Wisdom is radiant and unfading, and she is easily discerned by those who love her,
and is found by those who seek her.
She hurries to make herself known to those who desire her.
One who rises early to seek her will have no difficulty, for she will be found sitting at the gate.
To fix one's thought on her is perfect understanding; one who is vigilant on her account will soon be free from care, because she goes about seeking those worthy of her, and she graciously appears to them in their paths, and meets them in every thought.
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.
For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
Jesus told this parable to his disciples: "The kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.' And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.' But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do no know you.' Keep awake therefore, for you know neither theday nor the hour."
The refusal of the wise virgins to share may appear selfish. But here we are not talking really about lamps and oil but about people and life. There are certain things you cannot borrow or inherit. Your parents or my parents may have been the best people in the world. If so, that is a blessing beyond measure. But for all that it cannot be taken for granted that we will automatically become decent caring men and women. We can learn from one another, be inspired by one another, but in the last analysis we shape our own destiny. Character cannot be transferred or borrowed. We must build it for ourselves.
The same is true of the faith. Parents and other people are reminded that it is their responsibility to hand on the faith to the younger generation. But again faith is not like a farm of land or a legacy. It cannot be given by a parent to a child. Yes, all kinds of encouragement and good example can help enormously, but in the end, the young person as they grow up to maturity must accept or reject the invitation in his or her own heart.
The arrival of children of their own can often be a decisive moment for young parents as regards the faith. Some never seem to come back, but always remember God has his own way of welcoming people home even if along unexpected routes.
European civilisation derives, in great part, from Greek, Roman and Jewish cultures. But attitudes towards life after death varied greatly between the pagans and the Jews. When confronted with the inevitability of death, the typical pagan response was grim despair. A famous tombstone from the classical period has this inscription, "I was not, I became; I am not, I care not." Essentially this means: When you're dead, you're dead! In similar vein, the Roman poet, Horace, who died the year Christ was born, advises us Carpe diem, quam minimum credula postero (Enjoy today, and trust tomorrow as little as possible). This has morphed into the popular motto, "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die."
In the Jewish tradition, belief in life after death was not widely accepted until the first century before Christ. Before that, they imagined a shadowy existence in a place called Sheol, where the dead could neither know God nor praise him. The Book of Ecclesiastes, for example (about 300 B.C.) says that yes, there can be a certain happiness in eating, drinking and working while on earth, but in the end, all is vanity of vanities.
Christian belief in life hereafter is based on the resurrection of Christ. Because of this, as Paul wrote (Philippians 3:20), "our homeland is in heaven, and from heaven comes the Saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these lowly bodies of ours into copies of his own glorious body." Therefore we should not grieve as others do, who have no concept of eternal life.
Paul does not say we can avoid all sorrow, for sorrow over the death of a loved one is a natural and healthy reaction. What he says is not to be like others, who have no hope. Losing somebody in death causes us anguish, but hope of eternal life consoles us. The November liturgy suggests two things. First, it tells us to be prepared for passing on. People who live their lives close to Christ will not be unprepared to enter his presence. Secondly, it invites us to pray with love for those who have gone before us.
Saint Monica had wanted to be buried alongside her husband, but when she was dying at Ostia, the port of Rome, she made this last request to her son, Augustine, "Lay this body anywhere," she said, "let it not be a care to you. This only I ask of you, that you would remember me at the Lord's altar wherever you may be." Like her, we too believe that in death life is changed, not ended. This is our Christian hope; this is our God-given trust.
The wedding banquet is a regular image of eternal life in the Gospels. We can only speak about the unknown in terms of what is known to us. The wedding banquet highlights eternal life as that state when the deepest hunger and thirst in our lives will be satisfied, especially our thirst for love, for God who is love. "O God, for you my soul is thirsting" (responsorial psalm.) In the second reading, Paul also speaks of life beyond death ... it is that moment when God will bring with him those who have died and then we shall remain forever with the Lord. Eternal life will mean entering into a new, and fuller relationship with God and with all creation.
The parable warns that one can be excluded from the banquet of eternal life. Only those who were ready went in with the bridegroom to the wedding. When God calls us, will we be ready? Life after death is God's gift to us and a gift, by definition, can be refused, We will be ready for this ultimate gift, if throughout life we have learned to welcome God's gifts. Our regular attitudes will help to shape our attitude at the moment of death. Today's gospel concludes with a call to "Stay awake." One important way in which we stay awake to God is by prayer. In prayer we look for the Lord, desire him, watch for him and think about him. To pray is to become like a child, utterly receptive to God's presence within us.