Mons. Francesco Follo
(ZENIT News / Vatican City, 11.09.2023).- Commentary on the Gospel of Sunday, November 12, 2023
True vigilance is prudent.
We are realistic when we recognize that our earthly life is fragile. How can we not recognize ourselves in the very short poem by an Italian poet “It’s like the leaves on a tree in the Fall “? If we have the grace to believe, we do not experience this transience as a frustration to be avoided by trying to enjoy the present moment. For the Christian, life, however fragile it may be, is vigilance and waiting for an encounter and pilgrimage towards true and eternal Life. Without the prospect of an encounter full of meaning and bearer of eternity, the meaning of life is disrupted, and life gives in to a frenzy to hide desperation.
To help us live this vigilance that becomes a pilgrimage, today’s Gospel offers us the parable of the ten virgins which also illustrates the saying of Mt 24.42: “Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord will come! “.
If, on the one hand, the emphasis is placed on the need to be ready so as not to be excluded from the wedding party, on the other, we are reminded that the vigilant and prudent wait concerns the coming of the glorious Christ, applying to him the image of the groom that the Old Testament uses for God.
Telling about a group of ten virgins divided into two categories, five are wise and five are foolish like those who build on rock or sand (see Mt 7,24-27), Saint Matthew refers to the way in which weddings took place among the Jews of Jesus’ time, which also involved a procession of young women (the term virgin here has this meaning) who accompanied the newlyweds, usually towards the evening (this explains the use of lamps).
The groom went to the father’s house of his future wife to take her to his house, but before that he had to conclude the agreements of the wedding contract with her father. It could happen that there were still negotiations to be concluded and things would drag on. The five wise virgins show that they are far-sighted and ready to face any eventuality, bringing oil with them to fuel their lamps in case the wait became 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 prudent and others not? It wasn’t just a matter of common sense, but of love.
Love is the virtue with which we live a vigilant and prudent waiting. If you wait intensely and ardently for the one you love, you prepare yourself for everything and provide all the necessary precautions, tools, and cure every detail so that this wait is best realized and fulfilled in the meeting with the Groom.
Just like the attitude of these prudent virgins, who await the groom with lit lamps after having made sure to have a supply of oil. 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 made the purchase of oil so as not to risk not being able to meet the Groom, adding their light to that of Christ and walking with Him towards the wedding party. 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 towards Christ, the Bridegroom who comes to introduce us to his Kingdom, motivates us to wait prudently, industriously, assiduously, and without any fear, because even if the body sleeps, the heart is awake.
The oil of the lamp is love.
It must be kept in mind that it is the Groom who loves first. The waiting is not the cause of the encounter, but the encounter does not come about without the waiting that the watchful heart keeps alive. Let us keep this expectation alive by praying: “O God, you are my God, from the dawn I seek you, my soul thirsts for you, my flesh desires you in an arid, thirsty land without water. In the sanctuary I contemplated you, looking at your power and your glory. Since your love is worth more than life, my lips will sing your praise. I will bless you all my life: in your name I will lift my hands. As with the riches of a banquet shall my soul be satisfied, and with exultant lips my mouth shall praise you. I remember you on my couch and through the night-watches I will meditate on you. You are my help; I rejoice with joy in the shadow of your wings” (Psalm 63 – Responsorial Psalm of today’s Mass)
But why are the hearts of prudent virgins, although open while waiting for the Groom, closed to sharing the oil with the other girls, who ask them for it with worried insistence?
I’d like to propose a spiritual interpretation: “The lamp is common to all the virgins, the oil that some refill is a gift that they have accepted from Him who increases it. Every virgin must lovingly nourish the relationship with the one who is coming, before the oil of love runs out. For this reason, 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 a love relationship cannot be purchased and experienced through a third party. It is given by the Groom who is the reserve and who pours it into small jars. The important thing is not to have a lot of it, but to ensure that it does not fail and that the lamp remains lit until the arrival of the groom” (D. Mongillo, Per lo Spirito in Cristo al Padre, Bose, Ed. Qiqajon, 2005 page 16- 19).
Naturally the phrase from today’s Gospel, “Watch therefore, for 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 of desire and attention, of active love and hope.
Wise virgins are those who, seizing the favorable moment in which they are on this Earth to do good works, have prepared themselves to present themselves at the coming of the Lord. Foolish people are those people, inattentive and obtuse, who only care about present things and, forgetful of God’s promises, do not keep the hope of the resurrection alive.
An example of how to live daily existence, at home or at work, comes to us from the consecrated virgins.
With the total gift of themselves to Christ the Bridegroom, these women show that life can be lived as expected, making the day, the work, and the occupations a step towards the Infinite, that is, with the body on the ground but with the soul in heaven. These consecrated women testify to us that we can only “worry” about Christ and their only “concern” is to be women of prayer who look up where joy reigns.
It is the specificity of their vocation as recalled by the prayer that the Bishop says over them on the day of their consecration: “Listen, O God, to the prayer of your Church and look with kindness on these daughters of yours; you who called them for a plan of love, guide them on the path of eternal salvation, so that they always seek what pleases you and with assiduous and vigilant faithfulness bring it to completion. Through Christ our Lord” (Ritual of the Consecration of the Virgins)