Oil for our lamps! Reflection for 32nd Sunday of the Year

A hospice nurse writes about the valuable lessons she has learned from her care of the dying:

“Although I struggle, like every other human being, with the daily challenges of overwork, impatience, fear, anger, and disappointment, I know that it is always my choice instead to choose happiness, forgiveness, compassion, and joy, to live each day as if it were my last, and to be grateful for every day that I have.

“Working with the dying has brought light into my own life, illuminating the shadowy corners of negativity that I alone have the choice to relinquish or to transform into something more positive. Even though the work I do is with the dying, it has also been work within myself, and I thank God every day for both of those opportunities.

“So, in the end, what is it that the dying teach others around them? They teach how to love and how to allow ourselves to be loved; how to forgive and how to ask for forgiveness; how to find our joy and how to spread that joy around to others. They also teach us how to spend valuable time connecting our earthly self with our spiritual self so that these two separate but vital aspects of our being aren’t strangers when they meet as the time of our own death draws near.

“And so it is perhaps meant to be that, with every person’s dying, another person is learning to live well.

“Although I can’t know for certain, I suspect from what I have witnessed that, possibly, the very best part of living might actually be the dying.”

 [From Peaceful Passages: A Hospice Nurse’s Stories of Dying Well by Janet Wehr.]

The parable of the ten bridesmaids reflects what this dedicated hospice nurse has learned from those entrusted to her care: that we have only so many opportunities to become part of Jesus’ work of mercy and reconciliation; that we have only so much oil in our lamps to illuminate the love of God in our lives. There is so much we want to accomplish in our lives – but the many demands on our time to make a living derail us from making a life, a life that is centred in the love of family and friends, in an awareness of God’s loving presence in our midst, in a yearning to contribute to the greater good of all.

Time is a gift that God gives us through which we might come to discover God and the things of God. Too often we fall into the mind-set of the five “foolish” bridesmaids of today’s Gospel: We believe that there will always be enough “later” to make our lives what we want them to be and that there is an unlimited amount of “oil” in our lamps to make it all happen.

Today’s Gospel calls us to see our lives as a wonderful gift from God – but a gift that is preciously short and fragile. Jesus calls us to realize that now is the time to seek the compassion and peace of God for ourselves and for those we love.   Christ warns us not to fall into the trap of the five “foolish” bridesmaids who squander their time before the Bridegroom’s arrival, but to embrace the wisdom of the five “wise” bridesmaids, trimming our “lamps” with the “oil” of compassion, generosity and forgiveness in the precious time we have until Christ’s coming.