So let me tell you about a friend of mine from college – I’ll call her Allie because, well, that’s her name. Truly one of the funniest, most random, unpredictable (in a ha ha; not an EEK way) individuals I’ve ever met. More simply, she was a theatre major. For those who are theatre majors or know theatre majors – recognize that’s not a slam – that’s merely descriptive. Because some theatre majors seem dramatic both on and off the stage. That was Allie. I mean – she seriously could never take drugs or drink alcohol because of some health stuff that she took very seriously – so she was totally drug-free and sober as can be – but you were convinced meeting her that she was on something. She would say that she was “high on life.” She’d call me up at 3:00 in the morning, singing Neil Diamond songs for no reason. And when I went to college (over 30 years ago), we were so cutting edge that our dorm rooms each had a phone extension with this new thing at the time called “voice mail.” So if I decided I didn’t want to deal with her 3 am serenades and set it so that it would go straight to voice mail, she would leave 37 messages and fill up the entire voicemail box with her singing. So that is Allie.
Thanks so much for stopping by to read this homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – November 12, 2023. I appreciate your sharing this on your social media posts and your feedback and comments… I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE. May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim
Anyway, the first time I spoke to her was this memorable day in my freshman year. I was introverted and somewhat shy the first couple of weeks of college (shocking, I know). I didn’t really know Allie… I mean, I heard of her and definitely heard her in some of her more colorful moments in class, or in the cafeteria. I tended to stay away from the louder types. We were both in Fr. O’Connor’s Introduction to Philosophy class. It was the morning of our mid-terms – our first midterms as freshmen. Fr. O’Connor was a brilliant, philosophical tormenter. He gave us a week and a half before the exam with a list of 10 Essay Questions, from which he would pick eight, and you had to do 7 – so you could skip two questions altogether. But basically, you had to outline and memorize your answers to the other ones… So it would be something like “Explain the meaning of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave to Socrates’ final address – note three similarities and three contrasts and explain how it’s relatable to your college experience.” So you had to basically write seven mini-term papers- outline them – memorize them – oh, and they had to be correct too – and then write them out the day of the exam. So, like I said, it was Freshman year, my first time going through that. I had worked on this review sheet for a solid week and a half. Trying to memorize and remember it was torturous. It caused me, for the first time ever, to pull an “all-nighter.” So it’s the morning of the test. I’m pacing in the hall, reading through my notes again, convinced that one more read-through would make a difference, and just waiting for the torture session to start (hoping that Fr. O’Connor would eliminate specific questions) as we walked into the classroom.
That’s when I had my first conversation with Allie. She came in, looking like she was shot out of a canon – her hair was all a mess. She doesn’t even know my name, comes up to me, and says to me, “Yeah – you look smart… you gotta help me. We have a test today, right? What will be on it? I mean, what do I need to know?”
That was the first time in a week and a half that I felt reasonably sure I wouldn’t do the worst on the exam. I think I just looked at her and said, “You’re joking, right?” That’s when she continued, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND – I WAS AT THE THEATRE ALL WEEK, WE HAD TECH, WE HAD REHERSALS… PLEASE – YOU GOTTA HELP ME.” That’s when Fr. O’Connor walked in, and she turned her head and said, “He’s a priest; he has to be nice.” That’s when I said, “Yeah, I know his boss is pretty nice, and you know what, at this point, you’re better off talking to Him because Jesus is the only one who can help you now.” I remember her scowl, open mouth, stunned, angry/shocked look with a “I can’t believe you just said that.”
Seriously though, while that story was comical – how unrealistic was that? I mean, even if I had considered cheating to help (at that point) a crazy stranger – you can’t cheat on an essay exam. And you sure as heck can’t learn all you needed to know – a half of semesters of course work; a week and a half of researching, studying, and memorizing things – in just a few minutes. Even if I really wanted to help at that point, it was way too late. No charity, no desire on my part would’ve been able to help Allie miraculously learn what she needed to pass the exam.
That’s the same point Jesus is making in today’s parable. When we hear a parable, Jesus is trying to tell a story to convey some deep truth and some vital information in a dramatic, memorable way. So this story about the five virgins, why don’t they want to share oil with the five foolish ones – what’s up with that? It seems like they’re just being petty. We’re expecting Jesus to come down hard on the “wise” ones as being arrogant or selfish. We need a little historical context to understand what’s happening here.
To Jesus’ initial listeners, hearing this parable – they knew weddings to be “the event” of the year – the whole town would be buzzing about it. There would be great anticipation and preparation for it. For the first-century Jewish wedding, it would begin after sunset. After spending time with the bride, the bridesmaids would go out and wait to meet the bridegroom. One of their responsibilities was to accompany the groom to the bride, and since it was dark, they would carry an oil lamp. That these unfortunate ones in this parable didn’t have enough, well, as they say – they had one job. The other bridesmaids couldn’t share the oil because then they could not fulfill their responsibility.
The deeper meaning, though, is meant for us to recognize Jesus as the Groom and the Church as the bride. Jesus is asking his followers, are we prepared to welcome Him? To escort Him to His bride? To be ready to be apart and join in the great celebration when the big day arrives? That’s an individual and personal question that every individual needs to answer for themselves.
The “oil” in “our lamps” isn’t something that can be shared. The oil is our personal virtue. One religious writer put it, The wise virgins “represent all those who possess the ensemble of virtues which characterize a complete Christian life.” The dramatic differences between the wise and foolish maidens become more obvious when we see the parable from this understanding.
The wise choose to live chastely rather than the foolish one to give into lust;
The wise have self-control and restraint rather than getting drunk or high.
The wise choose to be charitable rather than give into greed;
The wise are hardworking rather than lazy, patient rather than giving into rage, and kind and grateful for their blessings rather than envious or jealous.
The wise are humble rather than the foolish, whose pride and egos are way out of control.
When we look at those virtues over vices, we realize it’s just like my friend Allie the day of the exam – just like you can’t learn half a semester of material in an instant, we can’t move from being foolish to virtuous in an instant. Those are choices, decisions, and steps we make daily that move us in one direction or the other. We grow closer to or further from the Lord in all our decisions. Jesus shares this parable to illustrate the importance of engaging in that battle to make those virtuous choices. To be working always to fill our lanterns with the oil that has us burning bright to welcome the “bridegroom,” who is Jesus Christ, who wants to unite with us in that grand wedding celebration of eternity.
The great thing is, for those of us who find our oil running a little low, we can begin right here, right now to change that. A good confession, a change of heart, or a step in the opposite direction can fill our lanterns up to burn brightly the Light of Christ in our lives. So, we are left with the question of whether our lanterns are ready or need a fill-up?