Today’s Gospel is a bit difficult to apply because we are so far removed from the cultural references – virgins? bridegroom? wedding feast? oil lamps?
If the “wedding feast” here refers to Heaven, and the bridegroom is Jesus himself (images already present in the Old Testament), then we see that the Church is the Bride of Christ, and each one of us is also his bride.
Those waiting for the bridegroom are described as “virgins” – those who seek “the one thing necessary”, as Jesus said (Lk 10:42); their souls thirst for the Lord (Psalm 63); they are focused fully on being ready for Jesus to return for them. He is delayed and comes at midnight to bring the virgins into the feast with him when they have all become weary and fallen asleep, but only half of them are prepared. The foolish half did not bring enough oil to keep their small lamps burning and had run out. The wise ones brought enough to wait right through the heart of the night, so they replenish their oil and stoke up their flames.
What is this “oil”? The oil that keeps their lamps burning to the end of their lives when Jesus comes to bring them into the Heavenly Feast signifies grace and love, their loving desire, faithfulness, and prayer, their pure and burning offering of themselves to him.
The foolish ones think of these things as a superficial commodity they can run out and get at the last minute, but growing in love and grace and becoming the person we are created to be is the work of a lifetime. This is why the wise virgins cannot give any of their oil to the foolish ones – the oil is a specific image of Christ-life within each of us, and the warmth and light that come from deep devotion and fidelity cannot be handed off to another at the last minute.
Jesus tells us that he has come to cast a fire on earth (Lk 12:49), and he desires that it burn in a unique way in each of us. This fire that God longs to see in each soul grows throughout our spiritual journey, gradually taking its shape in the depths of our relationship with the Lord and with one another. We can let our light shine for others, and others may light their lamps from this fire, but the oil must come from each person’s cooperation with the work of the Holy Spirit within them, as they become a unique Image of God.
This is the goal of each individual life and of the whole of human history – to grow in our relationship with God in such a way that we burn with the radiance for which He created us so that He knows us as His own and we light up the world and heaven in the way that He has called us to shine.
Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including Father Rob), and four grandchildren. She is President of the local community of Secular Discalced Carmelites and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 30 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE, and as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio. Currently, she serves the Church by writing and speaking, and by collaborating with various parishes and to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is www.KathrynTherese.com
Feature Image Credit: Ritabrata Das, https://unsplash.com/photos/kpaBHvDE7aQ