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This Sunday's Programme

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32nd Sunday A

Sunday 12th November 2023

The Gospel Paraphrased

There are many fine translations of the Gospels readily available. This paraphrase is not meant to replace them. Rather the intention here is to offer a more contemporary rendering so that you can imaginatively translate the Gospel in your own situation.

This Sunday's Gospel Paraphrased

Mt 25: 1-14

The Kingdom of heaven is like ten bridesmaids, who took their lamps to go and met the bridegroom. Now five were sensible and five were stupid. The stupid ones took their lamps but didn’t take any oil, while the sensible ones not only took their lamps but extra oil as well. Well, the marriage negotiations went on and on, and the bridegroom was late, very late in coming. The bridesmaids grew drowsy and slept. All at once, deep in the night, the cry went up: ‘The Bridegroom is here! Go out to greet him.’ The bridesmaids jumped up and prepared their lamps to greet him. The stupid ones said to the sensible ones: ‘Give us your oil, our lamps are going out!’ They replied: ‘No way! There may not be enough to keep our lamps alight. You better go to the shops and buy some.’ While they were off buying oil, the bridegroom appeared and all who were ready went into the wedding feast and the doors were locked. Eventually the ones who went to buy oil turned up and called out: ‘Lord, lord we’re here! Open up! But the Bridegroom answered: ‘Who are you? I don’t know you.’ Therefore you should be alert because you do not know the time of the coming of the Son of Man.

Psalm

The Psalms are the ancient prayers of the Jewish people, here paraphrased into contemporary language.

This Sunday's Psalm

Ps 62; 2-8

O God, you are my God.
From the depths of my being I seek for you,
my soul thirsts for you,
my flesh longs for you,
in a world filled with drought and weariness.

I look to you in the holy place,
to draw on your strength and glory.
Your loving kindness is better than life itself,
so praise fills my mouth.

I will live in praise of you,
my hands lifted in worship and glory.
My soul will be filled with rich food,
my mouth full of your praise.

On my bed, I ponder with you,
meditate with you through the night
for you have been my help
and I rejoice in your embrace.

Prayers

Words cannot contain our desire for God but they help direct our minds and hearts towards God's love and express our needs.

This Sunday's Prayer

Loving God, we desire your presence in our lives from the depth of our hearts but we so often miss the signs of your coming.  Give us the wisdom of your Spirit that we may alert to the coming of Jesus in all the circumstances of life and give us the strength to respond in love to whatever he brings.  We ask this in his name confident that you will hear us.

The Commentaries Summarised

As a Church we are in a web of wisdom that comes to us both from tradition and contemporary writers. This section offers a summary of some commentaries on the Gospel. Also below is a list of the books and articles that have been consulted in compiling this Sunday's "Pray As You Can" and which could be used for further reading.

This Sunday's Commentary

This parable occurs in a section of the Gospel where Jesus gives his teaching on what used to be popularly known as ‘the Last Things’: death, judgement and his coming in glory at the end of time. Jesus has warned his listeners in seven different ways to prepare for his coming by being alert to his presence in everyday life and he will stress this even more by his depiction of the Last Judgement scene (read on the Feast of Christ the King).

The parable has often been regarded as strange because bridesmaids waiting for so long seems odd to us but this was a feature of Palestinian weddings well into the middle of last century. The groom and bride’s father would enter into protracted negotiation and part of the fun afterwards was to try and catch out the bridesmaids unprepared or even sleeping.

For me the real question should be: what is the symbolism of ‘the oil’? All bridesmaids were there waiting, all had fallen asleep but only the wise had oil. The traditional interpretation has been that the ‘oil’ stood for love – love of God and of neighbour. All the bridesmaids may have been doing their duty, following their religious practices, but only some had the true spirit of love animating their lives.

Merciful and loving as God undoubtedly is, we cannot just take salvation for granted. The response of love is to allow it to flow through us to those around.

Exposition

Christian conversion is promoted by conversation. This section is a response to and a development on the knowledge gained from the commentary section.

This Sunday's Exposition

Recent studies have shown that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become expert in a field. Talent can only take you so far – one can achieve the occasional good result – but dedicated practice is what is needed to make talent second nature. After much practice, the expert can get up and perform whether they feel like it or not, whether the circumstances are favourable or not, whether the tools are up to scratch or not.

All the bridesmaids, whether sensible or stupid, were caught asleep when the Bridegroom arrived but only five were ready with oil. This oil has traditionally been interpreted as love – both of God and of neighbour. The women with oil had prepared for the coming of the Bridegroom by the quality of their lives beforehand. They had lived lives of love and so could respond to the coming of the Bridegroom.

There is a strange paradox in Christian revelation. The coming of the Son of God in Jesus and in his life, death and resurrection reveals the overwhelming love of God for humankind, yet Jesus repeatedly demands that we make this love real in our lives. Jesus is warning us that we cannot take God’s love for granted. St John of the Cross has said, ‘In the evening of life we will be judged in love.’ Yes, we will be judged in the love of God but we will also be judged according to how we have loved. We have to practice love in the ordinary circumstances of life so that when the great revelation of love comes at our death, we can respond with love.

