Fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve and the Parable of the Ten Virgins (2017)

image1I woke up this morning before dawn, so excited that it is both the 4th Sunday of Advent, and Christmas Eve! I joyfully spent time in prayer, pondering this Sunday’s readings, the magnificent ways in which God works to fulfill His promises for our salvation, and how short sighted and blind we are to all of it. All that is necessary for us is openness and good intentions, and His love, generosity, and providence will do the rest! May His name be blessed forever!

I also, however, prayed about an issue that I know many are struggling with today — that Catholics are “obligated” to go to Mass for the 4th Sunday of Advent, plus Mass for the Nativity of the Lord. For our family, this will mean Mass at 10am this morning, and then the 5pm vigil Mass tonight. I know it’s been discussed on social media over the past several weeks, as people try to figure out how to fit this into their holiday schedule — doesn’t it count to go to Mass once on Christmas Eve? Why twice? There are reports by the Catholic News Agency that explain it, but the language is all about obligation, and I honestly am not interested in obligations. Honestly, if it’s just about “obligations” — ugh. I don’t think any bridegroom would be happy with His bride meeting him out of obligation, do you? How sad, especially one as beautiful, noble, and worthy as our Lord.

In pondering all this, the parable of the 10 virgins came to me very strongly this morning. Obviously, not all of us are joyful about the prospect of 2 Masses today, as I am! And I understand this, I really do. There was a time when I definitely would not have been either. Obviously something in my life changed, drastically. What does it have to do with this parable?

The parable is in Mt 25:1-13, and in brief Jesus describes 10 virgins who went out to wait for the bridegroom to celebrate a wedding feast. Five were wise and brought extra oil in their lamps, and 5 were foolish and did not. (Remember, this was before telephones and modern communications, so they had no idea when he was arriving.) The bridegroom was delayed and they all fell asleep.  At midnight, there was a cry, “The bridegroom is here!” So they all woke up and trimmed their lamps; however, the 5 foolish ones saw that their lamps were going out. “Give us some of your oil,” they said to the 5 wise virgins. The 5 wise virgins said, “No, then we won’t have enough for us and for you. Go purchase your own.” Of course, when the 5 foolish virgins go off to purchase their oil, all the guests go into the banquet, the doors are locked, and they are left behind.

This story is often perplexing, but today it spoke to me deeply. The key to understanding this parable lies in identifying what is the “oil” in the lamps. I propose that the oil is faith, hope, love, and JOY. The theological virtues, which lead to a deep, abiding joy in all of life’s experiences because they are lived with the Lord.

What is faith? Faith is not just assenting or agreeing to a concept, such as that God exists or that Jesus was God, etc. No, even Satan assents to that, does he not? Faith is going way beyond that, faith is trust in God, giving our life to Him, putting all our eggs into that one basket, entering the Kingdom, banking all on Him alone, purchasing the pearl of great price. But, how can we have faith in, or trust in, someone that we do not know? We can’t.

What is hope? Hope is not optimism. Optimism is keeping your chin up, looking on the bright side of things, for the silver lining, putting a smile on your face. It is related to optimism, but faith provides a reason for it, and that reason alone is God. Because really, we have no reason to hope without God.  Without God, life has NO meaning. None. We live, we work and toil, and in the end, we die. Death wins in the end. But with Jesus, death has been conquered! So, because of Him, and because of Him alone, we can endure all things, and hope in all things. He is with us — Emmanuel. This is what we celebrate in the Incarnation (Christmas!). But, how can we hope if we do not know Him in whom our hope rests? We cannot.

What is love? Love is to will the good of the other. It is not the world’s definition of love, which is often fleeting, me-based, emotion based, or objectifies others. It is simply wanting what is truly for the eternal, long-term good of the other, and that may or may not have a benefit for us personally. It is seeing and acting with the eyes of Jesus Christ. But how can we truly love if we do not know His Word, and what is important to Him? We cannot.

