13 November 2017
Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Most of you probably know that I spent a lot of time with the Powers Catholic Boys Soccer team, including being at the State Championship game, which they won, on Saturday, 4 November. During the summer I was going to attend their conditioning workouts, both to be involved with the team (which is part of my outreach to the youth), as well as to get back in shape. I only made one conditioning workout, which proved how out of shape I am! But it was amazing to me to see all the hard work they put in during the summer, and then, once practices could begin, knowing all the drills they would to prepare for the games. That preparation paid off, as they won the vast majority of their games, won all of the games in the post season, and only allowed two goals in the post season. Their goal from the beginning of the season was to win a State Championship, and their preparation helped them to achieve that goal.
In the Gospel today, and in the next few weeks, even in Advent, Jesus will talk about being prepared for the end of time, when Jesus, the Bridegroom, will return. And in today’s parable, He talks about those who are wise virgins, prepared for the Bridegroom at any time, and those who are foolish virgins, those who are only ready if the Bridegroom returns quickly. What may astound us in this parable is that Jesus does not talk about the wise virgins sharing their oil. In fact, the wise virgins worry that there won’t be enough oil for both, so they keep their provisions to themselves. Shouldn’t the wise virgins have shared what little they had?
But the point of this parable is that when it comes to Jesus’ return, we have to be prepared, and nothing should distract us from that goal. If we take our eye off the prize, if we let our preparation slip, then there’s a chance that we will be left outside, and will hear the very sad words, “‘Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.’”
Think of all the things you prepare for. I’m a planner, so I love preparing; I hate having things left to the last minute. I prepare for homilies (as much as I can), I prepare for vacations, I prepare for retirement, I’m even prepared for my funeral (the Diocese of Lansing encourages us to have plans made, since we never know when an angry parishioner might do us in!). But can I honestly say that I’m ready for Jesus to return? Some days are better than others.
We can put so much energy into things that will fade away. Right now, probably the thing that so many people put time and energy into is sports. Sports are great; they teach valuable lessons and help develop the body and mind. But in these days, sports is like a God. Everything else goes to the wayside, including many times people’s relationship with God, especially in Mass, because of sports. And to miss a game or a practice can have a detrimental on the athlete him or herself or even on the entire team. But when the Bridegroom returns, when Jesus comes back, would we be more ashamed that we let our team down, or that we didn’t make time for Jesus?
The Dodgers just lost the World Series to the Houston Astros. In 1965 the Dodgers were also in the World Series. And one of their best pitchers, Sandy Koufax, refused to pitch in Game One because it fell on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, one of the Jewish holydays. The Dodgers lost that game, 8-2, but won the World Series, 4 games to 3. Koufax was probably seen as letting his team down in that first game. But I would guess he felt that his relationship with God was more important even than the World Series.
There are other things that we can put ahead of our relationship with God than sports. But as Catholics, we are called to put God and our practice of the faith, including going to Mass and attending CCD, at the first place in our lives.
It can be hard to live always waiting for Jesus’ return. That’s why in this month of November, we especially remember the four last things: death, judgement, Heaven, and Hell. We put those things at the front of our mind as a way of saying, “Life is short; I need to have my priorities straight.” It’s not morbid, and it’s not scrupulous. Living as if we could die any day is both realistic (we never know what could happen), as well as a good way of making sure that we are ready for the Bridegroom’s return. It doesn’t mean we can’t plan for retirement or plan for the future in general, but it does mean that even those plans are put in their proper order, and that we’re not making decisions that make us set for this life, but in danger in the life to come. Not everybody goes to heaven. Jesus Himself refers to the path to heaven as a narrow way. But by living with the mindset that the Bridegroom could return any day, we are more likely to stay on that path.
The prize of heaven is even more important than a State Championship or a World Series or a Super Bowl. State Championships and World Series and Super Bowls will eventually end. Heaven and hell are forever. “‘Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’”