32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time
Fr. Joseph Levine; November 8, 2020
Readings: Wi 6:12-16; Ps 63:2-8; 1 Th 4:13-18; Mt 25:1-13
Last Sunday, which was All Saints Day, I spoke about the desire to see the face of God, a desire that should really be the ruling desire in our life – at least if we want to get to heaven, which consists most of all in seeing God face to face, the beatific vision. Today, the theme of the desire for God is continued and even intensified. Our Psalm response is my soul is thirsting for you my God. The response is then amplified in the Psalm itself, 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.
We can connect this to the Gospel parable of the wise and foolish virgins. The oil is the desire for God, the longing to see his face. All ten virgins started out with that oil of holy desire, maybe some had more and some less, but all had it at one point, like ten children making their first communion. Over time the five foolish virgins let the oil of holy desire run out, while the five wise virgins kept up a supply of oil in their flasks. It is not enough just to desire God once, the desire must be nourished and grow, otherwise it will burn out.
Let me say a few words first about the desire of the foolish virgins.
Suppose you asked someone: “Do you want to go and see the World Series?” The man replies, “Yes.” You then ask, “Are you going to go?” He replies, “No. It is too hard to get a ticket and even if one were available it would be too expensive.” Well, we can see that this man has a desire to see the World Series in person, but it is not a priority; he does not want to take the necessary steps.
In the case of the World Series that is not a problem; happiness, much less beatitude, does not consist in going to the World Series. Nevertheless, this feeble desire is the sort of desire the foolish virgins have for God. It is an insult to God. It would be like saying, “Yes, I would want to go to heaven and be with God, but it requires too much; I have better things to do.” That is indeed a blasphemous attitude that merits eternal damnation.
There is, however, another sort of desire that is neither the mere fancy of the foolish virgins nor the ardent desire of the wise virgins.
Think of a man who gets in his car to drive to another city to attend a wedding. Along the way he sees a billboard advertising some attraction, maybe a museum, that catches his fancy. He thinks to himself, “I would like to see that. It won’t take too long. I will pull off the freeway here and take a look.” It takes longer than he expected, but he does cut short his visit when he realizes that he needs to get back on the road. Yet, he hasn’t gone much further when he sees a billboard advertising a restaurant that appeals to him. He thinks, “Well, I really do need to get some lunch before the wedding.” So again, he pulls off the road. We see that, while he does want to go to the wedding, he easily lets himself get distracted from his purpose. Will he make it on time?
Now, the way God deals with people who get distracted from the road to heaven is called ‘purgatory’. After they reach the end of the road and depart from this life, instead of entering straight away into the heavenly wedding banquet, they are required first to attend a sort of ‘reform school’ where they learn to focus and pay attention. We might well end up there. In any case, we need to help the souls in purgatory by our prayers. Then maybe someone will pray for us after our departure from this life, rather than just taking it for granted that we are already in heaven.
Now we need to turn our attention to the wise virgins. It is not enough just to have a desire for God, we need a desire for God that is effective and will not give way to distraction. We need also to nourish our desire for God, that is how we keep our ‘flask of oil’ with us.
We nourish the oil of holy desire by prayer, by knowledge, and by practice.
By means of prayer we should not first of all ask things from God, but seek to draw near to him, to know him, to know his will. We should seek to spend time with God. We should seek to conform ourselves to God, not bring God into line with our own desires.
By means of study we must also try to learn about God and his plan for us. We must study both the word of God and whatever sources will lead us into the depth of Catholic tradition and help us understand the word of God.
Then we must remember Jesus teaching that the wise man, who builds his house on rock, is the one who hears his word and puts it into practice. And St. James tells us: Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if any one is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who observes his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. (Jm 1:22-24) If what we learn in prayer and study does not enter into our actions, it has no impact on our soul and remains as fleeting as the image in the mirror.
But acting on God’s word is not just a matter of acting; when we act under the guidance and impulse of grace, we come to know God better.
Jesus once said, My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if anyone wants to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. (Jn 7:16-17) The more a man’s will is conformed to God in both thought and action, the more he becomes like God, which makes him both better able to know God and to recognize what comes from God. In today’s 1st reading we heard that wisdom is readily perceived by those who love her. Love is rooted in desire but is shown in action. So, Jesus said, He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me … and I will love him and manifest myself to him. (Jn 14:21)
The desire for God, if it is true, leads us to prayer, to study, and to action, all of which combine together to increase our knowledge of God, which then lead us to desire him yet more, until that desire is satisfied in the beatific vision. That is the meaning of the words of wisdom: He who eats me will hunger for more, and those who drink me will thirst for more. (Sir 24:21) The more our desire grows, the more our capacity for God will be increased, and the more we will be filled by the vision of his face.