What is Joy? Joy is not pleasure. Pleasure is fleeting. It comes and goes. Pleasure is often a diversion or entertainment, which is good and fun, but it is not the same as joy. Joy is knowing beyond doubt, because you have experienced it, that heaven has begun, eternal life with Jesus, has already started, and nothing can ever take that from you, no matter what comes. Joy is there through thick and thin, good times and bad, through every experience in life, for the believer. It is based in confidence in Jesus, and in knowing His constant presence. But, how can we have joy, if we have not experienced Him and His saving power in our lives? We cannot.

So this is why the wise virgins say, no, we cannot give you our oil. You must go purchase your own. We simply cannot give someone these gifts. They come from God, actually. BUT, but…we do need to take concrete steps to cultivate them and open ourselves to them. They do not just come on their own. It is fitting that it says the virgins have to “buy” the oil. It will be purchased at a great price for sure. This oil comes at the cost of our time, giving our time to God in prayer, on a regular basis. It comes at the cost of giving over our selfish ways — giving over to His mercy habits that we know are not according to His ways, because they are not good for us. It comes at the cost of humbling ourselves — going before Him in the Sacrament of confession, making a good confession and receiving His unfathomable, inexhaustible mercy and strength to do better, over and over again. It comes at the cost of picking up our cross, day after day, and following Him.

However, know this — what we are giving up, and we perceive to be great sacrifices, are really very small in relation to the immense gifts He wants to pour out on us, if only we will open up those channels of grace. We open the channels of grace through prayer, fasting, and the Sacraments — note, these do not make us holy, but they are the means by which we open ourselves to God, and He can complete His work in us, transforming us into His image, from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).

And what are the rewards? First of all — the oil of faith, love, hope, and joy. Living the beatitudes (blessed are you ), taking on the yoke of Christ rather than the yoke of the world, because He gets under it with us, and it’s easy and light. The gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit will flourish and grow within us (love, joy,peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) and God’s life will increase in us more and more, and we will be astounded as we watch His plan for our lives unfold. Just as Mary our Blessed Mother was, and still is today, fulfilling her role as the Mother of all God’s children into eternity.

Don’t delay — the bridegroom is coming at an unknown hour! Look around at the world, is the hour perhaps approaching?

Happy 4th Sunday of Advent! Merry Christmas!

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Come, and You Will See

“What are you looking for?” This is the question Jesus asks the 2 disciples that began to follow Him when John the Baptist tells them He is the Lamb of God (see John 1:35-42).  Another translation I read said that Jesus asked them, “What do you want?” No doubt, to our modern minds, when we read this, we believe Jesus was being snarky, or annoyed, when He turned, saw these 2 guys following Him, and said something like, “What do you want??!” Right?  Honestly, when you first read this, is this how you approached it? Most likely, because this is the way of our world. And because we don’t know Christ. But let’s sit, be still, and know, that this is our God who loves us more than we can fathom asking us this question. I can assure you (and myself), who have been beaten down by this modern world, our modern cynicism, our modern coldness where everything is a joke, a bother, something to discount, or a reason for sarcasm — Jesus was not saying this to them in that manner. This is our God of infinite love and tenderness, asking them, and asking you and me – What are you looking for? What do you desire? What do you long for? What is your deepest wish in life and for eternity? If you could drop all your defenses, your pretenses, your coolness, your distractions, your busyness, and search deep into your heart, what, our God is asking, will fulfill all of your desires?

He asks this, and He already knows the answer. The answer is that He will. He alone will. He IS the fulfillment of all desire. What do the disciples say? Do they recognize this? Perhaps, in some manner, but certainly not yet fully. They just say, “Teacher, where are you staying?” To which Jesus gladly replies, “Come! And you will see!” I picture Jesus breaking into a happy grin when he says that, and picking up His pace, as he is glad to give this invitation. They have indicated their interest in getting to know Him, and He is more than happy to oblige. God respects our freedom and our choices.

Better is one day in your dwelling place, Lord, than a thousand elsewhere (Psalm 84:10).

Surely goodness and kindness will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6).

…we would rather leave the body and go home to the Lord (2 Cor 5:8b).

