[Editor’s Note: Here is a reflection on last Sunday’s readings which can be found here.]
Today I want to speak to you about the first reading; from the Book of Wisdom and also the Gospel, Parable of the 10 Virgins. I think the two readings share a common theme. I found it useful to ask the question what is wisdom for me? And what is the wisdom of the Parable? I want to share with you some thoughts on wisdom and also encourage you to think about what it is for you.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow studied human motivation and delineated a paradigm he called “the hierarchy of needs.” He postulated that the first needs of a human being are food, air, water and warmth. He saw the culmination of the human condition as the attainment of, “self-actualization” or wisdom. In theory wisdom cannot be fully achieved without the basic needs of life first. He believed that only 2% of the population ever attain that goal and saw people like Lincoln and Einstein as examples. Many writers have refuted Maslow’s claim and you may too.
The Book of Wisdom says;
Resplendent and unfading is wisdom
And she is readily perceived by those who love her
And found by those who seek her…..
For taking thought of wisdom, is the perfection of prudence
This is a more hopeful message. It encourages us to seek wisdom but does not exactly tell us what it is. Is it self-actualization as Maslow saw it, only attainable if our need for food and shelter is met? Or is it something else entirely? The reading gives us a clue, “that it is prudent to seek her.” That it is something right and good, something that will be rewarded.
In today’s Gospel, again we see the theme of the wise but also the foolish. It perhaps is not as hopeful a message, but a warning. The Parable of the 10 Virgins is rich with imagery and symbolism from Jewish wedding traditions of the day. On the day the bridegroom is to arrive, the bride is attended to by her bridesmaids; other unmarried women, hence the term virgins. The bridesmaids, who symbolize the church, bathe and clothe the bride and prepare to wait for the arrival of the groom. We have come to know the groom symbolizes God. It was not certain when the groom would arrive, as he may come from a distance. The rich imagery of the bridesmaids with their lanterns, spread out down local roads in wait for the bridegroom, must have been a common occurrence. The wait could be long into the night. It is hard for me to read about the bridesmaids who were not prepared to wait with the oil for their lanterns. They didn’t have the wisdom to plan ahead and “purchase” the price of entry into the kingdom. And the doors were locked on them.
Jesus uses the theme of a price that must be paid to enter the Kingdom. To have a continual presence of God in our lives, we must plan ahead and use wisdom in our choices. Only a substantial presence of God in our lives can keep the fire burning thru the dark nights. A person who has the fire burning in her at the time the bridegroom returns, will go with Him.
As an undergraduate student at Boston College, I had the privilege of taking several Ignatian Spirituality courses and retreats with Fr William Barry. On my first retreat, he instructed me to go to the chapel and contemplate the crucified Jesus. I had never done anything like that before- the directions were so simple but for me, difficult. No prayer, no guide on how to do that, I remember thinking, just contemplate. It ended up being one of the most moving and spiritual encounters with Jesus and one I reflect on over and over, as it has become a regular practice in my prayer life.
On retreat I learned to examine my conscience, in what is called the daily examen, and to ask God to reveal to me my sin. Ignatians’ stress the idea of a personal relationship with God and the importance of a prayer life. But is it wise if I am not moved to action? How will I be judged, and what does it mean to be ready?
Ignatius had a very hopeful belief about sin, one that contrasts with a more Augustinian view of sin, which is the world is a huge mess of doomed souls. Ignatius saw how pervasive sin is, but also how freely God bestows His grace. My experience with Ignatian Spirituality became a framework for a personal relationship with God and the importance of a taking time for prayer. For me, I have struggled and pray to make good choices to be a model for others, especially my children and grandchildren. And also to move my belief to action.
I am thinking of today’s mentioned readings with a lens towards wisdom and how I can be prepared like the virgins with the oil in their lamps. I pray for wisdom and the courage to make the right choices. What lessons do you garner from today’s readings? Do you find it them hopeful, instructive, punitive? What does it mean to be prepared, is a strong prayer life enough, or am I called to something more?
I want to leave you with some very wise words about the wisdom of faith moved to action which I find inspiring. Vanita Hampton Wright is a writer and also leads Ignatian retreats in my home town of Chicago. She writes;
“What words of wisdom would you pass to a younger person today?
If you knew you weren’t going to be around much longer, how would that change?
Or would it change what you said to others and how you said it?
Which mistakes have you made that you would urge that young person not to make?
If you could go back in, time, which dreams and visions of your younger self would you take more seriously and seek more tenaciously?
What have you done well in your life and how would you encourage someone else to do the same?
The fact is, WE HAVE MUCH POWER OVER OTHERS, through our words, our example, our single presence in a room or a life. Even if we are not speaking words of wisdom or encouragement, we are communicating volumes every day!
This day, pray for the ability to communicate to those around you, especially to people younger than you- the best things, the most important things and the most loving.“