Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Francesco Follo, courtesy of the Holy See Mission , UNESCO

Archbishop Follo: Be Ready for the Encounter

With the invitation to remember that believing in God-Love carries within itself the hope, which is like a lamp with which to cross the night beyond death with the oil of love, and reach the great feast of life

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Roman Rite

XXXII Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – November 8, 2020

Wis 6: 12-16; Ps 63; 1 Thes 4.13-18 [4.13-14]; Mt 25: 1-13


Ambrosian Rite

Is 24, 16b-23; Ps 79; 1Cor 15.22-28; Mk 13: 1-27

1st Sunday of Advent – ‘The coming of the Lord’ – Year B


1) Prudence allows to walk with Love.

We are realistic when we recognize that our earthly life is fragile. How can we fail to recognize ourselves in the very short poem by the Italian poet Giuseppe Ungaretti: ” We are like leaves on the trees in autumn” which I already mentioned in the commentary on last Sunday’s Gospel? If we have the grace to believe, we do not experience this transience as a frustration to be avoided by trying to savor the present moment. For the Christian, life, however fragile it may be, is vigilance, expectation of an encounter and pilgrimage towards true and eternal Life. Without the prospect of an encounter full of sense and bearer of eternity, the meaning of life is disrupted: life gives in to frenzy to hide despair.

To help us live the vigilance that becomes a journey of celebration, today’s Gospel proposes the parable of the ten virgins invited to a wedding banquet, a symbol of the Kingdom of heaven and of eternal life. It is a happy image that Jesus uses to teach a truth that challenges us. In fact, only five of the ten girls enter the party because, when the groom arrives, they have the oil to light their lamps while the other five remain outside because they were foolish and did not bring enough oil. What does this “oil” indispensable for walking with the bridegroom and being admitted to the wedding banquet represents? Saint Augustine (cf. Discourse 93, 4) reads in it a symbol of love, which cannot be bought but it is received as a gift, kept within, and practiced in works.

True wisdom is taking advantage of mortal life to perform works of mercy because, after death, this will no longer be possible. When we are awakened for the last judgment, this will be made based on the love practiced in earthly life (cf. Mt 25: 31-46). This love is a gift of Christ, poured out in us by the Holy Spirit. Whoever believes in God-Love carries within himself an invincible hope, like a lamp with which to cross the night beyond death and reach the great feast of life.

If on the one hand the accent is placed on the need to be ready so as not to be excluded from the wedding banquet, on the other hand we are reminded that vigilant and prudent expectation concerns the coming of the glorious Christ, applying to him the image of the bridegroom that the Old Testament uses for God.

Talking about a group of ten virgins who are divided into two categories, five are wise and five are foolish like those who build on rock or sand (cf. Mt 7: 24-27), St. Matthew refers to the way in which weddings were taking place among the Jews of the time of Jesus, which also involved a procession of young women (the term virgin has this meaning) who accompanied the spouses, usually towards evening (this explains the use of the lamps).

The bridegroom would go to his future wife’s paternal house to take her to his house, but first he had to conclude the marriage contract with her father. It could happen that there were still negotiations to be concluded and that things would take a long time. The five wise virgins show that they are foresighted and ready to face any eventuality, taking with them enough oil to keep their lamps lighted in case the wait becomes longer than expected.

What distinguishes the two groups of virgins is not vigilance but prudence in foreseeing the unexpected. In fact, the Gospel passage tells us that they all dozed off and fell asleep when the eventuality of the delay occurred.

Why some were cautious and others not? It was not just a matter of common sense, but of love.

Love is the virtue with which vigilant and prudent waiting is lived. If one eagerly awaits the one he loves, he prepares everything, takes all the necessary precautions and measures, and takes care of every detail so that this expectation is carried out in the best possible way and it is fulfilled in the encounter with the Bridegroom. Just like the attitude of these prudent and shrewd virgins, who wait for the bridegroom with lighted lamps after having made sure to have a supply of oil. In fact, unlike the five foolish girls, they have taken every precautionary measure because they are in love with the groom they are waiting for. Even if sleep surprises them, they have already prudently bought enough oil to avoid the risk of not being able to meet the Bridegroom, adding their light to that of Christ and walking with him towards the wedding feast. If they had not been motivated by love, they would not have supplied themselves with oil and would have been without the light of love. Only love for Christ, the Bridegroom who comes to introduce us to his Kingdom, motivates us to wait prudently, industriously, assiduously, and even without any fear because even if the body sleeps the heart is awake.

