A reflection on the Readings for Sunday, November 12 — The Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Every time we are going to start something—a new project, a rehearsal, a new chapter—it always requires of us that we prepare properly to be able to perform effectively. A new day of school requires us to do assigned readings, homework, and all that. If a violinist is going to give a concert, he needs to have practiced the scores, tuned the strings, and put resin on his bow. Within our spiritual journey we are about to conclude this liturgical year and, at the same time, we begin a new chapter, a new year, with the Advent season that is already approaching. For this reason, the Sunday readings have been leading us lately to a series of reflections that help us meditate on how we’ve done in our spiritual journey as we approach the end of our liturgical year. For example, a couple of weeks ago we heard in the Gospel of the day the two great commandments, to “love God and your neighbor as yourself.” Last week we heard the accusation that “they preach but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them.”

Today, the readings give us another angle to prepare for the new season, using two images: wisdom and oil. In a time when there is a lot of distraction, how can I prepare to begin this season of Advent, Christmas, and this new year? Wisdom and Oil.

The first reading presents us with an ode to wisdom, pointing out that God’s wisdom is available to everyone. It is not a wisdom that is obtained exclusively through one’s genes, nor can it be bought with money, nor obtained through some book, nor by taking some class at a university. On the contrary, it is a wisdom that people on the peripheries, people without resources, people without an academic formation, can attain. It is a wisdom that can come to us as we live life, but it is born from an encounter, from a relationship. This is an encounter primarily with God, but also with one’s neighbor. Why? Because it is as a result of this encounter that life comes to look different. Once you encounter God and your neighbor, their stories become incarnate; they already have a name and background. It is as a result of this encounter that people want to do things well; they are more careful in their actions and perhaps even develop prudence when acting.

This is a wisdom that helps us understand the will of God. The virgins of the Gospel themselves show wisdom in their preparation to receive the bridegroom, but in our modern times it is very easy to get distracted and forget of our own preparation. We live in a world where we are extremely busy with everything: work, making money, achieving goals…And all this distract us. As Christmas gets closer, the distractions will be gifts, trips, buying everything for the Christmas dinner, and so on. All of these responsibilities distract us from the things that really matter. Therefore, the wisdom that the readings describe to us is a deep, spiritual wisdom that shapes and guides our priorities.

The second image we find today is oil. Oil even in our times forms an important part of our lives. We find oil in the engines of our cars, in medicines, in our kitchen. It helps us prevent some doors from squeaking or slipping more easily. Oil works in heaters to warm our houses, it helps in the creation of electricity, and it is also a visible sign of several of our sacraments.

The message of today’s Gospel and the virgins’ oil, contrary to what we often think, is not about “I won’t let you borrow” or “everyone gets what they worked for.” This mentality is fragile, and it can go against our Catholic Social Teaching. Rather, the virgins’ problem is that they run out of oil. In today’s Gospel, all the virgins carried oil, but some ran out. Oil is like our spiritual life. We all have it, but we can damage or even end it due to carelessness. When we stop praying, when we stop spending time with God, when we forget about the acts of mercy, when we do not frequent the sacraments, when we do not put faith into practice, all this makes our oil run out. Once we get to that point, we cannot “borrow.” I cannot ask someone to let me borrow the grace he has, nor can I ask to borrow his spiritual life. Each of us is responsible for our own life, the relationship we form with God and with our neighbor.

Being prepared involves nurturing our relationship with God and our neighbors. It requires that we make an effort, one that is not easy, to live according to how we have been called to live, cultivating the virtues of faith, love, hope, forgiveness, and compassion.

As we listen to the readings this Sunday, let us consider the state of our spiritual preparation.

Image: A detail from “The Parable of the Ten Virgins” by Phoebe Traquair. From Wikimedia Commons.

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Father Bernardo Lara is a priest of the Diocese of San Diego and pastor of three Southern California parishes: Sacred Heart and St. Margaret Mary in Brawley and St. Joseph in Westmorland.

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