The parable of the ten virgins gives us an important teaching about how we live our lives here below, and how we must think about Christ’s coming. Many comparisons could be drawn between ourselves and the virgins, and we are compelled to put ourselves in the parable. We are almost forced us to ask ourselves the question: am I a wise virgin or a foolish virgin? The good news is that if we can still ask ourselves the question, we have not yet fallen asleep and if we find ourselves to be foolish we can seek wisdom. The two readings we have today lead us to consider these two themes in connection with the Gospel parable.
The first reading invites us to consider what wisdom truly is. If we want to enter with the bridegroom and be ready to welcome him when He comes, we must become wise before we fall asleep. The Bridegroom is Christ, and this coming that we wait for happens after we fall asleep in death. If you want to be wise when Christ returns, you must acquire wisdom before it’s too late, you must begin by loving wisdom. A sermon by someone later thought to be St. Augustine wrote, “Do you want to love? Love wisdom, desire fervently to acquire it. Put the inner person in order, so that its appearance will not horrify you. As lustful eyes seek the beauty of the body, so you should seek that of the heart.” A wise virgin is one who understands the true nature of love, one who has not allowed a simplistic or foolish idea about love to determine her decisions and actions. Indeed, a foolish virgin wakes up when it’s too late and does not love sufficiently to welcome Christ at His coming. A foolish virgin runs around trying to see how she can buy the oil of love for her lamp when true love cannot be purchased, nor can the affection of charity be summoned if it has not first deeply transformed the heart. Seek wisdom, seek the authentic love of God that will not run out when it’s too late.
The theme brought to light by the second reading is the theme of death and hope. On the one hand, the foolish virgins – in their foolishness – lacked love. On the other hand they lacked hope in the face of death. As the bridegroom was arriving, they ran from their posts in despair looking for something to fill the lack that they then saw clearly. Hope is this other component of wisdom – if we grow in hope every day we will have the wisdom to stand in the presence of the bridegroom because we will understand the depths of his mercy.
Do you want to love? Love wisdom, desire fervently to acquire it. Put the inner person in order, so that its appearance will not horrify you. As lustful eyes seek the beauty of the body, so you should seek that of the heart. And this beauty will not come from your riches, because wisdom hates the proud and those who in some way or another want to boast of what they have.1
CYRIL OF JERUSALEM:
How truly precious is the Holy Spirit, the good sovereign! Thus we receive baptism in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit! He fights against many demons who attack those who are still burdened by the body with beastly ferocity. But that demon whom so many are unable to bind with iron chains has often been conquered by the recitation of a single prayer, through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within: the mere breath of the exorcist, like a fire, puts him to flight, and he disappears. God, therefore, has given us a mighty ally for the battle, a true protector—a great Teacher for the church, a great defender for each of us. We need not fear demons or the devil, because the one who fights for us is stronger. Let us open the door that he would come to meet us, “seeking those who are worthy of him” and desiring to give us his gifts.2
In the Gospel it is written, “And the bridegroom tarrying, they all slept”? If we understand that sleep as caused by the delay of the last judgment, to which Christ is to come to judge, and the fact that because iniquity has abounded, the charity of many grows cold, how shall we put the wise virgins there, when they are rather of those of whom it is said, “But he that shall persevere to the end, he shall be saved”? It says, “they all slept,” because it is not only the foolish who do their good works for the sake of human praise, but also the wise who do them that God may be glorified, who experience that death. Both kinds die. And that death is often spoken of in the Scripture as sleep, as the resurrection is called an awakening. Hence the apostle says, “But I will not have you ignorant, brothers, concerning them that are asleep,” and in another place, “of whom many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep.”3
CAESARIUS OF ARLES:
Now what these facts signify, dearest brothers, we briefly suggest to your charity according to what we read in the exposition of the ancient fathers. They were not called five virgins because there was to be so small a number in eternal life, but because of the five senses through which death or life enters the soul. If we use them badly, we are corrupted, but if we steadfastly use them well, we preserve the purity of our soul. When it was said, “As the bridegroom was long in coming, they all became drowsy and slept,” that sleep signified death. Finally, the apostle also speaks in the same way, “I would not, brothers, have you ignorant concerning those who are asleep.” When a great cry arose, the middle of the night typified the day of judgment. It is called the middle of the night on account of human ignorance, since no one knows when or at what hour the day of judgment will come.4
To continue to endure misery for the departed is to act like those who have no hope. Hear this, women, as many of you as are fond of wailing, as many as grieve impatiently; by doing so you act just like the heathens. Do you not grieve like a pagan when you beat yourself and tear your cheeks? Why do you lament if you believe that he will rise again, that he has not perished, that the matter is but a slumber or a sleep? You say, on account of his company, his protection, his care of our affairs, and all his other services. When, therefore, you lose a child at an untimely age, who is not yet able to do anything, on what account do you lament? Why do you seek to recall him? He was displaying, you say, good hopes, and I was expecting that he would support me financially. On this account I miss my husband, on this account my son, on this account I wail and lament, not believing the resurrection, but being left destitute of support, having lost my protector, my companion, who shared with me in all things—my comforter.… It is for these things that I afflict myself, for these things I wail.… But none of this is painful to us, if we are willing to cultivate wisdom.5
Paul didn’t just say that you may not be saddened, but that you may not be saddened as the heathen are, who do not have any hope. It is unavoidable, after all, that you should be saddened; but when you feel sad, let hope console you.6
BASIL THE GREAT:
All things are directed by the goodness of the Master. Nothing which happens to us should be received as distressful, although at present it affects our weakness. In fact, even if we are ignorant of the reasons for which each event is applied as a blessing to us from the Master, nevertheless, we ought to be convinced of this—that what happens is assuredly advantageous either for us as a reward for our patience or for the soul that was taken up, lest tarrying too long in this life it should be filled with the evil which exists in this world. For if the hope of Christians were limited to this life, for what reason would the premature separation from the body be considered difficult? If, however, the beginning of true life for those living in God is the release of the soul from these corporeal chains, why do you grieve, even as those who have no hope? Therefore, be encouraged. Do not succumb to your afflictions, but show that you are superior and have risen above them.7
Thus when we have to face the hard and cruel necessity of death, we are upheld by this consolation, that we shall shortly see again those whose absence we now mourn. For their end is not called death but a slumber and a falling asleep. Therefore the blessed apostle forbids us to feel sorrow concerning those who are asleep, telling us to believe that those whom we know to sleep now may hereafter be roused from their sleep. And when their slumber is ended, they may watch once more with the saints and sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace among men of good will.”Letters 75.1. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 87). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.[/note]
- Sermon 391.5. Voicu, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). Apocrypha (pp. 84–85). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- CATECHETICAL LECTURES 16.19. Voicu, S. J. (Ed.). (2010). Apocrypha (p. 85). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Letters 140.32.76. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 83). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- SERMONS 156.1. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 84). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- HOMILIES ON 1 THESSALONIANS 6. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 84). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Sermons 173.3. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (p. 85). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Letters 101. Gorday, P. (Ed.). (2000). Colossians, 1–2 Thessalonians, 1–2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon (pp. 85–86). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.