Homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
8 November 2020
Cathedral of Saint Raymond Nonnatus
It is hard to believe there are only three more weeks until Advent. For that matter, it’s hard to believe it’s November. Sunny skies, temps around 80 degrees.
This is the beauty of the Church’s liturgical year: in a calendar year when everything has been stressful, everything has felt heavy, everything has been difficult; when everything has felt different and for close to four months it was hard to know what day of the week it was, nevermind the month or season.
We had the chance, and still do, to move through this according to a different cycle. Many remarked that Lent was extra “Lenty” this year, and Easter joy meant something new, something different for so many of us. We walked with the Risen Jesus and with the Apostles who had seen him as they began to go out and tell the story of Life conquering death.
We felt the invitation of Jesus anew when we celebrated his Ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was particularly welcome. Lord, send us your Spirit and make us new, really, truly, actually new; invigorate us with hope, shock us with grace, fill us power from on high, that we might be witnesses.
Then, since June we have moved through Ordinary Time which, in 2020, has been anything but ordinary.
Now, with just three weeks until Advent, we start to feel the first palpable shift toward another change of season. Advent seems a little unnecessary this year, given how much waiting and yearning and hoping and looking has gone on since March. Yet, literally like clockwork, it is coming.
Did you feel the shift today? Yes, the Gospel is another parable about the Kingdom of God but it doesn’t feel as abstract, as “educational” as the others did.
Those who were ready went into the wedding feast with Him.
Then the door was locked.
Afterward, the others came and said, “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!”
But he said in reply, “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.”
Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
Stay awake. Be ready.
So many of Jesus’ parables set those who believe in God and follow him against those who have rejected him. We see this probably most famously in the story about the sheep and the goats and the weeds and the wheat. Those both end with someone going off to eternal fire.
But this parable is different: both sets of the girls have set off as part of bridal party. One set ends up being prepared for what they’ve set out for and the other set isn’t. The text tells us the difference between them: wisdom.
When we say that 5 of the girls were foolish, or “not wise”, we aren’t saying that they were dumb in the intellectual sense. There is something more than IQ involved in biblical wisdom. Wisdom in biblical terms is not measurable with scientific factors because it reflects a state of being, a worldview, a way of life and not just cognitive ability.
The proverbial “wise man on the mountain” isn’t up there because he’s good at the Rubik’s Cube and solving Sodoku puzzles. Think of all those movies and cartoons and fairy tales and stories when someone like the mysterious man on the mountain is consulted, or there must be a quest to a faraway land to visit some fountain of wisdom or to meet a famous sage who lives alone in the woods…why do we care so much about what podcasters and social media influencers have to say? What are we looking for from the man on the mountain?
Truth! A life of wisdom is ultimately a life given over to the endless search for what is true, and good, and beautiful. The wise man on the mountain is so mysterious but also so envied, so relatable because, at least in theory, he has found what we all are seeking: the Truth about life, about the world around us, about ourselves, about God.
But what makes wisdom so mysterious, almost intimidating? The wise man on the mountain is almost always alone; in his pursuit of true, he had to leave everything that wasn’t true or that wasn’t worthy of being associated with the truth behind.
The problem with the five foolish girls is not that they missed the bridegroom when he came; that was the consequence. The problem is that even though they knew that lighted lamps, carried in procession into the wedding feast once the groom arrives, was (and in many places, is) a standard practice of Jewish wedding celebrations, they did not come prepared. Maybe they figured they could get by with what something less than everything; maybe they took for granted the generosity of the other girls and thought they could mooch off of them. But in the moment, when it really mattered, they were unprepared…and that wasn’t the fault of the other girls, and it wasn’t the fault of the bridegroom.
This is the part of Christianity that is somewhat daunting. We are called to help each other, we are called to be generous, we are called to forgive and to promote the unity of all people, especially the lowliest among us; we are called to share a bit of the oil from our lamps. But this can’t go on forever. There will come the moment, whenever it happens to be, when there will be no more helping, no more lifting, no more generosity. The moment will come when we’ll stand face to face with God, alone; the judgment of my life, and heart, and soul, which I must endure on my own. Before entering the wedding feast, I must pass through the gauntlet of alone-ness, of one-on-oneness with God.
Wisdom. The pursuit of what is True, of Who is True, and as a part of this pursuit, the call to shed everything that is not of Him. The wise person is the one who, beginning in this life, moves through the gauntlet and sheds everything that is not holy, everything that is not true so that when the time does come, there will be nothing to worry about…there will only be joy.
It goes without saying that out of all of the weeks we’ve endured since March, this week was a particularly long one. And we have to come to the realization that regardless of who ultimately lives in the White House, the results of this election were going to be joyous for some and difficult for others. These are hard days.
We are living in a world where Christianity is treated like one moderately good philosophy among many others, and that if you want to be “religious” feel free, but do us all a favor and keep in your church and in your quiet prayers.
What is to be the Catholic approach what we are witnessing in the culture, in the society? You, “the laity, are called to sanctify the world…But to do this, it is not enough to modify a secular world with Christian values, to add Christian charity as a balm to ruthless economic systems, to lighten our social media existence with professions of faith…to influence political systems that de facto exclude the Gospel, and to otherwise modify the secular…We do not need more talk about how to be a Christian in the world, we need to talk about the Christian world.”
Christianity brings with it the wisdom we all are seeking. Christianity is the basket in which the Truth of all things is carried to the world. Catholicism is not one moderately good idea among many, but is a way of seeing, a way of living, a worldview with cosmic and eternal proportions.
And, I’m sorry to say, that subscribing to such a worldview in 2020 will not cost you any less than it cost Jesus 2000 years ago, namely: everything.
But, I’m delighted to say, that our faith tells us that subscribing to the Catholic worldview in 2020 will not gain for you any less than it gained for Jesus 2000 years ago, namely: everything. A hundredfold. Packed together, overflowing into your lap. Life, communion, acceptance of the deepest order, and the joy of being known, perfectly. Heaven. The wedding feast. The bridegroom. Everything. And there are those among us here who will vouch for the fact that this kind of joy, the reception of everything, can begin in this life.
How to start? As you receive communion today, Jesus will come so close to you. He desires this closeness. In that moment, ask him for the strength to carry out this challenge:
Everyday, for one week, I want you to live as if God were not a remote, outside influence on your life, but as if he were a partner, a friend. Talk to him throughout your day, tell him about how you’re doing. Ask him for help. Say hello to him. Just try it for one week. Write a note and stick it to your bathroom mirror, or your dashboard, or the fridge. “My God, my God, I believe you are my partner, my friend. I love you, and I trust in your loving care for me today.” Simple as that.
A life of wisdom is a life that searches for what is true, and then, once convinced, settles on it. Either the Catholic worldview is the true worldview or it isn’t. Lots of people outside say it isn’t; remember that just because those people say that in very convincing ways, in fancy videos on social media, or with great tact and grace….it doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because your newly woke child or grandchild is home from college with every answer to every question in the universe and thinks Thanksgiving dinner is the time to unleash on your odd, backward ways doesn’t mean you have to believe them.
“Resplendent and unfading is wisdom…and found by those who seek her. Whoever watches for her…shall not be disappointed.”