November 10, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Wisdom 6:12-16) Reading II (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18)
Gospel (St. Matthew 25:1-13)
In the readings this morning, we hear about Wisdom and how Wisdom is found by those who seek her, by those who desire to find her. But we are also told in the same reading from the Book of Wisdom that it is not just some kind of lazy desire to be saying something to the effect of, “Yeah, it would be nice to have Wisdom.” That is not enough of a desire. One must demonstrate the desire because, if we look at that first reading again, we are told that if we are vigilant, if we are keeping vigil looking for Wisdom, and if we are awake at dawn seeking Wisdom, then we will find her. We are told that Wisdom desires us even more than we desire her, and if we are truly looking for her that she will be found.
Now we need also to be very clear what this wisdom is. It is not a worldly wisdom; it is not a matter of being able to be shrewd and so on; that is not what we are talking about. Saint Paul makes very clear in his first chapter of the First Letter to the Corinthians that Jesus Christ is the wisdom and the power of God. The wisdom that we seek is the wisdom of God. And the wisdom of God is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, who became man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The world was seeking that wisdom for centuries, and when He came they missed Him. The world continues to seek and the world continues to fail to find because what happens is that we try to impose our own human wisdom onto God. Rather than seeking Wisdom and being vigilant looking for Wisdom, we instead try to use our own human ingenuity to determine what God’s wisdom is going to look like. We assume that we know how we are going to find this wisdom; consequently, when God presents this wisdom to us, because His wisdom does not fit what we expected, we reject it. And so what happens is that we are imposing our own definition onto God rather than allowing God to teach us – and it does not work. In fact, such a failure has that been that sociologists now say that we live in a post-Christian era. And anyone following religious trends would say that we now live in a neo-pagan society because we have followed human wisdom rather than God’s wisdom.
So we need to ask ourselves, and a little bit more seriously, about this wisdom, because Jesus in the Gospel reading tells us about the wise virgins and the foolish virgins. He tells us about how they did not bring oil for their lamps as they were waiting for the bridegroom. When we look at what Saint Paul was talking about in Thessalonians, he was fully expecting that the Second Coming was going to arrive in his own day. Jesus, in the Gospel reading, instead says, “The bridegroom was long delayed.” And so He has been, two thousand years long delayed at this point, and it is going to be much longer.
All we need to do is look in our own day when everybody thought that they knew the wisdom of God and they kind of put God into a little cubby-hole and everybody got ready for the year 2,000. There was this sudden rush of religiosity, and 2,000 came and it went, and suddenly people’s religious fervor went right back to where it was before: their devotion to what somebody once called “Our Lady of the Pillow”, that is, failing to get out of bed on Sunday morning and come to church because their devotion to sleep was far more important to them than God. Their religious fervor had only to do with selfish interests, thinking that the end of the world may have been at hand when in fact it was not. And now they have given way to their worldly ways once again because they attempted to impose upon God their own wisdom rather than allowing God to teach wisdom to them. Once again, they are not being vigilant, but rather they are sleeping. Not the type that Saint Paul talks about of those who have fallen asleep, but rather they have fallen into a slumber that the world and the flesh and the devil have placed upon them, or in fact that they have willfully and freely chosen.
We must understand that if we are going to be able to live the faith we profess, that today more than ever in America, we must be vigilant. And that vigil must require prayer, fasting, and self-denial. The current of the present society is so strong that even those who truly desire to remain faithful to Our Lord are often being swept up in the current. Maybe they are not getting into the main current of the river but they are wading out into it far enough that the current is sweeping them away because they are not firmly rooted in Christ.
If we wish to be able to find that wisdom and be found by Wisdom at the gate, as we hear in the first reading, we must be vigilant, we must be seeking Wisdom at all times. Not just simply looking for selfish purposes to be able to say, “Well, if the Second Coming happens today, then I better make sure that I’m with Jesus. But otherwise, I want to live a totally hedonistic life.” We cannot do that. We have to say, “If I’m going to be living for God, then I need to live for God. And I can’t be trying to play this game and see if I can get away with living a sinful, selfish life right up to the minute that my wisdom tells me God is going to arrive.” If we simply look back a couple of years, we find a lot of foolish people who put enough oil in their lamps only to last to January 1st of the year 2,000. And then, when suddenly the Bridegroom did not arrive according to their wisdom, their lamps went out and they have not returned yet from the merchants.
