I RECENTLY met with a group of other Catholic leaders and missionaries in Western Canada. During our first night of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, a couple of us were suddenly overcome with a deep sense of grief. The words came to my heart,
- The Holy Spirit is grieved over ingratitude for the wounds of Jesus.
Then a week or so later, a colleague of mine who was not present with us wrote saying,
For a few days I have had the sense that the Holy Spirit is brooding, like brooding over creation, as if we are at some turning point, or at the beginning of something big, some shift in the way the Lord is doing things. Like we now see through a glass darkly, but soon we will see more clearly. Almost a heavyness, like the Spirit has weight!
Perhaps this sense of change on the horizon is why I continue to hear in my heart the words, "Quickly! Fill your lamps!" It’s from the story of the ten virgins who go out to meet the bridegroom (Matt 25:1-13).
The ten virgins represent those who are baptized. Five of the virgins (whom Jesus calls "wise") bring oil for their lamps; the other five bring no oil, and thus are called "foolish." Christ warns us: to be baptized is not necessarily enough. It is not enough to say, "Lord, Lord…" Jesus says,
Only the one who does the will of my Father" will enter heaven (Matt 7:21).
James tells us, "What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?" (2:14) "Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." (Matt 25:40). Indeed, one who is baptized is born again. But if he does not respond to this Grace–if he returns to the deeds of darkness–he is like one who is stillborn.
Thus, the oil in the lamps is foremost L O V E.
But one might be tempted to despair at this moment: "What if I have spent my life in sinfulness, selfishness, and laziness? I have hardly any good works! Is it too late to fill my lamp?"
Jesus answers this in another parable where a landowner pays the same day’s wage to laborers who started at dawn, and to those who began working at the end of the day at 5 o’ clock. When the former complained, the landowner said, "Are you envious because I am generous?" (Matt 20:1-16)
The only time it is too late… is when it is too late: when your lungs have ceased filling and your heart has stopped pumping. Just before dying from crucifixion, the repentant thief was told by Christ, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Lk 23:43). In another parable, the tax collector who was "greedy, dishonest, and adulterous…went home justified" because of his confession: "O God, be merciful to me a sinner" (Lk 18:13). Salvation came to the house of Zacchaeus who simply caught the glance of Jesus (Lk 19:2-9). And the prodigal son was embraced by his father on the boy’s way to ask forgiveness (Lk 15:11-32).
FAITH—THE MAGNET OF MERCY
At the heart of each of these "last minute" conversions is faith–not good works.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8)
But it is equally clear that this faith moved each recipient to repentance; that is, they made a choice to leave behind their old life and pursue the moral life which following Christ implies. They were moved by love. Their lamps were filled to overflowing with the love which God had poured into them (Rom 5:5). And thus, because "love covers a multitude of sins" (1 Pt 4:8), they were truly saved.
The generosity of God’s mercy is breathtaking.
But so is His justice. These examples, I believe, refer more to pagans, and not the baptized. We who have heard the Gospels, who have the Sacraments at our fingertips, who have taste and seen that the Lord is good… what is our excuse?
You have lost the love you had at first… Remember then how you accepted and heard; keep it, and repent. If you are not watchful, I will come like a thief, and you will never know at what hour I will come upon you. (Rev 2:2:4, 3:3)
To us especially the words of James applies: "a person is justified by works and not by faith alone" (2:24).
I know your works; I know that you are neither cold nor hot… So, because you are lukewarm… I will spit you out of my mouth." (Rev. 3:15-16)
Faith without works is dead. (Ja 2:26)
Jesus follows this warning in Revelations saying, "For you say, "I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything" (3:17). In the parable of the virgins, it says they all fell asleep. Could this be, perhaps, the sleep that affluence and riches have brought upon the European and Western churches in particular? "Realize how far you have fallen!" (2:5)
In the parable of the virgins, midnight did not signify the immediate coming of Christ; there was still a short period of delay. I believe this may be the period which we are entering (however long that period lasts). What is clear, is that those "virgins" who prepared for the trial beforehand, were the ones who made it to the wedding feast.
Hear again the words of John Paul II:
Be not afraid! Open wide your hearts to Jesus Christ!
NOW is the time to get on our knees, to empty our hearts of all sin, and let them be filled again with the love of God–giving that love to our neighbour… that our lamps will not be found empty.
For the clock may be about to strike midnight.
Oh, that today you would hear his voice, ‘Harden not your hearts… (Heb 3:7)