Jesus tells us a story today about 10 girls: five wise and five foolish. It’s the famous parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids. I refer to them as “girls” not to be dismissive of them, but rather because that’s what they are. Don’t picture in your mind the last wedding you attended with a bridal party made up of young women, some married, others in the their mid to late twenties, all in evening gowns.
In the first century the position of bridesmaid was coveted by families as a means of putting their adolescent daughters on the marriage market; and remembering that women married much younger at that time, we are talking about girls as young as twelve. So, this is a group of teenagers that Jesus is having us imagine; and he’s drawing a comparison between teenage girls and, well, all of us. So, we’re all kind of like teenage girls: not fully mature, naïve about a lot of things, inexperienced, maybe clever, but not terribly knowledgeable about the world.
As human beings, despite great intelligence relative to all other life on Earth, we don’t have the mental capacity to understand everything, we can’t share God’s perspective; and in our little corner of the universe, our experience collectively, let alone individually, is not that great. So, while some of us here are well into middle-age, and some beyond it; in the great scheme of things, we’re, at best, the teenagers of God’s creation.
But let’s get back to the girls, and consider what is it that makes a fifteen-year-old girl wise, and what makes a teenager foolish.
And let’s be clear, I’m not talking about intelligence; not how “smart” a kid is. That is inborn. Intelligence, as most psychologists and psychometrists will tell you, is pretty fixed. It’s very difficult to make someone more intelligent; sadly, I think you can make people more stupid.
Wisdom is something else. You and I can always grow in wisdom; because wisdom is something that can be learned regardless of IQ. Why is that? Well, wisdom is rooted in virtue, not knowledge per se. You don’t need to understand gravity to know it’s wise to have someone hold the ladder while you climb to the roof; you don’t need to know how to calculate the speed at which you will fall if you are wise enough to wear a safety line while your up there fixing the shingles. Indeed, very intelligent people are known to do very foolish things; while folks of average intelligence get along quite well with good old common sense and time-tested wisdom.
So, while there are on occasion children wise beyond their years, most children and teens who seem wise are only that way because they were taught wisdom. They learned it from parents, from grandparents, from adults charged with their formation, teachers, catechists, priests. It is the job of parents, and others serving in parentis, in the place of parents, to do this work. And in this we remember who our spiritual parents are: our Father in heaven, our Mother the Church; and both provide for us that great lesson in humanity, that instruction in the divine, Jesus. Through the whole of our lives, we are taught.
God the Father sends Jesus the Son as a living example of what it is to live virtuously, righteously, to live for others, and so find one’s life in that service to family, friend and stranger. In flesh and blood, Jesus is the incarnation of Divine Wisdom.
Holy Mother Church, through the sacraments, gives us real contact with the source of life, nourishing food, the Eucharist, that is the very substance of God; and by the teaching of the Apostles, carried down generation to generation, in our tradition, our scripture, we have access to the words of our Lord, His teaching, His wisdom so that we can learn it. In Word and Sacrament, Divine Wisdom continues to be incarnate in the World.
This weekend we are celebrating first communions with the children of the parish. Before the interruption of our community life by COVID-19, I was able to visit with these children who were preparing for this.
I may have flirted with sacrilege when I spoke about the Eucharistic host, the one we receive in communion, and compared it to a hockey puck. Well, they’re both round.
I said to them, “if I showed you a hockey puck, and said, ‘this is hockey’ what would you say?”
And rightly the kids said no, a hockey puck isn’t hockey. Hockey is a game, you need players, and referees, an ice rink, goalposts, hockey sticks, skates, helmets; you need teams and coaches, that is, people to teach you how to play the game, explain the rules. Now, you don’t need fans in the stands, but that would be nice. That’s hockey.
But if you don’t have a puck, all that other stuff is for nothing.
This eucharistic host is invaluable to our lives. It is the substance of God given to us for our food, but it also stands for, and makes concrete, the fact of our need of God, in this sacrament but also in His Word; as the Real Presence of Jesus among us, the host nonetheless does symbolize the fact that this is something the world cannot give you: true wisdom, true life.
Without God’s wisdom, you surely can go through life but without any sense of its purpose, no idea of the rules. So, when the penalties start to pile up, or you find yourself benched, don’t you wish you’d paid attention to the coach, gone to practice, and when in the game, you played well?
Getting back to the girls with their lamps waiting for the bridegroom to come in the night to start the wedding feast. They had an important job to do, that is plain in Jesus’ parable. In an age when there was no street lighting, no GPS to guide you to the right address, they had the job of listening and watching in the deep darkness of night for someone who had set out on foot from a distant village, to walk the road to the town where he would find his bride and get married. They were to be like a lighthouse, a beacon, a signal, “Here we are! You’re not lost, you haven’t walked past us in the night!”
That’s a serious job. Not frivolous at all; something more than most bridesmaids today are asked to do.
The silly girls didn’t appreciate this. They fell to talking and giggling, and weren’t mindful of what they were asked to do, a little too caught up in how pretty they all looked on this special day, even though it wasn’t “their day”; the wise bridesmaids, I’m sure were excited too, but they also knew they had a job, an important one at that. It was to look beautiful, to be sure, to make special that wedding feast, but also to be a light in the darkness for the guests coming in the night.
So all of us here are expected to beautify our souls by faithfulness in prayer and good works; to be attentive to God’s wisdom so as to know how best to be faithful, make sure we have enough oil for our lamps—to know the rules of the game so as to not let down the team, the coach, nor the fans in the stands. And those fans? Why they are our faithful departed, those we remember through this month of November. Never forget their presence: as we pray today, as we off the Mass as a community of faithful here on earth; the pray with us as they stand in God’s presence, and they cheer us on to victory in life.
Now life is not a game; it can be a lot rougher than hockey, and the rules and the penalties a lot harder; but God gives us his guidance, his wisdom, and himself to us so that life can be something far better than any game, and when finished, more joyously celebrated than any win on the ice; something worthy of a great feast, a banquet that gathers in our faithful family and friends, including those who’ve gone before, for an eternity of joy.