One of the big challenges that many parents have told me about regarding working from home during the pandemic is that, if they have small children, they are constantly being interrupted by the children and can’t focus on their work. One mother who has five kids from 6 to 16 years old told me that there is not a quiet place in her house. I got a little taste of this a few weeks ago when I did an overnight at my sister’s house. She has 2 children ages 13 and 8. It was about 6:15 a.m. when my 8 year old nephew came in to “see what I was doing.” I was sleeping. I went downstairs to make some coffee and do my prayers, but I couldn’t find 5 minutes of quiet before my nephew wanted to show me something or ask me a question. The other day a father was sharing with me his struggle dealing with this tension between being an attentive father – a father that was available for his children when they needed him – and getting his work done. What really bothered him was that he wants to be a kind and compassionate and loving father but finds himself getting more frustrated and angry with each interruption. He knows the right thing to do and the right way to respond, but doing it the problem. He said, “with the first daughter who comes in while I’m working, my response is loving; when the 2nd daughter interrupts, I respond kindly by the strength of my will but inside I’m frustrated; when the 3rd daughter comes in, I’ve just about lost it and respond in a way that is harsh and that I regret. The third daughter doesn’t know that she is the third to interrupt. She just sees an angry daddy. I don’t want to be like that.” Part of this tension arises from the false notion that if I take time for myself – if I don’t respond to the needs of those around me right away – if I’m not always available, I’m being selfish and self-centered, and that is a moral failing. Isn’t being like Christ all about self-sacrifice and giving of myself – losing myself for his sake? Yes, but we forget that being a Christian is not about imitating Christ – following the Jesus instruction manual. Jesus could give of himself because he was constantly receiving love from the Father. He was constantly being generated by the Father. His self-awareness consisted of being Son of the Father. It is the same with us. Our charity comes from our union with Christ. I cannot give what I first do not receive. Emptying ourselves of ourselves allows us to receive love – to receive Jesus.
St. Paul explains it this way, “I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me.” What is striking in today’s Gospel parable is that the wise virgins do not share the oil that they have. It seems uncharitable. It seems selfish and harsh. The foolish virgins who did not bring their own oil are left out of the wedding feast because they have to go and buy their own and are not there when the bridegroom comes. Could they have been “saved” if the wise ones helped out the foolish ones? This misses the point. They don’t give the oil to the ones who did not bring their own because, as the wise explain, “there may not be enough for us and you.” To understand the parable, we have to understand the role of the young maidens in the marriage customs of First-Century Palestine. During the period of betrothal, the bride would still be living with her parents. This would often last a year. When the married couple were ready to move into their new home, the bridegroom would meet the bride at the parents’ home and escort her in a celebratory procession to the new home in which a great banquet was prepared. The procession began after sunset and was guided by maidens bearing torches to light the way.
The wise virgins are concerned that if they share their oil, everyone’s torch might go out before they arrive at the new home. They would not be able to fulfill their mission to accompany the bridegroom and his bride all the way to their new home. If we give of ourselves without a consciousness of our relationship with the Bridegroom, we burn ourselves out and are unable to complete our mission. This is a parable about being prepared for the coming of Christ. We prepare for death and our judgment before Christ that allows us to enter the heavenly wedding banquet by living and doing everything with a consciousness of our relationship with the Bridegroom. All the virgins fall asleep – (falling asleep is a metaphor for death) but only the wise ones are prepared to meet the bridegroom.
How do we form that consciousness of our relationship with Christ? How do we grow in wisdom? The Book of Wisdom says, “she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her.” But also, “she (referring to Wisdom) hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire…she seeks those worthy of her, and graciously appears to them in the ways and meets them with all solicitude.” Christ is right at our “gate” if our eyes are awake to see him. Our eyes are opened by paying attention to the desire in our heart – a desire we did not give ourselves. What is it that we long for? What answers the thirst in our heart? The psalm tells us: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” If we are not attuned to the question in our heart, we will not recognize Christ as the answer. This is where prayer is so important. Prayer is where we raise our mind and our heart to God. Prayer is where we share what is going on in our heart and open our heart to God. It is in prayer where I become ever more conscious of my relationship with Christ and begin to see everything in relationship to him. It is in prayer where I open myself and empty myself to God’s will and receive from him. By recognizing Christ’s presence, I am moved to respond, not with my will, but with that of God’s. Taking the time to pray is not being selfish but becomes the fuel that allows the light of Christ to shine in me and through me. Taking time to pray – spending time with the one who loves me does not make me more self-centered but more charitable – in fact, more open to recognizing Christ in the interruption. Prayer is not an escape from reality but what allows me to face all of reality and not get crushed, because I know that I am not facing it alone. As one of the spiritual directors in the seminary would tell us, “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy.” Make time to pray. Not only will we become prepared for the final judgement but it saves us from burn out. Prayer keeps the flame of faith lit and gives us what we need to give when the unexpected comes. A prayer life is not something we can give another person or something we can “buy” at the last moment because it is about a relationship. Make time for God. If we do, we will work better, be a better spouse and parent, and a better priest. Prayer is not simply how I prepare a homily, but how God prepares me to fulfill my mission to shine the light on the Bridegroom who has come to meet his bride, the Church.