Remembrance and Recollection
Thirty-second Sunday of the Year. Fr David Rocks considers the example of the wise virgins.
The whole business of remembrance is in the air at this time of year. Traditionally, it is linked this weekend to the end of the horrors of the ‘Great War’, when a time of great tribulation gave way to a sombre peacefulness, opening a path for reconciliation. The Church devotes the whole month of November to remembering those who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith. In so doing, we remember the kindness of those who have died and their influence on our lives, but we might also remember their failings, or the harder aspects of their memory. There may indeed be a range of feelings and emotions in the air when we recall them, called to mind when we remember those who have died.
This whole experience of ‘remembrance’ inspires wonder. It is crucial to remember to bring some important item on a journey, or to communicate some important words and sentiments. We work hard to remember birthdays or anniversaries, and there can be disappointment if these are easily forgotten. Remembering something or someone brings us close to it, makes it present, and so we can relate to it as something ‘in the air’, so to speak. There is a kind of ‘recollection’ with different experiences brought together that bring our hearts and minds into a unity with something beyond ourselves, which is real.
The wise virgins in our gospel reading today are masters of remembrance. Remaining recollected throughout their vigil, they have prudently tended their lamps and conserved their oil, and so they are ready to receive the bridegroom. For sure, they may have had much to learn along the way, but their prudence and foresight have made them ready. But couldn’t they have stretched even a little assistance to their injudicious colleagues?
These other virgins had waited alongside with diligence too, awaiting the great moment of arrival. At the last hour, having failed to remember their supply of oil, disaster strikes and all is lost. It is indeed for them a costly mistake. Is there justice? Where is mercy? These virgins, described as foolish, might well be worthy of the title through their tardiness, but haven’t they been faithful through their vigil? Their lamps have patiently chided the darkness and warmed the air as the anticipated arrival approached, yet their tardiness results in abandonment. If we’re sometimes forgetful, should we be afraid?
The message of the story is one about readiness – we need to be sober, vigilant, watchful, prepared. That’s the way to be in the bridegroom’s company, and that is where we all desire to be. It’s not really about forgetfulness and foolishness, but about prudence and recollection. Jesus comes to show us both justice and mercy, and these things are present when we listen to him and when we are in his presence. Perhaps the greatest and most faithfully observed command of the Lord is to ‘Do this in remembrance of me’, and we would do well to reflect on the importance of this aspect of our lives in these days of remembrance.
For the presence of the Lord amongst us is something we have already, not something for which we need to wait. True, there is still time before the fullness of God’s mercy and justice is made known to us, but who knows how long? The Lord has given us everything we need to keep the vigil all through our lives, so we should stock well our lamps and press on with fidelity. That way we can be like the wise virgins, and march on to victory. The key thing is remembrance, that recollection that enables us to ‘meet the Lord in the air’, as St Paul tells us.
But what of the foolish? We can all too easily lapse into a sleepy slothfulness that impedes our vigil. We must pray that we will be liberated from this, and for the wakeful fortitude of one another. We can also remember that the Lord has come to save us from death and bring us to life, so we can always remember to renew our relationship with him, and meet him in the air. He will not abandon us, and even in the most devastating point in our weakness, we should remember that we can meet the Lord in the air.
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