5/73.1 Christ is the bridegroom who is coming.
In Sunday's Gospel, Jesus makes reference to social customs with which his listeners were perfectly familiar. This is why the Lord does not spend time on general explanations. Among the Jews, for example, it was common practice for women to be given in marriage at a very young age ... It was then the custom to celebrate the betrothal. After this first stage of the marriage the woman, who was quite often still an adolescent, would continue to reside with her parents for some further time. Then, after some months, say, had passed, the wedding ceremony itself would take place. It consisted of the solemn transfer of the betrothed from her parents’ house to the residence of her spouse, to their new home, in order to initiate their life in common as husband and wife. This ceremony was frequently celebrated in the late afternoon. Such was the case of the wedding feast in Our Lord’s parable.
The transfer of the betrothed from her parents’ home to her new abode always took on a specific character of solemnity, and would be conducted in a festive mood that in small villages would spread and reach out to all of its inhabitants. An entourage would then be organized to accompany the betrothed during the transfer. This escort was usually composed of the bride’s friends. The transfer itself would begin the moment the spouse arrived to fetch his beloved. Upon arrival at her new house, those who had just escorted the betrothed couple would join the other invited guests in the bridegroom’s house, and the festivities of the wedding would immediately commence once the gates had been shut.
Sunday's parable concerns a bridegroom who happens to arrive unexpectedly in the middle of the night. The question is whether the escorting bridal party is ready to receive him. The bridegroom is Christ. He will come again in some future time. The virgins represent mankind. Some are vigilant while others have been careless. The time of waiting is a symbol of our life on earth. The arrival of the bridegroom and the wedding celebration signify the inauguration of the state of eternal bliss in the company of Christ. The parable brings to our mind that fateful moment when God calls each and every soul to himself. This is the moment of death. Following God’s judgment, some souls enter fully into God’s presence while others find themselves excluded from the wedding feast forever. The Old Testament teaches us about death: If a tree falls to the south or to the north, in the place where the tree falls, there it will lie. At the time of death, the state of the soul is fixed for all eternity.
The ten virgins of the parable were entrusted with a serious responsibility. They were to await the coming of the bridegroom, who was expected at any moment. Five of the virgins took their assignment seriously. They did everything possible to be on guard: The wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. The other five virgins were foolish: They took no oil with them. They became caught up in other concerns and neglected their primary duty of welcoming the bridegroom. We cannot forget that God is our ultimate end. Everything else is of secondary importance, whether it be success, fame, poverty or wealth, health or sickness ... These temporal concerns can be beneficial to us – but only if they help us to keep our lamps burning. We need to maintain a good supply of oil, of good works, especially works of charity.
Let us remember to keep our eyes fixed on the Lord and not become distracted by things of secondary importance. St Josemaria Escrivá had the habit of saying, There are things we fail to remember, not because we have short memories but because we are short of love. We have to be careful not to fall into carelessness and lukewarmness in our spiritual life. We cannot allow ourselves to become attached to the things of this world to the detriment of the things of God. When we arrive in the presence of God He will ask us two questions: if we are members of the Church and if we have laboured for the Church. Everything else is of little value, whether we have been rich or poor, famous or unknown, highly thought of or disgraced, whether we have been sick or healthy, whether we have a good or bad name. Let us examine the motivations for our conduct. Do we seek the Lord in what we do, or do we seek ourselves? If Christ were to call us to himself today, would he find us vigilant, our lives replete with good works?