Self-gratification or self-giving, that is the question. And which is nobler? The choice is ours and each of us must make the decision. In the Gospel Jesus explains to us the proper end of each choice in the parable of the ten virgins. “Five of them were foolish and five were wise.” The first reading together with the Gospel reflects the urgency of living a selfless life.
The only difference between the wise and foolish virgins is the amount of oil they bring, a difference that is supremely significant. When we hear this parable we may think that the wise virgins are being selfish and stingy for not sharing, but Jesus rewards them for this. The oil reflects the preparedness of the wise virgins. They are ready and longing for the feast, the second coming of Jesus at the end of time. They brought the necessary provisions – good works, virtuous acts, and selfless service. The first reading expresses the desire of the wise virgins for the bridegroom. The longing expressed by the reading from wisdom is reminiscent of the teaching of St. John Paul II in the theology of the body regarding Original Solitude. “The concept of original solitude includes both self-consciousness and self-determination.” The wise reflect upon who they are before God, made in God’s image and likeness, and thus finding fulfillment only with Him. St. John Paul II further states that man is “constituted according to the measure of ‘partner of the Absolute,’ inasmuch as he must consciously discern and choose between good and evil, between life and death” (TOB 6:2). The wise virgins act from this awareness of God and desire for him, drawing them to make “a decision joined with the will to participate in the redeeming work of Christ” (TOB 79:8). They have lived their lives with deep faith in the reality of heaven. Knowing that obedience to God is the only way to union with Him. The wise virgins have true selfless love; “love as the readiness to make the exclusive gift of self for the ‘kingdom of God’” (TOB 79:8). They willfully forsake gratification in the things of this world, because they live with the conviction that heaven is real!
Conversely, the foolish virgins are unprepared. Hinting that they are caught up with other things of this world, rather than aching and longing eagerly for the coming of the bridegroom! They are told to go to the merchants to buy oil. This reference to the material world reminds us as well as the failed attempts we make at satisfying the ache for God, with false idols – material possessions, self-gratification and the like. The foolish virgins, at worst have sought fulfillment in selfish pursuits, or at best they have failed to recognize the urgency of the ache for God. The foolish virgins reflect the way we accept a relationship with God in a negative or prideful sense. Seeing our relationship with God as a renunciation, rather than a participation in God’s redemptive work. A tendency to look at what I have to give up, instead of recognizing the joy in making a gift of myself in love. This pessimistic focus makes us more susceptible to seeking fulfillment in self-seeking ventures.
As we approach the end of the liturgical year we are rightly called to reflect on the second coming of Jesus. The wise virgins give us the example to follow – live life in obedience to God, joyfully giving of yourself in service to God and others. Whereas the foolish virgins serve as a warning to avoid indifference and procrastination. Get in touch with the longing for heaven and turn away from self-gratification. For it is wise and nobler to live a selfless life.
To download a PDF version of this homily, click here: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Rev. Dallas St. Peter is a priest for the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont. He is the pastor of St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Burlington. Father Dallas has attended courses at the Theology of the Body Institute and has been a course chaplain.