Reflection

Reflection is an essential element of our growth in Christ. As we reflect over what we have learnt and ponder it in our hearts, we come to recognise the presence of God in our lives.

This Sunday's Reflection

One of the best pieces of medical advice I ever received was: ‘Listen to your body.’ It was given in the context of allergy treatment. The doctor believed that each of us needed to become sensitive to the rhythms and reactions of our own bodies and that we should each exercise responsibility and discipline in looking after our health. Too often, we are bombarded with advice that has no relation to how our own body works. It’s enough to make you sick.

Something similar happens on the religious plane. Too often we are told by others how we should pray – when each of actually needs to discover how the Holy Spirit is already praying in our hearts and in our lives. For that to happen, we have to actually notice when God comes to us and, to do that, we have to be alert. We do not drift into the Kingdom of God. In this part of Matthew’s Gospel Jesus is telling up to be awake, be alert to God. This is not because it is difficult for us to have a relationship with God. Rather it is because God finds it difficult to have a relationship with someone who is distracted about other things. We all know the frustration of trying to communicate something important with someone who doesn’t want to listen and who prefers to watch the TV, or to receive and send text messages. In contrast, when we are alert and ready, the Spirit dances in our hearts and the oil of love eases the dark and difficult challenges of our lives and we know how to love God and each other.

 

Visual Meditation

Looking at art works or movies is a great way to open ourselves to the meaning of the Gospels. Seeing can bypass our preconceived notions, giving us new vistas of enlightenment. With painting or sculpture one needs to sit quietly and absorb the dynamics of the piece. The drama of movies more easily engages us and offers a way to conversation about the Gospel with other members of your family.

This Sunday's Visual Meditation

This parable from the Gospel is very popular with artists, especially those of the 19th– 20th centuries

– This depiction by Friedrich Wilhelm Schadow clearly places the scene in heaven.  The risen Jesus comes to meet the wise bridesmaids.

– In Eleanor Fortescue-Brickdale’s painting the wise bridesmaids are going down into the feast.

– In this painting by Violet Barber Mimpriss the foolish bridesmaid is turning away from her lamp distracted.

– In this relief print by George Everett Millais the wise bridesmaids are leaving the stupid ones behind while in this painting by [the same artist the foolish virgins have arrived at the feast and find themselves shut out.

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins by Phoebe Traquair

Mulling Meditation

The purpose of mulling meditations is to offer a few ideas that one can mull about while doing other occupations. There are many things we do in our day that do not require our full attention - some things which are largely done on automatic pilot - like driving a car or peeling the potatoes. While we give these our attention, part of our mind is still at work mulling on other things and unless it is given something positive to feed on, we easily feed on negative thoughts. Personally I find mulling time the most likely time for God to get through to me. Because I am not so conscious of myself, God gets through the cracks and opens my heart to look at life differently.
Two practical times for mulling can be when exercising and when driving. Some small preparations for integrating such prayer into these exercises can be helpful.

Exercising
As you do your preparatory stretches, pray the line of the Psalm "I praise you God for I am wonderfully made!"
Similarly when doing your concluding stretches use the prayer of St Clare "Praised be you, my God, for creating me!"

Driving
Have some music that you find helps you turn you mind and heart to God and play that for the first 10 minutes or so of your trip.

This Sunday's Mulling Meditation

While God’s presence may surprise us at time God does not come unexpectantly. That may seem a strange sentence but what it means is that there are regular situations in our lives when we experience God. Our personality and interests largely determine these. Devoted grandparents met God in their grandchildren, nature lovers in a sunrise, reflective people in times of silent meditation with God.

As you go through this week, mull on the times when you do met God. What are the situations when your relationship with God comes to the fore? Acknowledge these times and wonder how you could foster them in your relationship with God.

Mirror Meditation

In the Letter of James, we are told that the Scriptures are like a mirror in which we can see ourselves. In this type of meditation we take a piece of Scripture, hold it before us and consider what echoes within our heart. These echoes help us to see who we are before God and how we are loved. What usually echoes in us are situations that we are dealing with in our lives. When something strikes us, we do not actively try to solve the situation or work it through. Rather we sit holding it in God's love. The point of such a meditation is to make space within the situation for God's love to be. In 'sitting with' such a situation, painful or sad, we come to recognise the love of God that is at work on our lives. The suggestions for Mirror reflections can also be used for Exercise reflections but wouldn't be advised for Driving Prayer as often some degree of emotion or distraction might rise in such prayer.

This Sunday's Mirror Meditation

Rest in the love of your God.

When you are at rest, ask yourself how alert you are to the presence of God in your life. A sign of this can be how you react to the unexpected. Consider a few recent situations when life has not gone according to plan. How did you react? Were you consistently put out? Did you approach the situation wondering how God could work within it for love – for you to give and receive love?

When you recognise your pattern of acting, bring it before God and ask how you can make yourself more ready to welcome the divine presence into your life.

Rest in the love of your God.