On Sunday, November 12 we read the parable of the ten virgins. For the first reading we were asked to reflect on Psalm 62 [63 in some Bibles] the one that begins with “my soul thirsts for You, my God.” That always reminds me of Calvary and Jesus’ thirst on the Cross. Please read John 19:28. This Psalm ends, like many Psalms, with a curse on the Psalmist personal enemies. Those frequent maledictions have bothered many readers of the Psalms. One that critics frequently bring up says: “O daughter Babylon, you desolator! Those who pay you back what you have done to us shall be blessed! Blessed shall be those who take your babes and dash them against the rock!” — not the most pro-life Psalm in the book, if I may opine but those feelings are human. We the “civilized” may recoil in horror forgetting for a moment that our society has industrialized the killing of little babies to the point of making him a daily horror, a very dispassionate antiseptic activity that has nothing to do with the mere expression of justifiable feelings of revenge.
The Church born from those exiled Hebrews of twenty-six centuries ago was the one that formed Assunta Goretti, the mother of St María Goretti, Donna Assunta was what one would call a barely educated Catholic but she had the invincible faith of the simple men and women who walked with Jesus and Mary in the ways of holy poverty. Alessandro Serenelli asked if she could forgive him for the cruel murder of her daughter, twenty seven years earlier: “Perdonami Assunta” (forgive me, Assunta) said the man. And Assunta responded: “Se vi ha perdonato lei vi ha perdonato Dio, vi perdono anche io”. (I [my daughter] has forgiven you. If God has forgiven you, even I forgive you as well.) Donna Assunta’s theology is far away from the rivers of Babylon: she was ready to forgive the man that had killed her baby. She did so without the help of any advanced theology. Ecclesia supplet. She was given but a few simple lessons but she managed to learn them well. Many pastors today, many puffed up “Catholic personalities” could learn a lesson from her, God bless her.
So here is the Psalm that talks about thirst for God and thirst for vengeance:
O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name.
My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,[a]
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
they shall be prey for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
The intention of the Psalmist is not to bind God’s destructive power and direct it against his enemies, no. He simply lays his very human rage before his God. He thirsts for justice and God is still a righteous Judge. The fate of the Psalmist enemies is the consequence of their iniquity. The Psalmist is merely stating a fact: the wages of sin is death.
Following the Psalm we read 1 Thessalonians, 4:13-18.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from Heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord for ever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
I must admit that connecting these readings is no easy task but here is the last judgment. Finally the Judge arrives. His justice has nothing to do with smashing babies’ heads. He comes to render justice and give life to those who have been killed by the original murderer all throughout history, the devil identified by Jesus when condemning the unbelievers of his age:
You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Here is God’s judgment: murder and lies on one side, the guilty party. On the other side: life and truth, the vindicated sons of God. Until that day we can console ourselves with that promise instead of relishing in the horrible fate of our wicked enemies. We have made some progress since the days of the Psalms, if not in our nature, at least in our doctrine!
And here comes the parable of the ten virgins. How do we connect this parable to the previous readings?
‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the market and buy some for yourselves.” And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding feast; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Matthew 25: 1-13.
St Matthew placed this parable right after the Little Apocalypse found in chapters 23 and 24. The parable has a very definite eschatological flavor. At the center of the story is the good sense of those who prepare themselves for the unexpected. The bridegroom tarried, the oil in the lamps burned … half the virgins were ready for a long wait but the other half were not. But … wait a minute! If we consider other teachings of Jesus, the prudent virgins were apparently not relying in Divine Providence.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?”
For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.
What if the foolish virgins were simply trusting in Divine Providence to make the oil last long enough? Should they be condemned to “the darkness outside” for “not being anxious”? This apparent contradiction in the teachings of Jesus can be solved by paying attention at the details of love. Yes, we abandoned ourselves to Divine Providence when we are sure of the love of God. Yet, we do not take it for granted to the point of being lazy or imprudent. We do our part and avoid anxiety. Why is anxiety bad? First because it is useless, and also because it betrays a distrust of Divine Providence. If anxiety pervades our motivation to do our duty, we are merely working for ourselves and not for God.
The ten foolish virgins never stopped to consider the Groom’s delay. Both the foolish and prudent virgins fell asleep — that’s everyone’s weak human nature — but only the prudent virgins made sure to have enough oil to last them all night if necessary. Their love for the groom made them consider every possible thing they could do to be ready because they did not know the hour of his arrival but they knew he could be late.
In real terms, the extraordinary forgiveness of Assunta Goretti shows that she had been always prepared for God’s inspection. The very human desire for revenge of those who were taken into exile by the Babylonians, shows they did not remember the sins the got them that well-deserved punishment.
We are still waiting for the Groom, the night is well advanced, for most people the oil of love and mercy is running out but there are some that are still awake, waiting for the Groom’s arrival with their hearts on fire.