30 Aug 2019

Visitation of St Mary MacKillop Rockdale City, St Gabriel Bexley and St Francis Xavier Arncliffe

St. Francis Xavier’s Church, Arncliffe

More than a little OTT – over the top – wouldn’t you say? Five bridesmaids forget to bring extra oil for their lamps, which given that the bridegroom came late to the reception and the girls were presumably not professional bridesmaids, seems a simple and forgivable oversight (Mt 25:1-13). Yet, rather than help them, the other bridesmaids send them away. As a result the five ‘foolish virgins’, as they’ve come to be known, were excluded from the wedding banquet of heaven altogether, while the ‘prudent virgins’ were able to enjoy all the fun! Harsh justice you might say.

Of course, what our story is really about it the boy scouts’ motto “Be prepared”. Jesus isn’t literally describing how He’ll judge people on the last day: rather, He’s underlining in the strongest possible terms the need for us to be vigilant, ‘watching and waiting’ for that day. In our epistle Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to avoid promiscuity and exploitation and live ‘holy and honourable’ lives (1 Thes 4:1-8). Both readings warn to us about complacency, about taking it easy because we know we can rely on the Holy Spirit’s grace, about the sin of presumption.

In the parable the foolish bridesmaids are obviously guilty of this: not only don’t they bring the wherewithal to do their job properly, they go to sleep on the job rather than fixing the problem quick-smart once they realize the groom will be arriving late, and then they are AWOL when they’re needed. Complacent, almost smug, they think they’ve ticked the box on doing all they need to do to get into heaven. The Thessalonians, too, have made some progress in the Christian life but are now resting on their laurels or even falling back into their pagan ways, forgetting what Paul has taught them from Jesus. They were called to be holy, blameless, honourable and that’s not something you achieve like a once-off try in football: you have to keep in the league, keep practising, keep playing, keep scoring, all the way to heaven – no backsliding, no taking it easy after an initial victory.

More than that, holiness is the defining mark of God Himself (cf. Ex 15:11; Lev 19:3; 1Sam 2:2; Ps 99:1-2; Isa 6:1-8; 57:15; Rev 4:9-11): He is unique, other, perfect, pure. To sanctify or make holy is to separate out from the everyday and consecrate to a sacred purpose. And Jesus has sanctified us, set us apart by faith and Baptism, to be a chosen people, a royal priesthood, His own possession, gracing us to be like His Holy Father, like His Holy Self, compassionate and perfect. That process of perfecting us isn’t all-at-once: it takes a life-time (and, with purgatory, a little while after death). And so Paul tells the Thessalonians that they should be constantly working on themselves, ‘making more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live’, that is, a life in Christ Jesus. If we are to be wedding guests, indeed attendants at the marriage feast of heaven, if the Church is to be the very Bride of Christ, there can be no taking for granted, no complacency or backsliding.

Like the bridesmaids in the parable, then, simply entering the house that is the Church – converting, turning away from evil and towards God, receiving Baptism – is essential but isn’t enough. More is needed if we are to become wise bridesmaids, if we are to be perfected as disciples. We must be wary of thinking that just because we’re Christians we’re fine, or we’ll find our lamps of charity running empty: both love of God and love of humanity run dry and our Christianity becomes little more than a label, an empty shell.

Which is, of course, precisely why we have the domestic church that is our families with the modelling of our Dads, and why we have St Francis Xavier Arncliffe, St Mary MacKillop Rockdale City, St Gabriel Bexley and other parishes, churches and ministries of the Church: to be vigilant to hearing the Lord coming in the Word of God proclaimed and preached and taught, again and again challenging and encouraging us; to be watching for His coming again, in the sacraments of grace, graces suited to our particular situation in life; to be formed for service in the domestic church and according to the model of our parents; and to be sanctified through ministries of outreach and service, by which we trim our lamps and show forth the light to those who need it. In the words of St. Augustine reflecting on our Gospel parable: “Watch with the heart, watch with faith, watch with hope, watch with charity, watch with good works…; make ready the lamps, make sure they do not go out…; renew them with the inner oil of an upright conscience: then shall the Bridegroom enfold you in the embrace of His love and bring you into His banquet room, where your lamp can never be extinguished.”[1]


Visitation of St Mary MacKillop Rockdale City, St Gabriel Bexley and St Francis Xavier Arncliffe

St. Francis Xavier’s Church, Arncliffe

Welcome to this morning’s Mass as I continue my canonical visitation of the communities of St Mary MacKillop Rockdale City and St Gabriel’s Bexley and here at St Francis Xavier Arncliffe. Over these days I am encountering the leaders, staff, children and parents of our three primary schools and Marist College Kogarah, offering Mass in the three churches, and meeting the clergy, ministry leaders, pastoral staff and parishioners of the three parishes, including visiting the sick. I hope to learn from you all about the gifts and challenges, opportunities and hopes you have for your Church. I thank Fr Yacub, Fr Frank and all the parishioners for the welcome I have received.

A special welcome to any Fathers of our primary school children as we approach Fathers’ Day. To everyone present this morning a very warm welcome!

[1] St. Augustine, Sermons, 93