Jesus IS the alpha and the omega. Here we see Him beginning to be manifested as He is – the beginning and the end. Here is the beginning of His relationship with His disciples. It is the beginning of their awakening. He is always and already thinking of their eternal salvation, of their end, for which He longs – their coming home to the Father’s house, His house, in the heavenly kingdom. He is delighted when they express interest, and He can invite them, and lead them to it, and they spend time in it together.

Let’s remember that it is still Christmas! This is why the Church invites us to again ponder these Scriptures, to come and see, to embark on the journey to the dwelling place of Christ. The shepherds and magi did, and they were forever changed — they left by a different way than they came, full of peace, and good will, praising and glorifying God. Do you want this year to be different? Do you want to dwell in the house of God? Then, ask the Lord, “Where are you staying?” and respond to His reply in the depths of your heart, and not only in your heart but in concrete ways with your life, with your time, with your deeds, and with your mind, “Come, and you will see!” God always fulfills His promises!

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Does Your Heart Throb and Overflow?

Today is Epiphany. The world has forgotten about Christmas – family has returned home, school has resumed, we are back at our jobs, decorations are packed away, and trees are discarded on the curbside for trash pickup. However, the Christmas liturgical season continues, and today in particular, God wishes to make Himself known to all the world. Today we learn from St. John the Beloved that no one has ever seen God, but if we love, then we make Him present (see 1 John 4:12). This is how God is manifested to us, and this is how we manifest God. The circle of grace continues – to love is to see God, and to see God, we should love. Lord, let that alone be my beginning and my end, my source, and my goal – Love.

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Song for this post here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rmuxoBsl5GY

Epiphany!

epiphanyausToday’s Gospel reading: Mt 2:1-12 “…magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.”  When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled…”  See all the readings here…http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/010613.cfm

Today we hear the familiar story about the magi arriving in Jerusalem from the east and inquiring about the newborn King that the Jewish people have been awaiting.  Interestingly, the magi, though they were Gentiles, recognized the sign of His birth, and earnestly set out in search of Him, though the Jewish leaders (pharisees and scribes) did not seem to be aware that anything was happening.  The Gospel account tells of Herod being troubled, as he was the king and clearly did not welcome any competion. We see how he tries to thwart the plan of God and the prophecies that foretold Christ’s coming.  He gathers together the Jewish leaders to find out where the King would be born, and learns that the birth of the King is to be in Bethlehem of Judea.  Then he secretly calls the magi into his company, and asks about the timing of this star, which we now know was probably a real astronomical event, or possibly a series of events.  He then tells them to go to Bethlehem (which he learned from the pharisees and the scribes) and to search for the child.  Herod is so narcissistic that he is trying to supress the plan of God, the inevitable rise of this newborn King of the Jews, the centuries-old hope of the people, and he actually thinks he will be successful.  An amazing facet of this account, to me, is how God worked through the machinations and guile of Herod to reveal the location of the Christ child to the magi, and to bring about His plans, even as Herod was trying to stop it.  We also see how it was government oppression that even brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem at the time of Christ’s birth, as they had to go in order to be counted in the census of Ceasar Augustus.

This all is a great comfort to me, as I look at the news of the day, at the political situations around the world, at the corruption and guile of many in power.  Fear not!  Be at peace, is what God tell me through this Gospel account.  Our lot is to listen, to obey, to persevere in doing God’s good work, and know that His purposes will not – CANNOT – be thwarted.  I see the humility, obedience, and silence of Joseph, Mary, and the child Jesus, and see the frantic response of Herod, who with his power had access to information that others did not, and could on a whim even order the deaths of all the male infants in Bethlehem.  He is described in such stark contrast to the humble Holy family, to the magi, and to the shepherds who all were open and waiting, watching for the Messiah.

Faith, it seems, does not consist in simply believing.  Herod certainly believed.  Faith consists in an openness and a trusting of God and His goodness and providential care.  Faith, as a gift from God, cannot be received without humility.  If we are too “kingly” then we will be threatened and go to any length to stop His reign.  Let us, then, strive to cultivate humility, and therefore, faith, trust, and openness to God alone.  Then we will be overjoyed at seeing His star – His guiding hand in our lives – and we gladly open our treasures and offer them to Him, and we will return by a different way – as the magi did – since we will never be the same again!