This is an important time of the football season, especially for those high school teams making the playoffs. Different coaches and teams have their own strategies for preparing for the games and psyching themselves up. One undefeated high school football team had its own unique approach. It was to play another undefeated team for the league championship on a Friday evening. Late Friday afternoon, after the players dressed in their pads and uniforms, they went to the gym, which was completely empty and dark, and lay down on their backs, staring at the unlit ceiling; in the darkness, each player imagined or visualized the upcoming game, and how he was going to help the team win it. Then, after a few minutes, one of the coaches quietly announced it was time for the bus ride to the stadium, so the players silently grabbed their helmets and shoes and ran outside. All the visualizing must have helped, because the team was psychologically ready to play; the players were at their very best, and won quite easily by a score of 41-6.
When the new champions returned to their school’s locker room, the scene was one of total bedlam and celebration. One of the team’s seniors, a player named Steve, wanted to savor the victory in silence, so he decided to return to the darkened gym and replay the game over in his mind. He thought he was alone in the gym, but discovered he wasn’t; there was another player named Tim, like Steve a senior—but unlike him, a little-used second-string player—lying on the floor in his uniform. When Steve gently nudged him, Tim jumped up and shouted, “OK, let’s get on that bus and go win the game!” Tim had fallen asleep several hours earlier, and thus missed the most important game of his life (Emphasis, Nov.-Dec. 1993, p. 17). There are many things we might miss out on if we’re not ready, and the most important of these is eternal life in God’s Kingdom. The Lord offers us an incredible opportunity, but it’s our responsibility to be ready to accept it.
The Scriptures remind us that while God is very generous in giving us His blessings, these gifts don’t come automatically; some effort on our part is required to receive them. In Wisdom (6:12-16), we are reminded that those who seek wisdom, or a sense of God’s presence, will find it. God’s love is all around us, but many people are too busy or uncaring to notice. Like Tim, they’ve fallen asleep, though in a spiritual sense, and thus risk being unprepared for the most important moment of their lives: their encounter with God. This might occur during Christ’s return at the end of the world, or otherwise at the time of their own deaths. Jesus stresses the need to be ready for this moment. His parable in the Gospel of Matthew (25:1-13) describes a rather common situation of that era; the bridegroom often delayed his coming to the wedding and the accompanying celebration. Sometimes this was a last-minute negotiating ploy, in which the groom hoped to receive an even larger dowry from the bride’s family; on other occasions it might be more in the nature of a practical joke, in which the groom tried to make the bridesmaids neglect their duties by nodding off and falling asleep before he appeared. Our Lord’s hearers would have understood His message very clearly: just as the bridesmaids must be ready for the groom’s arrival, even though they didn’t know exactly when it might occur, so we must be prepared for our encounter with God. We do not know when this moment will come, but only that it will eventually arrive—and that we’ll be greatly rewarded if we’re ready.
Life is both a gift and a responsibility, and we’ll be held accountable for the use we make of it. Are we ready for this judgment? How good a job are we doing in using God’s blessings? One author wrote that there are mothers who plan to enjoy their daughters more, but keep putting it off; there are fathers who intend to get to know their sons better, but something always comes up; there are married couples who want to spend more time with each other and strengthen their marriage bond, but never quite find the time (Richard Evans, quoted in Link, Illustrated Sunday Homilies, Year A, Series II, p. 120). As Jesus says in the Gospel, we can’t keep putting off important things, as did the foolish bridesmaids who neglected to buy sufficient oil in a timely way. In regard to the values and priorities that really count, we must make time now. This applies not only to getting to know our family members and expressing our love for them, but also appreciating all the important people in our lives. It also involves doing good deeds or favors as soon as the opportunity arises, instead of merely telling ourselves we’ll try to do something extra next time. Most importantly, being ready means deepening our relationship with God every day, rather than waiting for a more convenient time in the future, or postponing religious practices until we’re not so busy. If that’s our approach, we’ll probably discover that the perfect time never comes; either we’ll be busy with something else, or we’ll forget our original good intentions, or we’ll decide we don’t feel like it because we’ve become lazy or indifferent—and the opportunity to become truly spiritually alive will be wasted. When it comes to important things, we’re not supposed to wait for the right time; we’re supposed to choose to make the right time.
Somewhere there’s a man named Tim who, whenever he attends a high school reunion or get-together with his former teammates, is probably teased and kidded about the time he slept through the big game. That’s embarrassing and unfortunate, but in terms of what really matters, not all that significant. A true tragedy and waste occurs whenever people sleep through life and die without having made their peace with God. As Jesus says, “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.” God’s Kingdom is all around us, but if we don’t look, we’ll never see it, and if we don’t prepare, we’ll never enter into it. Let us pray that we, and all other people, will take Christ’s warning seriously, and thus be ready for our Master’s coming.
REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.