The Commemmoration of all the Faithful Departed

Today’s Gospel: Matthew 25:1-13 | Today’s feast

I think this Gospel reading is kind of weird to our modern ear. This whole notion of virgins with lamps speaks to us of very strange customs that have long since been forgotten. But we still have to get the message that Jesus speaks very clearly at the end of the passage: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The marriage customs of Jesus’ day were obviously very different from our own. In those days, a marriage would often be arranged, of course, by the elders of one’s family. Once that arrangement was made, the two would be “betrothed,” often at a rather early age. They were not yet married, but were certainly promised to one another. [As a side note, this is the situation that Mary and Joseph were in when the Angel Gabriel came to meet her.] After a suitable time, when the parties were old enough to marry, the father of the bride would meet with the groom and his father to arrange the marriage and provide the dowry. At the conclusion of these negotiations, there would be these virgins we hear of in the Gospel reading, acting sort of like our modern equivalent of bridesmaids, who would bring their lamps and light the way for the groom to the bride’s house.

So in the story we have today, the bridegroom is a bit delayed. This would often happen; negotiations would take longer than expected, or travel would be more difficult. Delays were common. But it was the job of the ten virgins to be ready whenever he came so that they could light the way for the celebration to begin. This was their only job. My question is this: if that was their only job, what is it that had the foolish five so distracted that they neglected to bring enough oil so that they would be ready when the bridegroom arrived?

As the Church, our bridegroom is Christ himself. We don’t know when he will come to meet us and take us to the great celebration of heaven. It is our only job to be ready whenever he comes so that we can join the great wedding feast. We must consider our spiritual lives to be of primary importance; we must bring enough oil to light our spiritual lamps so that we will be able to see the way that Christ marks out for us. That’s our only job. But there are so many distractions in our life, that maybe we might forget that at times. Remember, the whole point of the story is what Jesus says at the end of it: “Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

The truth is, death is the only way to eternal life. When we were baptized, we began the process of dying, a dying to life in this world which is really only a temporary home for us. It is necessary for us to eventually let go of life in this world in order to move on to life in the Kingdom of God, where we can join that great wedding feast. We don’t know – any of us – when we will be called to do that. But we must be ready for that great day, whenever it may come. Life in the Kingdom of God is not something we want to miss out on just because we were distracted and not ready when our bridegroom came out to meet us.

So every day of our life is a preparation for the greatest day of our lives, which is our death. In death, we move on to the great consolation of Christ and we are changed from a fragile, earthly body into a glorified form which was God’s will for us from the moment of our creation. The Third Eucharistic Prayer speaks of this glory that will be ours on that great day:

There we hope to share in your glory
when every tear will be wiped away.
On that day we shall see you, our God, as you are.
We shall become like you
and praise you forever through Christ our Lord…

Today we remember the souls of all the faithful departed; those souls who may have been more or less ready for the bridegroom, but who still are undergoing the period of purification that we call Purgatory. The Church has always encouraged us to pray for the dead as a holy and pious practice. Pope John Paul II said in his All Souls Day address in 2003:

“[The Church] invites believers to regard the mystery of death not as the ‘last word’ of human destiny but rather as a passage to eternal life. As we read in the Preface of today’s Mass: ‘When the body of our earthly dwelling lies in death we gain an everlasting dwelling place in heaven’. It is an important obligation to pray for the dead, because even if they have died in grace and in God’s friendship, they may still need final purification in order to enter the joy of Heaven.”

So today’s Liturgy calls us to do two things. First, we need to examine where we are on life’s journey. How prepared are we to meet the bridegroom? Have we gathered the necessary oil so that when Christ comes to meet us, we can light the way to the Heavenly Wedding Feast? Have we truly remained awake, since we know neither the day nor the hour? And second, we are called to pray for the faithful departed who are still on the journey in Purgatory. We are called to remember all those who have died in Christ’s friendship, that we might all enter into the glory of the Kingdom and experience that great day when every tear will be wiped away, and we are all made new .

May the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Amen.

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