Opening the Word: Stay awake

We too often walk through our lives half asleep. We forget to be grateful for the presence of our family. Each day seems just like the next in an endless cycle of tomorrows.

Our Church can fall into this sleepiness.

We sleepily celebrate the Eucharist, unaware that the Lord of life and death comes to be present among us each and every day.

We do not pray either alone or together because there are too many other things to do.

We ignore the poor, because who has the time or energy to feed the hungry, to bury the dead, to clothe the naked?

We tell ourselves we can always do those things tomorrow, when we have time. When the kids have left the house. When work isn’t so busy. When ...

“Stay awake and be ready! For you do not know on what day your Lord will come!” (Mt 24:42, 44).

As the liturgical year comes to close, we assume a posture of expectation. We wait with longing for the final coming of the Bridegroom.

As the Gospel of Matthew makes clear, we are the bridesmaids, waiting to accompany the Bridegroom to the wedding feast.

Some of us have brought lamps full of oil, prepared for the arrival of the Bridegroom at any moment. Others have brought empty lamps, perhaps wondering if the Bridegroom will ever come. Questioning if the Bridegroom is even real.

Both those who bring full lamps and those who carry no oil fall asleep (see Mt 25:5). It’s been a long time since the Bridegroom announced his first coming. But those with full lamps are ready when the Bridegroom comes. They jump up from their slumber. Trim their lamps. And accompany the Bridegroom to the wedding feast.

Those who have schlepped empty lamps along the way beg the prepared for just a bit of oil. But there’s not enough! They must run out and try to get some oil. But they’re too late. The door is locked. The foolish virgins hear only: “Amen, I say to you, I do not know you” (Mt 25:12). Our Lord commenting upon their foolishness exhorts the disciples to stay awake, for we do not know the hour.

Over the next several weeks, Our Lord will teach us how to assume this posture of wakefulness. How we can recognize him when he comes again.

But before we learn this, we have to rouse ourselves from our foolish slumber.

We have to take up lives of constant prayer — lives where we keep vigil before the Lord in our hearts.

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We have the wisdom of the Gospels, the wisdom of the Church’s sacraments, the wisdom of the spiritual treasury of prayer, the wisdom of the works of mercy.

This wisdom is the oil that fills our lamps. It is the wisdom that we should desire with all our hearts, crying out to God, “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God” (Ps 63:2).

Our lamps are also filled as we learn to hope in the final resurrection of the dead. For we are promised that all those who have fallen asleep in the Lord will be raised up, to be always with the Lord.

The wedding feast is not an abstract concept. It is the destiny of men and women to enter into the beatific vision — to gaze with wonder upon the love of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

This wedding feast is what we hope for. Stay awake. For we do not know when it starts.

But the wise know that it will start.

Be wise.

Timothy P. O’Malley, Ph.D., is the managing director of the McGrath Institute for Church Life.