32nd Sun [A] 2002

Fr. Charles Irvin

Wisdom 6:12-16; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13

I find myself in the challenging task of preaching about virgins in Ann Arbor, something akin to searching for unicorns in the Museum of Natural History. Is it possible to do so?

Then there is the daunting task of being politically correct when talking about the wise virgins and the foolish virgins. To be “P.C.” should I refer to them as girls instead of virgins? The feminists would no doubt be outraged if I spoke of them as girls. The revisionists among us would chime in by insisting that I should simply refer to them as the wise persons and the foolish persons.

Then, in this the silly season, I face the danger of putting the Democrat spin on the parable by talking about the deprived and disadvantaged ones and what we should do to care for them in their oppressed condition of deprivation. Wasn’t the bridegroom being too harsh in not opening the door for these disadvantaged latecomers?

On the other hand I risk the Republican spin should I suggest that the wise ones made smart investments in managing their assets using supply side economic analysis. The foolish virgins lacked strategic plans; they ignored principles of wise portfolio allocation. Then they went on to insist upon receiving welfare doles.

The cultured despisers of religion would, I suppose, take the Jessie Ventura approach and simply declare that all ten girls were silly for being virgins in the first place. Which presents us with a deep question – is virginity something that’s silly? Is it foolish, or is it wise? Wisdom, as we know, is far deeper than mere conventional thinking, much of which is based on ignorance. But what, after all, is wisdom?

The distinction between ignorance and stupidity challenges us in today’s parable. Ignorance is excusable — stupidity is not. Ignorance is simply the lack of knowledge, a condition that can be easily corrected. Stupidity is the result of one’s unwillingness to make the effort to learn, unwillingness to make the effort to prepare. Moreover, stupidity can leave us with the door to opportunity slammed in our face.

It’s stupid to come up upon an examination without making any effort to study and prepare. Some such folks double up on it by arrogantly presuming that they will be forgiven for their lazy lack of preparation. The professor, they claim, ought to forgive them, ought to not give them an E on their test.

At the core of today’s parable we are confronted with presumption. Presumption is a particularly deadly form of sin. In it one assumes that folks can live life in whatever manner they wish, indulging their passions, drives and urges as they wish, and then just before death, throw themselves upon the mercy of God. Close scrutiny reveals that to be nothing less than arrogant presumption, presumption on God’s love and mercy.

The same sort of thing goes on when we demand that others give us charity, when we demand that the have’s give the have not’s what they want, regardless of the lack of efforts on the part of the have not’s. Charity, I believe, is a gift; it’s not something that we can demand with imposed expectations on others. So also for mercy. It’s not something upon which we can make expectant demands. Mercy, after all, is not justice.

Foresightful preparation and adequate preparation for what faces us is something that cannot be unjustly demanded or expected from others. Adequate preparation is something we cannot take from others. We can only give it to ourselves. Like the unwise virgins who did not bring reserve supplies of oil for their own lamps, we cannot drain others of what they need, lest we all end up in darkness. We may claim charity from their excess abundance, but we cannot claim anything of anyone only to protect ourselves from our own stupidities and inadequate preparations.

Today’s parable presents us with yet another opportunity to try to see things differently than the perspective given us by conventional thinking. Ask yourself this question: In thinking about this parable, do you give your attention to the out-of-luck virgins, or to the wise virgins? What about putting your focus on the wise ones? Isn’t that the whole point of this parable?

Today’s gospel account needs to be seen together with the gospel accounts of the next two following Sundays. All three take us to the end of the Church’s liturgical year; all three point us toward the end of the world, to the day of judgment we all will face both collectively and individually. All three deal with our neglectful rejection of God resulting from lack of lives lived in thoughtful preparation for our own entrance into the great Messianic Banquet, that Heavenly Feast that awaits us just beyond the door of our death. For death is but a rite of passage, passage into the Messianic Banquet, and into which the Bridegroom wants to welcome us if we have adequately prepared for it.

It is God’s will that we come to him with the lamps of our soul trimmed and burning with the Light of Christ. It is wisdom to understand that. In scripture, Wisdom is declined in the feminine, not the masculine or neuter. Wisdom is referred to as “she”, and she, Wisdom, is seen as God’s partner in creation. She outfits us so that we are adequately prepared for the future that awaits us, the future God has destined for those who respond to his love.

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 men’s desire; he who watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed, for he shall find her sitting by his gate. For taking thought of her is the perfection of prudence, and he who 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.

Having the door slammed in our face and being shut out is an ominous thought for each one of us here. But so also the day of our judgment ought to be ominous for us. Nevertheless it is only our own stupidity that is threatened. There is still time to follow Lady Wisdom, to join in the procession of the wise virgins, and to listen to the voice of her who is God’s partner in all of creation.

And will not Mary our Mother help us if we ask her? Does not every great work of art depicting our Blessed Mother show her offering us her Son? And is this not the reason for the very existence of Holy Mother Church?

So, while I find myself a bit daunted with the task of preaching about virgins here in Ann Arbor, I have no fear in doing so. It is, after all, the wise thing to do.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”