The Lord is not so foolish as to do things the way we think it is going to be done. Why would He have arrived in the year 2,000? Everybody expected Him and He tells us it will happen at a time that we do not expect and therefore we need to stay awake. So we can ask ourselves, each one, are we really awake? Are we watching for the Lord? Are we looking at the signs of the times? Are we keeping ourselves in the state of grace? And not just minimally in the state of grace – are we growing in God’s grace and in love for God? Are we seeking the Lord in prayer? Are we truly living our faith? Are we doing what we are supposed to in the Lord? Are we keeping our torches burning? Do we have enough oil – that is, enough grace – to be able to keep our lamps burning all the way to the end, whenever that might come?
We do not know when it is going to happen. What we can be fairly well assured of, I think, is that the end is nowhere in sight. There is going to be some severe trouble coming very soon but it is not going to be the end of the world. But it will be the end for many, many, many people in this society and throughout the world. We need to use the wisdom of God in order to see what is coming and in order to make our way through it. Only those who are truly vigilant, only those who are united with Jesus Christ in prayer and in faith are going to be able to survive the period of trial which is to come because it will be severe. And if our faith is limited only to coming to Mass on Sunday and having nothing else to do with Our Lord, chances are very unlikely that we are going to make it through because even though there is faith it is minimal. We need, Scripture tells us, to stay awake, to be vigilant, to be praying, to make sure that we have enough oil because we do not know how long it is going to last.
We do not know how severe it is going to be and we must never allow ourselves to think we have things in such control that we will be able to survive because Our Lord told us that were the time not shortened, even the elect would fall astray. By ourselves and by our own wisdom we cannot survive; that is an absolute and a guarantee. By our own wisdom and our own ingenuity, we cannot survive the period that is to come upon us. Only by the grace of God and by the wisdom of God can we make it. And so each one of us needs to be deeply rooted in prayer. We need to be vigilant. We need to put into practice what it is that we proclaim and profess and preach, that is, that we believe in Jesus Christ. We need to look at each one of those elements of the Creed that we are going to profess in just a couple of moments and we need to ask, “Do I really and truly, from the depths of my being, believe these things that I am professing to believe?” We need to live them. We cannot any longer just give lip service to our faith. We cannot pull out the Creed every Sunday and read it without really even knowing what it says and what it means and then walk away and forget totally what it was we just professed because what we really believe and what we really live is something entirely different.
We need to look at that. We need to bring it to the very depths of our being. And in the midst of the deepest, darkest, most difficult time that human history has ever known, we had better be able to hold fast to what we profess or we will not survive. It is something which is beyond us. What will be coming upon the world is much larger than any one of us and it is much larger than what any one of us can do anything about. And that is a gift. Otherwise, in our arrogance, we would think that we could do something about it and in our own human wisdom we would think that we could control it. It is way larger than we are and we can do nothing about it, except to pray. We need to praise God for that because that is a gift. When we realize how small we really are and how powerless we are in the face of all of these things, then we will recognize that only the power of God, who is Jesus Christ, and only the wisdom of God, who is Jesus Christ, can conquer what is to come. And only the wisdom and the power of God, who is Jesus Christ, the fire that is lit within each one of us, will be able to provide to keep that flame burning in our hearts so that our torches will still be burning when the Bridegroom arrives.
Our part is merely to cooperate. That is all we can do. We cannot control it. We cannot try to manipulate it. We cannot try to tell God how it is going to work because it is beyond us. We need to look to God. We need to allow the Holy Spirit to teach us and guide us. We need to unite ourselves with Our Blessed Lady because this is her time, given over to her by God. We need to allow her to lead us to her Son and we must remain united with Him. We must enter into His Sacred Heart and allow the flame of His Heart to ignite ours. We must allow the love of God to be that torch which burns within us. And we must allow His grace to provide the oil to keep that fire burning. That is the only way.
We must understand that this is the most graced time in human history. We are about to enter into the darkest time, and we are about to enter into the most graced time that humanity has ever known. “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more,” the apostle Saint Paul told us. And so the grace of God is going to be available in abundance. As long as we operate according to His wisdom, there will be plenty of grace, plenty of oil to keep our flames burning. But if we try to impose our wisdom on God and tell Him how it is going to happen, the Bridegroom will be delayed in His coming and we will not have enough oil to keep our torches alight. We need now to put aside all of our human wisdom, all of our own ideas about what is going to happen, and we need to seek God, to seek His wisdom, to be vigilant, and to allow Wisdom to find us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.