One ministry I do as a priest is help comfort people at the death of a loved one. I had to learn this over time, because helping people work through pain, suffering and death is difficult for me.
When I meet with the family for funeral preparations, we first pray and allow God’s presence to comfort us. Then, one of the questions I ask is: Did this person have any special prayers or devotions on their journey to God?
It is a joy for me to hear that many prayed before meals or were devoted to praying the Rosary or reading the Bible. I see many people in our parish communities visiting the graves of their loved ones, and hopefully sharing memories and praying that they enter into the fullness of heaven.
I have visited my grandparents’ graves with my parents to share memories and to pray for them. One memory my parents shared was that they would go to confession weekly, as well as take a weekly bath.
Times were more challenging 70 years ago, but in some ways, they were simpler and more focused on heavenly things. Another question I ask when preparing for a funeral is: Did this person have any words of wisdom that they often shared?
I know one phrase of wisdom my dad would share was, “Save your money.” Anytime we asked him if we could get a new bike, or new skateboard, or whatever, he would say, “Save your money.” We took that wise phrase of personal responsibility to heart.
Most of my siblings and I worked by delivering newspapers and baby-sitting, and we saved our money to buy things that were wholesome, as well as Christmas and birthday gifts for our brothers and sisters. As we grew older we began to save for college. This took discipline and the ability to say “No” to junk food, movies and video games.
My dad’s words of wisdom for higher goods in this life can be applied to the goal of eternal life, with a modification. Instead of saying, “Save your money,” he could have said, “Make sure to save your soul.” Actually, he said that through his actions. He made sure that we went to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of obligation. When one older brother came home from college and decided to sleep late on Sunday morning, my dad wisely said, “If you are staying under this roof, you go to Mass every weekend to thank God for his blessings.”
In today’s Gospel, we have five wise virgins and five foolish virgins. The five wise virgins saved plenty of oil in order to be prepared for the arrival of the bridegroom and enter the wedding banquet. The five foolish virgins did not save enough oil and had to go buy some in the middle of the night, consequently, they missed out on the wedding party, it was too late for them, the door had been locked.
The five wise virgins remind me of the wisdom of St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She passed on her wisdom to her religious sisters telling them that serving others is not enough, because you will burn out. Before serving others, you need to pray before the Lord, especially in the tabernacle. Meditate on God and open your mind and heart to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.
“The time you spend with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is the best time you will spend on earth. Each moment that you spend with Jesus will deepen your union with Him and make your soul everlastingly more glorious and beautiful in Heaven, and will help bring about everlasting peace on earth.” St. Mother Teresa (Aug. 26, 1910 – Sept. 5, 1997)
By serving God first and letting him serve you by giving you his love, then you can serve those in need and still have some love and energy leftover to welcome Jesus into your heart once again before retiring to sleep.
In today’s Gospel, the oil for the lamp is a symbol of our individual responsibility for being prayerful. We are called to unite ourselves to God and love him in the Sacraments by growing in the wisdom of our Catholic faith. Then when the Lord comes to bring us to our heavenly homeland – the eternal wedding banquet – we know we are prepared to meet him and all those who passed on their word and example of Christian wisdom to us.
It is good and replenishing to pray for our deceased loved ones who did their best at passing on their wisdom and their Christian example. They help us to be responsible for the most important thing in the world, saving our soul through Christ and his Church, so that we can help save souls by introducing Christ to others. May the Holy Oil received at our Baptism, and the Sacred Chrism received at our Confirmation, help us to wisely take that personal responsibility of individual prayer and study, and communal worship and service to heart. In this manner, we will enter into the eternal wedding banquet where our soul will be perfectly united to God in Jesus Christ. Amen.