2) The oil of the lamp is love.

It should be kept in mind that it is the Spouse who loves first. The wait is not the cause of the encounter but the last cannot be achieved without the waiting kept alive by the alert heart.

Let us keep awake this expectation also by praying: “.O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. Thus, have I gazed toward you in the sanctuary to see your power and your glory. For your kindness is a greater good than life; my lips shall glorify you. Thus, will I bless you while I live; lifting my hands, I will call upon your name. As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied, and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you. I will remember you upon my couch, and through the night-watches I will meditate on you: You are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy. “(Ps 63 – Responsorial psalm of today’s Mass)

Why is the heart of the prudent virgins, however open to the waiting for the Bridegroom, closed to sharing oil with the other girls who ask them with worried insistence?

I’d like to propose a spiritual interpretation: “The lamp is common to all virgins, the oil that they replenish is a gift that they have received from the One who increases it. Every virgin must lovingly nourish the relationship with the one who comes, before the oil of love fails. This is the reason why it cannot be transferred from one to the other; it can only be received by those who can give it to everyone. The oil of the relationship of love cannot be purchased and experienced through a third party. It is given by the Bridegroom who is its reserve and who pours it into small jars. The important thing is not to have a lot of it , but to be vigilant so that it does not fail and the lamp remains lit until the arrival of the bridegroom “(D. Mongillo, For the Spirit in Christ to the Father, Bose, Ed. Qiqajon, 2005 pages 16- 19).

Of course, the phrase of today’s Gospel: “Watch therefore, because you know neither the day nor the hour”, is not addressed only to people called to virginity. It is valid for all Christians and for all times. Vigilance must be understood as an overall vital attitude made up of desire and attention, of active love and hope.

The wise virgins are the ones who, seizing the favorable moment in which they are on this Earth to do good works, have prepared themselves to present themselves to the coming of the Lord. The foolish are the ones who, inattentive and dull, care only about present things and, forgetting the promises of God, do not keep alive the hope of the resurrection.

An example of how to live our daily life, at home or at work, comes to us from consecrated virgins.

With the total gift of themselves to Christ the Spouse, these women show that life can be lived as waiting, making the day, work, and occupations a step towards Infinity, that is, with the body on the ground but with the soul in heaven. These consecrated women testify to us that one can only “worry” about Christ, and their only “concern” is to be women of prayer who look up where joy reigns.

This is the specificity of their vocation, as the prayer that the Bishop makes for them on the day of consecration recalls: “Listen,  God, to the prayer of your Church and look kindly upon these daughters of yours; you who called them out of a plan of love, guide them on the path of eternal salvation, so that they may always seek what you like and with assiduous and vigilant fidelity bring it to completion. For Christ, our Lord “(Ritual of the Consecration of Virgins, n 34)


Patristic reading

Saint John Chrysostom (344/354 – 407)

Homily 78

“Then shall the kingdom of Heaven,” He saith, “be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps. and went forth to meet the bridegroom. But five of them were wise, and the other five foolish, which took not,” He saith, “oil.” “Then, while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh, go ye out to meet Him. And the five arose, and being in perplexity, said to the wise, Give us of your oil. But they consented not, saying, Not so, lest there be not enough for us and you; go to them that sell, and buy.” “And while they were gone for this, the bridegroom came, and those went in; but these came afterwards, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But He answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore, for ye know not the day, nor the hour.” “Then He spake again another parable. A man travelling into a far country, called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods; to one five talents, to another two, to another one, to every man according to his several ability, and took his journey. Then, when the two had brought him the double, he that had been entrusted with the one talent brought it alone, and being blamed saith, I knew that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou hast not sown, and gathering where thou hast not strawed; and I was afraid, and hid thy talent; lo! there thou hast that is thine. His Lord answered and said, Thou wicked servant, thou knewest that I reap where I have not sown, and gather where I have not strawed: thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the exchangers, and then at my coming I might have received mine own with usury. Take therefore the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten talents. For to him that hath shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly; but from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath. And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

