During this week I have observed in myself and others how much easier it is to take a risk when one hears stories of how others have taken risks…. It is very empowering and has a ripple effect. Family systems theorists call it “differentiation”… the ability to both be an individual, managing one’s own emotional landscape, AND stay connected and in relationship with others. When one family member does this, it strengthens the entire family, and creates an environment that supports others in their maturing and differentiating… figuring out who I am as individual AND as a member of this family/community.
St. Monica, whose feast we celebrate today, did just that. Despite being given in marriage to a pagan by her parents, she stayed faithful to God and her spiritual practices AND stayed in relationship with her husband and son (St. Augustine). Both later converted to Christianity. Biographers write about her being a model of patience --through persistence, prayers are answered – and those we pray for eventually have a conversion. I think the greater miracle is her staying faithful in her relationship with God despite the lack of support and the hostile home environment created by her husband and mother in law including her husband’s violent temper and life of immorality. For me she is a model of steadfastness, a rock of faith. But faith is not merely belief. Faith is living-acting in a relationship of trust.
The readings today point to this living-acting faith. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes about the wisdom of the world (foolishness in God’s eyes) and the wisdom of God (foolishness in the eyes of the world). Who can pray “The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” in the battlefields of Afghanistan or the poverty of third world countries? Who would buy a house today without 40 pages of small print? Who would enter into a financial agreement without a very detailed contract spelling out the terms? Who would bring an extra flask of oil for a daytime wedding? Only a fool, in the eyes of the world. We need much of the worldly wisdom for the practicalities of life, but it is of no use in relationships and matter of the heart.
I have always heard today’s gospel, one of several parables at the end of Matthew’s work, as a reference to the “final judgment”, but I was deeply inspired by Robert Farrar Capon’s exegesis (See The Parables of Judgment for a very rich explanation of this wonderful parable). At first read, it seems the foolish virgins are the ones who trust, without all the neurotic planning and arrangements of the others. But who is ready when the Bridegroom comes? Capon suggests it is only the wise virgins who have the flasks of oil, who “have the faith that will get them through their lives in solid contact with the presently unseeable and unknowable Bridegroom.” They are the ones who stand in readiness.
Standing in readiness is not about having my “house in order” when I die. It is about doing a life trusting in God, knowing that God has loved me into existence and that I am/we are God’s own. “If (God) has already done it all for me already, why shouldn’t I live as if I trusted (God)?” (Capon). I stand in readiness, trusting in God, ready to act, when the unexpected hits…. the loss of employment or accidental death of a family member, a devastating addiction or painful divorce, a raging flood in our community, or pettiness and negativity in the workplace. Why shouldn’t we live as if we trusted in God?
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