Be Prepared!

32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A.
Wisdom 6:12-16 – 1Thessalonians 4:13-18 – Matthew 25:1-13.

Death came suddenly, out of the blue, and people simply weren’t prepared for it. Centuries later, archaeologists discovered what was left of Pompeii after Mount Vesuvius erupted and destroyed the city in a flash. The city was buried under volcanic ash and what was discovered under the ash was amazing. The volcanic ash had frozen people in exactly the position they were in when disaster struck. Over time, their organic remains disappeared, but the ash retained the hollows and shapes made by the bodies. That is why the archaeologists were able to make casts from the hollows during the excavation and to discover a great deal about what was happening when the disaster occurred. For example, the casts they got included a mother clasping her child to her tightly, a Roman sentry standing at his post, and a man standing upright with a sword in his hand and his foot on a pile of gold and silver. (A violent episode must have taken place just before the volcanic eruption because casts of five bodies were found lying scattered around him. We can surmise that the man with the sword was trying to keep his treasure safe from looters and thieves.) These casts not only reflect the emotions and situations of these victims, but they also show us how sudden the end of life will be, because no one knows the day or the hour (Mt 24:36) when the Son of Man will come. St. Paul tells us that The Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night (1Thess 5:2). If we know that the end can come at any time, and that it can come suddenly and unexpectedly, then it follows that we need to ensure that we are always prepared for the end. This is the theme of today’s reflection: “Be prepared all the time”.

Being prepared is an invitation to live our lives in wisdom. Wisdom calls us to ‘keep our eyes open’ and that includes the eye of the mind. Today’s first reading was a eulogy to wisdom. Wisdom helps one to succeed (Ecclesiastes 10:10). Without the application of wisdom, we might run the race of life well enough… but not necessarily in the right direction. As St Augustine says, “Bene curris, sed extra viam” – you run well, but [you’re] off [not on] the [right] road! The Wisdom we need is Jesus Christ Himself (1Cor 1:24, 30); He helps us to see the correct picture of the map of life. He helps us to be genuinely prepared. He helps us to see the true meaning of  life, which lies not in the physical life here on earth but in the life of heaven. He gives us the assurance of the existence of the afterlife (a point which St Paul reinforced in the 2nd reading regarding what happens to those who have died in Christ). Each one of us needs Jesus in order to be prepared for what happens after physical death.

Sometimes people are tempted to push the idea of death to the back of their minds. Death can come at any time, but they project it as something to be faced later on in life, and so they don’t want to think about it now. That is foolish because they leave themselves unprepared for death. The events that happen at this time of the year – the honouring of the fallen on Remembrance Day, the trees losing their leaves as winter approaches and the ending of the liturgical year – all these serve to emphasise the appropriateness of reflecting in the here-and-now upon our personal preparations to meet God at the end of earthly life.

Now, let us take a closer look at the message of preparedness in the Parable in today’s Gospel reading.

When we think about the bridesmaids who were excluded from the wedding feast and locked out in the darkness, we could be forgiven for regarding their sensible companions as selfish for refusing to share their oil with them. Yes, we might agree that the young women who were rushing around at the last minute for extra oil probably deserved to be reprimanded for their thoughtlessness, but simultaneously we might feel that the punishment of having the door to the banqueting hall slammed in their faces after all they had done was unwarranted. The essence of the Parable, however, is not about a simple matter of forgetting to bring along extra oil to keep a torch alight. We miss the point if that’s all we think it is! The Parable is warning us about the need to be aware that we are personally responsible for making our own preparations to answer God’s invitation to enter His heavenly Kingdom. Jesus is telling us that making proper preparations in advance to be ready for the big event is absolutely essential, and how unwise it is to put off getting ourselves into spiritual shape until the very last minute.

Being prepared involves cultivating a personal relationship with God, a relationship which each individual must develop, work at and live out, because there is no way that it can be borrowed at the last minute. How do we go about this? By putting ourselves in His hands at the beginning of the day, by putting our trust in Him as we go about our normal work and routine, and by using our spare moments during the day to share with Christ in prayer our thoughts, plans and worries, sharing with Him what’s on our mind and asking Him to guide us. Christ is always prepared to meet us, so we, for our part, must be prepared to meet Him.

Being prepared means not taking the risk of going through life with a minimum of holiness, because holiness can only develop through staying close to God in prayer, through spending time in the divine presence, through loving Him, being loved by Him and conforming ourselves to Him. We are prepared when we live out the life of righteousness as redeemed people of God, the life of love of God & of love, goodness, kindness, and compassion towards our neighbour. That comprises the oil we need to keep the light of Jesus Christ burning brightly in us.

Finally, being prepared means to have Jesus always in you. Jesus is your ticket into the banqueting hall, into the joy and eternal bliss of heaven. Don’t let the light of Christ go out in your life. You keep that Light alive when you purposely deepen your spiritual life, when you continually put the Christian virtues into practice, and when you never let the opportunity to carry out a good work pass you by. Be prepared! Amen. God bless you.