781 These parables are like the former parable of the faithful servant, and of him that was ungrateful and devoured his Lord’s goods. For there are four in all, in different ways admonishing us about the same things, I mean about diligence in almsgiving, and about helping our neighbor by all means which we are able to use, since it is not possible to be saved in another way. But there He speaks more generally of all assistance which should he rendered to one’s neighbor; but as to the virgins, he speaketh particularly of mercifulness in alms, and more strongly than in the former parable. For there He punishes him that beats, and is drunken, and scatters and wastes his lord’s goods, but here even him that doth not help, nor spends abundantly his goods upon the needy. For they had oil indeed, but not in abundance, wherefore also they are punished.

But wherefore doth He set forth this parable in the person of the virgins, and doth not merely suppose any person whatever? Great things had He spoken of virginity, saying, “There are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of Heaven’s sake;” and, “He that is able to receive, let him receive it.”2 He knew also that the generality of men would have a great opinion of it. For indeed the work is by nature great, and is shown so by this, that neither under the old dispensation was it fulfilled by these ancient and holy men, nor under the new was it brought under the compulsion of the law. For He did not command this, but left it to the choice of his hearers. Wherefore Paul also said “Now, concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord.”3 “For though I praise him that attains thereto, yet I constrain not him that is not willing, neither do I make the thing an injunction.” Since then the thing is both great in itself and hath great honor with the multitude, lest any one attaining to this should feel as though he had attained to all, and should be careless about the rest, He putteth forth this parable sufficient to persuade them, that virginity, though it should have everything else, if destitute of the good things arising out of almsgiving, is cast out with the harlots, and He sets the inhuman and merciless with them. And most reasonably, for the one was overcome by the love of carnal pleasure, but these4 of money. But the Jove of carnal pleasure and of money are not equal, but that of carnal pleasure is far keener and more tyrannical. And the weaker the antagonist, the less excusable are these5 that are overcome thereby. Therefore also He calls them foolish, for that having undergone the greater labor, they have betrayed all for want of the less. But by lamps here, He meaneth the gift itself of virginity, the purity of holiness; and by oil, humanity, almsgiving, succor to them that are in need.

“Then, while the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.” He shows that the time intervening will not be short, leading His disciples away from the expectation that His kingdom was quite immediately to appear. For this indeed they hoped, therefore He is continually holding them back from this hope. And at the same time He intimates this too, that death is a sleep. For they slept, He saith.

“And about midnight there was a cry made.” Either He was continuing the parable, or again He shows that the resurrection will be at night. But the cry Paul also indicates, saying, “With a shout, with a voice of an archangel, with the last trump, He shall come down from Heaven.”6 And what mean the trumpets, and what saith the cry? “The bridegroom cometh.” When therefore they had trimmed their lamps, the foolish say unto the wise, “Give us of your oil.” Again He calls them foolish, showing that nothing can be more foolish than they who are wealthy here, and depart naked thither, where most of all we have need of humanity, where we want much oil. But not in this respect only were they foolish, but also because they looked to receive it there, and sought it out of season; and yet nothing could be more humane than those virgins, who for this especially were approved. Neither do they seek for it all, for, “Give us,” they say, “of your oil;” and the urgency of their need is indicated; “for our lamps,” they say, “are going out.” But even so they failed, and neither the humanity of those whom they asked, nor the easiness of their request, nor their necessity and want, made them obtain.

But what now do we learn from hence? That no man can protect us there, if we are betrayed by our works, not because he will not, but because he cannot. For these too take refuge in the impossibility. This the blessed Abraham also indicated, saying, “Between us and you there is a great gulf,”7 so that not even when willing is it permitted them to pass it.

“But go to them that sell, and buy.” And who are they that sell? The poor. And where are these? Here, and then should they have sought them, not at that time.

1 [The passage, as here given, corresponds with that prefixed to the Homily in Field’s text. There are some omissions, and some variations from the received text. It seemed unnecessary to annotate it to any extent, since the variations appear in the rendering. In Migne’s edition, the citation ends with the words, “while the bridegroom tarried. ”—R.] 2 Mt 19,12.
1Co 7,25.
4 aiJ dev).
5 aiJ vikhqei`sai).
1Th 4,16.
Lc 16,26.

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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