The thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time: watch and wait, be prudent


An allegory of prudence, Simon Vouet (1590-1649) [image source]

Our readings today come from the Wisdom literature (Wisdom 6: 12ff.), which ask us to anticipate Holy Wisdom; from S. Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 4), which tells us that our anticipation is at an end, for Christ's second coming is imminent; and from the Gospel of S. Matthew (Matt. 25), which tells us to keep our lamps burning and, for goodness sake, don't forget to carry extra oil.

A key to understanding the parables of Christ is to recognise that the 'Kingdom of God' is nothing but his Church, built around S. Peter and the other Apostles, and that any 'feast' or 'banquet' is nothing but the Holy Mass, the common celebration we have with the heirarchies of Heaven and Catholics of all generations, past and present. So, as on the last few Sundays, Holy Church presents the picture of people being invited to the banquet, but found ultimately unworthy of such a calling and being thrust back out. Unworthy, because they have not kept their lamps burning, or have ignored the invitation, or have found other engagements and declined the invitation.

We are called as Christians, amid everything else, to anticipate a new event, a breaking-in upon human history. In the language of the Church, this anticipation means keeping free from sin and from the near-occasions of sin, and breaking away from the chains of habitual sin. This is what keeping your lamp burning means - persevering in holiness, in repentance for the sinful nature that is ours. We are, in the end, very like our ancestors in the faith, the Hebrew people and the nation of Israel. They too were a people constantly waiting and building their knowledge of God as they slowly moved from the devastation of the kingdoms of David and Solomon to the promise of the Messiah. Their Wisdom literature, built in this period, is ours, thanks to the gift of the Apostolic Church - see our first reading for today. This Wisdom and knowledge of God formed Our Lord himself, his Blessed Mother and the earliest of the Christian Church, who learnt it in their synagogues. We are moving from the visitation of Our Lord at the turning point of history to his second visitation, when he comes in glory. So, we may use the book of Wisdom along with the warnings of the Apostle S. Paul to the Thessalonians in the same spirit that the Jews had.

We are waiting, just as they were waiting. S. Paul's letters make it seem that Christ's second coming would happen within his lifetime. The Saints of the Church throughout our two-thousand-year history have behaved as if Christ's second coming would happen within their lifetimes. This is because they took Christ at his word: we are to be watchful and prudent, knowing not the day nor the hour. The warning is timeless, and a convenient one for the day we remember the dead of the two Wars. May they rest in peace.