Saturday, November 5, 2011

Be Prepared for the Coming of the Bridegroom

Thirty Second Ordinary Sunday Year A (Second Homily)

Daima Hazir
Parau ha’amanaora
Laging Handa
Siempre Listo – para servir
Toujour Pret
Allzeit bereit

Do any of these sound familiar? Well, in Malaysia, you may hear this: “Selalu Bersedia”. It is the immortalized Scout Motto, in various languages, that has been used by and inspired millions of Scouts around the world since 1907. In English, this motto is most commonly rendered as “Be Prepared”, and it is no coincidence that this motto can be shortened to B.P. which could also be the acronym of the surname of the founder of the movement, Robert Baden-Powell.

In the third part of his handbook for scouts, Baden Powell explains the meaning of the scout motto – “Be Prepared which means you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to your duty.” Then he goes on to unpack this definition. According to Baden Powell, being prepared in mind means disciplining yourself to be obedient to every order, and also by having thought out beforehand any accident or situation that might occur, so that you know the right thing to do at the right moment, and are willing to do it. Corresponding to the mental preparation, is the physical bodily preparation which is intended to make you strong and active and able to do the right thing at the right moment, and do it. To be prepared, a scout who understands and lives the motto recognizes that the call of duty extends beyond donning the uniform of the scouts. He is called to serve and to assist whenever a situation presents itself. And then Baden Powell, throws the challenge that goes beyond what would normally be required of a youth group – “Be prepared to die for your country if need be, so that when the moment arrives you may change home with confidence, not caring whether you are going to be killed or not.”

This earthly piece of wisdom is given a monumental redressing in today’s gospel of the wise and foolish virgins or bridesmaids. If someone like Baden Powell could think of being prepared in a limited temporal human context, what greater gravity could be given to the expression when we begin to think of it in cosmic proportions. Thus the motto of a Christian could be this – “Be Prepared for the Coming of the Bridegroom.” – “Be Prepared for the Coming of Christ.”

Many have focused on the element of wakefulness in today’s parable. But it is important to take note that verse 5 of the passage records that ‘all’, meaning both the wise and foolish, “became drowsy and fell asleep.” The crucial difference between the wise and the foolish has to do not with staying awake but with having sufficient oil. In unraveling the mystery and the symbolism of the oil, we can perhaps begin to understand the depth and meaning of being prepared in the Christian context.

The oil which the wise virgins possess is not something external- like food or clothes or money. Rather the oil refers to an inner quality – e.g. honesty, fairness or integrity. I can share my food or clothes with you but I cannot impart on you the qualities and virtues of honesty or integrity. Thus, the oil which is used in this parable is a symbol of inner spirituality, virtue, and the faith life of a person that has been nurtured carefully with prayer, the sacraments, spiritual practices, devotions and a commitment to living the Word of God. Just as if I can lend you a book on prayer, but you would have to set aside the time for your relationship with God. That’s something which I cannot give you. That is why we hear that the wise virgins did not share their oil with the foolish ones. They could not, not because they were selfish, but because the oil spoke about personal sacrifice and conversion that could only be obtained through faithfulness to prayer and the sacraments.

Thus being prepared in the context of today’s gospel means that one needs to have the following qualities in order that our lamps will always be ready to be lit, our oils ready for the lighting.
The first quality is that of Foresight. Earlier, I spoke about how Baden Powell describes being prepared. He explains that it requires disciplining oneself to be obedient to every order and also having thought out beforehand any situation that might occur, so that we may know the right thing to do at the right moment. Often we lack foresight. We are often preoccupied with immediate goals which are apparent but forget to pay attention to the long term goals or to the bigger picture. We focus on the little concerns in our daily life, securing good education, securing a good job and securing a good spouse; but we fail to see that ultimately life’s ultimate goal is securing salvation. We have great plans for our children and their future. Tuition classes, music lessons, swimming tutorials etc. And yet, we seldom lack the foresight to see beyond this – are we preparing them merely for life or for eternal life?
The second quality is faithfulness. Having good intentions are good but never enough – we need to translate these into actions. Having actions, activities and projects are good, but the real question is this – are they lasting or just short term? Foresight eventually leads us to faithfulness – its holding out for the long run till the very end. The foolish virgins in the parable possessed lamps and oils but failed to possess enough oil to keep their lamps burning. We may be full of excitement and enthusiasm at the present moment – just before we get married, when we start serving in ministry, when we decide to embark on a project. But do we have enough oil to keep burning till the very end. This calls for faithfulness to prayer and the sacraments. We go for mass and continue to pray not only because we feel good. Sometimes, we don’t feel anything at all when we do these things. But we believe that the sacraments and prayer is what keeps our jar of oil full when we need to use it to light our lamps. During times of darkness and doubt, it is the light from these oil lamps that will keep us going.
Ultimately, faithfulness leads to the third quality – it is patience. We often have very little patience for things. We are prone to seek immediate results and quick solutions. Today, we hear that the bridegroom was delayed in coming. We need patience to wait for his coming. There are times when we allow impatience to get the better of us and thus we let our guard down.

Just like the scouts of Baden-Powell’s imagination and dream, we too are called to be the vanguards of Christ, who is the Bridegroom, whom we await to consummate the story of salvation. We must be ever ready to serve, ever ready to wait, and ever ready to heed the call of our Lord when he comes. We are called to be ready, not just now or for short period of time. We are called to ready at all times – to have foresight, faithfulness and finally patience in waiting for the Lord. We are called to be ready not just in an ordinary sense, but ultimately in a heroic sense. “So that finally, we are called to be prepared to die for not for our country if need be, but for the Lord, so that when the moment arrives you may change home with confidence, from our earthly life to the heavenly, not caring whether you are going to be killed or not.”

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