May 25, 2019

Where is the Bride?

Parable of the Ten Virgins (Hieronymus Francken II)

Have you noticed? If it is not a deranged man massacring innocent people at a concert or at a Sunday religious service, it is the real possibility of a global war breaking out at any moment, or the threat of another terrorist attack. There seems to be some intense, unspecified uncertainty added to our average uncertainty about life in general.

Hence, due also to the anxiety harbored, ominously still, in the back of our mind, we flock to our parishes every Saturday evening or Sunday to be a bit closer to our Lord. We long to be here to ease some of our restlessness, to keep our anxiety from turning into panic, to calm our fears, to quell the ugly brew of our disgust/anger/cynicism with the way quite a few things are going in this world. Here, we believe that we are in the Lord’s House. Here, we perceive him more clearly speaking to us through the readings. Here, we even find ourselves able to see him somewhat distinctly at least in a few of our brothers and sisters. For a little while, we also become paradoxically one with him physically through Holy Communion. And we love all that; we need all that. Oh boy, do we need all that! I mean the peace, the reassurance, the serenity of his closeness.

So, today we welcome in a particular way the words of St. Paul: Thus we shall always be with the Lord. (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18) Surprisingly, we sense that we are truly with him, in some precious moments, even now. Truly!

These and similar words have been spoken to us countless times before, but now they produce a calming effect due, undoubtedly, to a degree of wisdom given us from above. But the very same words remain empty and hollow in the mind of the foolish, because they do not feel the presence of the Lord and they cannot take comfort in his closeness. Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her. (cf. Wisdom 6:12) Let us never forget that whenever the wise experience fear, anxiety and restlessness they tend to seek her. And she hastens to make herself known in anticipation of their desire. (ibid. v.13)

Even a superficial familiarity with the Gospel would tell us that the wisdom described here is quite different from the wisdom of this world. So much so that each accuses the other of being foolishness, of being insanity. Basically the world’s wisdom directs us to consider ourselves as the center and to use (or even abuse?) and sacrifice everything and everyone to our self-interest. The world’s wisdom scoffs at the thought that God is a caring Father; therefore it urges us to take control of our lives and rely only on what we can get ourselves independently of him. In contrast, the Lord’s wisdom leads us to find joy and fulfillment in placing others ahead of ourselves, and their well-being before our own.

Wisdom from above also challenges us to believe that serenity and peace of mind depend exclusively on our ability to surrender unconditionally our life, destiny, future, aspirations, everything unto the Lord. And whoever for her sake keeps vigil shall quickly be free from care. (ibid. v. 15)

What a wonderful possibility: to be carefree because we keep vigil for our Lord and we have surrendered our very life over to him, placing our future into his strong yet gentle hands!

The passage from the Gospel of Matthew (25:1-13) speaks of ten virgins, ten friends of the Groom. All ten of them intend to keep vigil for him, but in their human frailty they all fall asleep. Hence, the difference between disgrace and a joyous celebration seems to rest on wisdom vis-a-vis foolishness. Wisdom provides half of them with a good supply of oil for their lamps. Wisdom provides half of them with a contingency plan that would come handy whenever human frailty kicks in.

What the Lord tells us is the story of a most unconventional wedding. It is about him, the divine Groom delaying his arrival; then, as the story goes on, there are ten bridesmaids—but no bride. Perhaps the key to solving this puzzle lies in the harsh, chilling words of the Groom from inside, once the door is locked.

“Amen I say to you, I do not know you!” In the Bible, to “know someone” means to be intimate with someone, to become one with someone, as a groom is intimate and becomes one with his bride in the marital embrace. Those who rely on the wisdom of this world, those who are foolish in God’s eyes, who never keep vigil for his wisdom, those who have little oil for their lamps, find the door locked and are unknown to the Lord due to their unwise choices.

Our Lord God is love and he lets into his intimacy only those who have a sufficient supply of love. Love can be known and become one only with love. Perfect, infinite love takes over and unites itself with our frail, imperfect human way of loving and caring for each other.

But, where is the bride? The image of a bride remains hazy, vague, because she is in the process of being identified. And, as the image of a bride gets into focus, we realize that we are chosen to be the Lord’s bride if we keep vigil for his wisdom and, in his wisdom, we replace our anxiety, our fears, our restlessness with the serenity of handing control of our lives over to him. Thus, with peace of mind, with a serene spirit, with a stilled heart we can dedicate ourselves to preparing our contingency plan. We can busy ourselves building up a good supply of oil. It is the oil of loving each other, and of caring for each other, and of looking after each other with joyous dedication. Nothing of what might happen to us: no tragedy, no turmoil; no cataclysm could rob us of our peace of mind, and spoil our joy.

Today’s celebration of the Eucharist reassures us that we are indeed getting closer and closer to the wedding feast. But in the wisdom we sought, we believe that we can count on a good supply of love. We also believe that the Lord will make up for what is lacking due to our human frailty. And we believe that, no matter what happens, we shall always be with the Lord.

Therefore, let us console one another with these words. (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:18)

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Written by
Fr Dino Vanin

REVEREND DINO VANIN, PIME was born in Cendon di Silea, Province of Treviso, Italy in 1946. He entered the PIME Seminary at Treviso at the tender age of eleven. He came to the U.S. in 1968, studying Theology at Darlington Major Seminary in New Jersey. He has an MA in Secondary School Administration from Seton Hall University. Ordained in 1972, he served as an administrator, teacher, rector and principal at the PIME High School Seminary in Newark, Ohio before being sent to the missions of Thailand, where he served for six years. He is currently the Treasurer of the U.S. Region of PIME in Detroit. On December 16, 2018 he was installed as Pastor of San Francesco Catholic Church in Clinton Township, MI. Every week he takes some time off from his parish ministry to do some administrative work at PIME headquarters in Detroit. Due to his increased workload at the parish while continuing as Treasurer of the U. S. Region of PIME and as counselor and spiritual director, he spends any time left doing a little woodworking.

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Written by Fr Dino Vanin