roman province of North Africa; he remained in that post for 35 years until his death in 430. As a bishop he lived a community life with his clergy. He had a powerful intellect and great mystical insight. His most famous work is entitled the Confessions, in which he describes his own spiritual journey. Augustine’s life teaches us that it is never too late to turn to the Lord: “Late have I loved you, Beauty, at once so ancient and so new! Late have I loved you! You were within me and I was outside; You were with me, but I was not with you; You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”