· Meditation ·
In the last days that he spends with his disciples before his Passion and his death, Jesus wants to leave them a powerful and insistent message about how they will be called upon to live in the future as they follow in his footsteps; he is preparing them to experience his absence and promises them that he will return in glory.
Jesus tells of an encounter between the bridegroom who comes and the young women who form the bride’s festive cortège. But he also and above all tells of a time, the time of indeterminate waiting: the moment of the arrival is uncertain and it is not up to human beings to decide the moment of this coming for this that would limit our readiness to welcome him. It is here that the error of the five virgins described as foolish lies: with their going to meet the bridegroom they presuppose that they can determine the moment of the encounter, of the feast, they do not take into account what is unforeseen, unspecified, the bridegroom’s delay. It is he who is the true protagonist, the one who is expected, who is about to arrive, the banquet is prepared by him but it is of us that he asks the collaboration of waiting.
Waiting is thus the way the Gospel indicates to us in order that we may live the present. And Jesus’ question is about how we want to live this time, how we decide to wait for his coming.
All ten virgins accept the invitation to the encounter, taking with them the lamps they need to light the path in the night. However, it is not enough to start walking. The wait is a long one; none of us is exempt from weariness, from the burden of daily life, from efforts, from suffering and from the doubts which the journey can give rise to. It is hard to keep alert, anxious for the encounter with the Lord, everyone runs the risk of falling asleep. Nevertheless, what is important is to be there, even asleep, and to keep on waiting, even during the night, continuing to believe and to hope in the promise received, for only “he who endures to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13). This is the wisdom of the five virgins. They take with them what they need during their wait in order to persevere: oil. Theirs is not an extraordinary virtue which demands special gifts: no, it is a human, everyday quality, it is the readiness to pause and think in the face of what we are living without avoiding the profound truth that we discover about ourselves, it is the the ability to foresee, to take into account what the unexpected may be for us, a delay in the bridegroom’s coming.
The time of waiting, the present time, thus calls us to a great and highly personal responsibility. It is the responsibility for a journey taken, for a decision made, the responsibility to cultivate and keep alight what has set us going. The oil that the young wise virgins take with them is precisely this desire, it is our most personal relationship – something that can be neither shared nor acquired – with the one we are awaiting, it is the burning heat that has set us moving towards a fullness of light and life. However, our provisions of this oil must be renewed, they are not given to us once and for all: they ask that we continue to choose the sequela, our waiting, that we choose once again to be light and not darkness. Keeping the lamp alight means knowing how to keep alight the desire for the encounter, living in hope and in trust, not in our past or in our movement towards him, but rather in our being met by the Lord who will bring the work to completion.
A “yes” is not enough! It is the “yes” of everyday life to which Jesus invites us in our daily routine for it is the time, it is now that we experience the waiting and prepare ourselves for the encounter. In this here and now, a mingling of present and future, we are granted to live our vocation, our adherence to the Gospel; this is the time to be ready in order to enter the room before the door is closed. It is the time when, according to the exhortation of the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, we must run “with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (12:1-2).
A monastic writer of the early centuries puts the monks on guard with these words: “We find that... men have been made perfect and most earnest in spirit, and have become like those who made an admirable beginning in approaching the Lord's service, and passed the rest of their lives also in most laudable fervour of spirit: and again we find that from the higher grade very many have grown cold…. And just as it was no hindrance to the former class that they seemed to be converted not of their own free will, but by force and compulsion, in as much as the loving kindness of the Lord secured for them the opportunity for repentance, so too to the latter it was of no avail that the early days of their conversion were so bright, because they were not careful to bring the remainder of their life to a suitable end” (John Cassian, Conferences, iii, 5, 1).
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