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The Catholic Moment: Foolish virgin foster child

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October 21, 2011

By Jeanne Hunt

If anyone should be nominated for the Foolish Virgins Society poster child, I’m your woman. I have run out of oil so many times, it’s not funny. It comes from convincing myself that I have more oil than I really do.


As the story goes: Half the girls waiting for the bridegroom to arrive at the wedding missed him because they ran out of lamp oil, and while they were at Wal-Mart buying kerosene, the party began without them. As usual, Jesus is talking around the issue just to be polite. He is warning us that we must know our limitations and keep enough time, money, energy, resources to be ready for Jesus Christ and His kingdom. It is all about anticipation. It is an important ingredient to keeping up with God.


In the words of St John the Baptizer, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” During the season of Advent, this means getting everything ready to meet Jesus Christ. You see, anticipating the presents, the tree, the cheese balls and the Yule log is just fine. But that is not enough oil to get us to the encounter with the very divine and very human Jesus Christ. In fact, if we spend all of our energy on the world’s version of Christmas, we will have nothing left for God’s party.


What is required is that we take a step back and look at these days before Christmas as the guest of honor sees them. What I have noticed is that we exhaust ourselves in the preparation for the feast and, when that holy night actually gets here, we have run out of energy, interest and spirit for the birthday of the King. The world has been playing Christmas carols since Thanksgiving.  People have their gift bought and wrapped by Halloween. Ounce by ounce the oil in our spirits is being drained.


What Advent is about is hunkering down in the quiet of winter and filling these waiting days with good oil. Those virgins come to teach us the way to get ready. The oil represents grace to me. It is that unknown quantity that we are suppose to be full of, just like the wisest of all virgins, Mother Mary. Grace is our relationship with the Divine One. We are keeping Advent in order to restock our oil jug.


So, just how do we do this? The wise ones set aside time every day for a good conversation with the Divine One — a walk in the winter air, a visit to the parish Eucharistic Adoration time, etc… The foolish ones work all day, eat supper at the fast food spot and shop until they drop. The wise ones cut down on their gift giving, buying less but making each gift have a special meaning (Grandma’s necklace to a beloved niece, a night out with free babysitting for a struggling young couple).


Those foolish girls are using their plastic cards to spend too much and give piles of presents to people who have too much and need nothing. The wise crowd is waiting for the 25th as the beginning of the feast. During the 12 days of Christmas they will listen to carols for the first time, attend parties and concerts, and share the Nativity with their parish family at the Masses throughout the octave of Christmas. Meanwhile, the foolish gang has been listening to Bing sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” since mid November, have the calendar days before Dec. 25 full of parties, suppers, visits with Santa, and they plan to have the Christmas tree out for the garbage men on Dec. 26.


Wise vs. foolish is a constant battle for most of us. It seems that the society in which we live encourages us to live on the edge and spend all our resources immediately. This foolish woman is trying to join the wise girls. The pay off is a return to the wonder and mystery of the incarnation. If oil is symbol for grace and grace is a word for knowing God, perhaps the greatest gift of these holy days is a big jug of oil because “soon and very soon we are goin’ to see the King.”


Hunt is the evangelization and catechetical advisor for Franciscan Communications/St. Anthony Messenger Press.


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