“Give me oil in my lamp”: Looking toward death, judgment, and the Resurrection

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32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: Nov. 6, 2011
Wis 6:12-16; Ps 63; 1 Thess 4:13-18; Matt 25:1-13

This past week has presented us with several opportunities to think about the end of this earthly life, and what comes next.

  • On Monday evening, Halloween, we saw ghosts and skeletons walking down our streets, vampires and zombies coming up the walk, angels and little devils ringing our doorbells!
  • On Tuesday, All Saints, we gathered at Mass to celebrate all the holy men and women who have gone before us to reach the glory of heaven.
  • And on Wednesday, All Souls, we prayed for the repose of the souls of those undergoing their final purification in purgatory in preparation for their heavenly reward.

So it has been a good week for questions. One student asked me a question about reincarnation. These are good questions, which reveal a mind seeking to probe what cannot be seen, and which give structure and clearer focus to this earthly life. And so we should be clear on what our faith teaches us about these topics — about where Christ leads us.

The early Christians in Thessalonica had questions about these things, which St. Paul addresses in his first Letter to them, as we hear in our second reading. He had had to leave their city prematurely early, before he could deliver to them the full teaching of the faith, and so he had to complete this by letter. We see that some had become concerned that their relatives and friends who had come to believe in Christ but then died had missed out on his Second Coming and the heavenly kingdom. They did not grasp the truth of the Resurrection; and so St. Paul instructs them: “the Lord himself… will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive… will be caught up together with them…”

Now, it may be that you or those you know also do not grasp the truth of the Resurrection — even though our most common mistakes are not the same as the Thessalonians’. We must make sure we do not fall into two common errors:

  • First, the Resurrection is not even close to reincarnation. The Eastern belief in reincarnation is not and never has been a Christian belief. The Letter to the Hebrews (9:27) states, “it is appointed that human beings die once, and after this the judgment.” The Catechism tells us (1013): “we shall not return to other earthly lives… there is no ‘reincarnation’ after death.”
  • Second, the current state of souls in heaven or purgatory is also not the Resurrection. Only our Lord Jesus and our Blessed Mother Mary currently enjoy the fullness of the Resurrection, in their transformed and glorified bodies. All those other souls, separated from their bodies left on earth, eagerly await that day when Christ will return and raise them up, “on the last day.”

So what is it that the Church teaches us about “the last things”? Let us sketch it briefly but clearly:

  • First, the moment of death brings our earthly life to a close, when the soul is separated from the body. Our body remains on earth… (CCC 1005)
  • … while our immortal soul immediately undergoes a personal or particular judgment, and enters into one of three states: the punishment of hell, the blessedness of heaven, or, if needed, the final purification of purgatory that prepares one to enter heaven. (CCC 1022)
  • On “the last day,” Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead—“with a word of command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God.” He will raise all human beings, reuniting their bodies with their souls, and definitively transforming those bodies into incorruptible “spiritual bodies” like his own glorious resurrected body. (CCC 997-1001)
  • And he will carry out the universal, Last Judgment, giving to each eternal punishment or in eternal life, according to his or her deeds in this earthly life. (CCC 1038)
  • And then “the kingdom of God will come in its fullness… the universe itself will be renewed…into the ‘new heavens and a new earth.'” Then, as St. Paul says, “we shall always be with the Lord.” And God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” (CCC 1042-44)

The Resurrection began in Christ, and he applied its power to our souls in baptism; but that will be the fullness, when at last Christ’s Resurrection triumphs and God is all in all (1 Cor 15:28). This is the glorious future, the eternal reward that our Lord Jesus prepares for those who follow him faithfully. It is resplendent and unfading; it is filled with joy beyond anything we can imagine. Who would not want it?

  • Who has experienced love, who would not want to drink from the well of it — infinite, unlimited, pure, life-giving?
  • Who has perceived goodness and beauty, who would not want to embrace their Creator, good and beautiful beyond words?
  • Who has known the strong love of Christ, and seen him through sacramental signs, and known the transforming power of his grace, who would not want to see him face-to-face?

As we will proclaim each week, when we begin using the re-translation of the Creed three weeks from now when the new Roman Missal is implemented: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come”! Or, in the words of the psalm: O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water. My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God. Who would not want this?

But our Lord Jesus warns in the parable we hear today that it is possible to desire this heavenly destination, this wedding feast of the Lamb, and yet not to reach it. Ten virgins went out to meet the bridegroom— scheduled to arrive with his bride at the wedding feast. But what if some of them were not prepared in case that arrival was delayed? What if they did not bring the extra oil they needed to keep their lamps burning?

In the Rite of Baptism, a baptismal candle is lit from the Easter candle and handed to the parents with the words:

“This light is entrusted to you to be kept burning brightly. This child of yours… is to walk always as a child of the light. May he keep the flame of faith alive in his heart. When the Lord comes, may he go out to meet him with all the saints in the heavenly kingdom.”

But so much can dampen and smother that flame once given. And sin can put it out. The Catechism tells us (1855): “Mortal sin destroys charity in the heart of man… it turns man away from God, who is his ultimate end and his beatitude…” It kills his share in the divine life, placed within him. It snuffs out his lamp.

And how do you find yourself today? Eagerly awaiting the second coming of our Lord Jesus? Looking forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come? I imagine that you are! But are you prepared? Have you kept the light of holy faith and love burning brightly within you? Or have you smothered it? Inside, do you resemble more and more the glorious saints we celebrated on Tuesday? Or do you look more like the dark specters who walked our neighborhood streets on Monday?

There is still time to re-light your lamp. Our Lord Jesus waits for you in the sacrament of confession — which you can receive at 11:30 today, soon after this Mass. “Stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

In the words of the old hymn: Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, give me oil in my lamp, I pray. Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning till the break of day.

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