The Ten Virgins
Reflection on Mt. 25:1-13
The maidens arrive gradually, in groups of two and three, in their finest dresses and flushed with excitement. As the shadows lengthen, one of them glances out the window. “Only six of us are here. Where are the others?”
Just then, there is a giggling commotion outside the door, and three more young ladies burst into the house. “We were just finishing our hair,” one of them explains. “But now we’re ready.” They are followed by the last bridesmaid, who hurries in, stops to catch her breath, and asks, “Have I missed anything?”
“No,” a chorus of voices answers.
“Good,” she says. “I was on my way, when I realized I didn’t have much oil left, so I stopped by the market. And then I ran the rest of the way.”
“We can tell,” replies one of the gigglers. “You had better fix your hair…and your dress.”
“I brought extra oil, too,” another girl adds. “Just in case the Bridegroom is delayed.”
This begins a discussion over the groom’s arrival time and a debate about the necessity (or superfluity) of bringing along additional oil. They are split fifty-fifty in their conclusions, for it turns out that only half of them came prepared for a long wait. In any case, they all grow tired and fall asleep.
When the Bridegroom comes, at long last—the night is half-spent—five of the bridesmaids meet Him, radiant with joy, their lamps luminous in the darkness.
* * *
Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins paints a vivid scene: The wedding feast is being prepared, and any moment the bridegroom may come to escort his bride to his house. The virgin bridesmaids will be part of the procession as well and will share the joy of the wedding feast.
What is the oil that the foolish virgins do not care to stock up on? Various saints and spiritual writers have seen the oil as signifying varied things: prayer, faith, love, love shown in deeds…perhaps it is all of the above. One thing is sure: only half of the bridesmaids are ready for this great event. Yet all ten virgins have had time to prepare for this day.
I wonder if the five foolish maidens were so caught up in themselves that they focused exclusively on their outward appearances. Could they have been consumed by pride, vanity, worldly comforts, winning popularity? Meanwhile, the five wise virgins were concerned for one thing: to be ready to welcome the Bridegroom. He was the only One Who mattered. And if He came at a late hour, they were determined to light the way for Him.
Interestingly, there is no bride mentioned in this parable. Is this on purpose? Certainly. For the ten virgins are all brides, or rather, all part of the one Bride of Jesus Christ—the Church Jesus came down from heaven to espouse to Himself. The bridesmaids are already part of the Church but, like us, await the final consummation, the moment of entering into the heavenly banquet—at death or at the end of time. Either way, time has run out, and the foolish virgins are, piteously, left outside.
Should this not spur us on to keep the light of faith burning brightly within ourselves? To faithfully make time for prayer (which is time spent with our Bridegroom), to pray for an increase in love and, indeed, in all the virtues, to then show this love in giving of ourselves to others? Now is the time for this, during our earthly lives. If we remain with the Lord, faithful to Him, persevering in prayer and growing in holiness of life, the “oil” for our lamps will flow freely and constantly. And then, whenever He comes (and even when He comes to us in grace every day!), we will be ready to meet Him, lamps alight and faces radiant with joy.
Sr. Cecilia Francis, CFR