November 11, 2017

Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, November 12, 2017, Year A

Parable of the ten virgins

Fr. Charles Irvin
Senior Priest
Diocese of Lansing


Wisdom is one of those often-used words the meaning of which, for many in our world, can be elusive. From time to time we ought to pause for a few moments and reflect on its meaning. It’s a word that frequently appears in both the Jewish and Christian Testaments, particularly in the Jewish Testament, a word having a great deal of religious significance. Thus, we hear Jesus speaking of it in today’s Gospel account.

Prudence is a word closely associated with wisdom. From Our Blessed Lord’s statements we might associate foresight even more closely with wisdom. Certainly wisdom moves beyond mere data processing or the accumulation of facts. Facts and data are necessary in order to arrive at wisdom but wisdom is something greater than simply knowing facts or processing data. The purpose and meaning of our lives should always guide our choices. It is wise for us to remember that we came from God and are returning back to God.

The Eighteenth Century American essayist Henry David Thoreau once said that “…it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things.” That’s a good description in the light of what we just heard Jesus saying in today Gospel. The five foolish virgins were desperate. They had not exercised foresight and as a consequence they wanted the five-wise virgin to do a desperate thing. Being wise, however, they did not. They did the prudent thing.

I want to point out that it is quite possible for one to lose one’s soul, something that’s not much talked about and ignored these days. To put it another way, it’s quite possible to neglect our relationship with God and let that relationship die out. Just as the light on an oil lamp can sputter and die out for lack of attention, so too can the fire, the warmth, and the vibrancy of our relationship with God can sputter and die out for lack of attention. Wisdom, prudence, and foresight are needed to keep our relationship with God strong and vital.  We came from God and we are returning to God.

In another parable that you will remember we find the steward who was about to be fired going to his master’s debtors and “cooking the books” so as to lower the amounts of their indebtedness. Our Blessed Lord didn’t commend his cheating in tampering with his master’s accounts and lowering their indebtedness, but He did commend the unjust steward for his prudence, his foresight, and his wisdom. That steward was looking ahead to make sure that his future would be secure. He took action; he pursued a goal; he didn’t simply sit back and let one of life’s tragedies sweep over him or sweep him away, nor should we. We came from God and we are returning to God.

Wisdom is one of those virtues that require us to act. It’s not just a nice reward we receive for being good. It isn’t a virtue that naturally comes to us. It’s an acquired virtue. We should make a careful note of that because we are surrounded these days by institutions and structures that we expect will take care of us. All sorts of fail-safe devices protect us from our mistakes and provide for us in our need. In today’s movies and TV programs something in the end always comes to the rescue even of those who have been foolish.

But life, particularly our religious lives, and more importantly our relationships with others, requires us to take responsibility and to take action. This is never more true than in our relationships with the Persons of the Holy Trinity. There are no fail-safe devices in our personal relationships with others and in our relationship with God.

As we engage in our pursuits, seeking many things, things that are good, we would do well to ponder on the pursuit of wisdom. Seeking information and knowledge is one things, seeking wisdom is quite another. We may perhaps be intellectually well endowed and possess an immense memory, a storehouse of facts and data, and we may be able to skillfully process, inter-relate, and analyze those things that we know all the while being devoid of wisdom. Our spiritual lamps will then sputter, die out, and lose their light. We would then have eyes to see and see not, ears to hear and hear not. We would be sighted in intellect but blind in spirit. It’s a very real and present danger that we should avoid. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins should have an impact on us.

Where, then, is wisdom to be sought? Along what paths is she to be found? Let me offer a partial, though by no means complete, suggestion. First of all, we should resolve to really listen to what is in the hearts and souls of others, not simply listen to their words. It’s foolish to act on impulse, on feelings or urges. It’s wise to think about what will follow. It’s foolish to judge others’ motives. It’s wise to ask them and to explain their motives. It’s foolish to act as you always have in the past. It’s wise to think about changing for the better. It’s foolish to act on fear. It’s wise to set fear aside and act on convictions. It’s foolish to be reactive. It’s wise to be proactive. When dealing with a problem it’s foolish not to consider the thoughts of others. It’s wise to realize that others have insights and knowledge based on their experiences and that we can learn from them.

By talking with those whom you perceive to be wise and by reading great literature we can gain access to the deep thoughts of human beings. The world’s great novels are a good source. Engaging in bible study is another, particularly the accounts of Christ and His teachings. Do you know that the Old Testament has an entire book devoted to Wisdom? We would all do well to read it and ponder from time the lessons it offers us.

So it is that we should hear again the words in today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom:

"Resplendent and unfading is wisdom and she is readily perceived by those who love her and found by those who seek her. She hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire; whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate. For taking thought of wisdom is the perfection of prudence, and whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care; because she makes her own rounds, seeking those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them in the ways, and meets them with all solicitude."

Wisdom is offered to us by God, but God does not push her off on us. She is found and recognized only by those who are alert and actively seek her out as we make our way back to God, the God who has gifted us with His wisdom, the wisdom to seek and find Him in this life and in the next.

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