Keep Keeping Watch


The Readings for the 21st Friday, Tempus per Annum (C2)
Memorial of Bl. James of Bevagna, OP, friar and priest

Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Matthew 25:14

ONCE AGAIN THE NABRE Renders the Greek as “Stay awake” instead of keep watch or even be watchful. Stay awake is particularly annoying here because even the wise virgins also fell asleep so it can seem petty. But keeping watch means being prepared. The wise virgins could fall asleep in peace and rise again in safety for the Lord was with them (Psalm 3:5) and they had done the necessary prep work.

Doing the prep work is the important part!

What can we read in the symbols of this verse? The wise and foolish are both symbols of believer. They have maintained their fidelity to the doctrines. I get that from the use of the word “Parthenos” in the Greek for “virgin” instead of “nymphos” for young girl or maiden. In terms of the culture of the time, parthenos does not always mean a woman who has not had sex. It means a person (man or woman) who has set apart their sexuality for divine purposes (see more here). The Gospel of course is not talking about “consecrated virgins” as such, but it is implying that these folks (both the wise and the foolish) have set themselves apart for divine purposes.

But the foolish have run out of oil and so they’re worried about their lamps. What is this, then?

In parallel with the man caught at the wedding banquet without the proper clothes, the Church Fathers read the oil and the lighted lamps in this parable to indicate righteous deeds. Mercy in Greek (eleos) comes from the same Greek word as oil. In Hebrew it’s Khesed, Grace. To have oil in the lamp is to be actively engaged in mercy and grace not just for one’s self, but for those around affected by this light.

This is important to me, personally, because I’ve struggled so long with sins of the flesh, with setting my sexuality apart for God. Yet do I have any oil in my lamp? Members of Courage International read the Five Goals at each meeting. I’m thankful that, after the chastity mentioned in the first goal, the second goal of Courage begins with “To dedicate our entire lives to Christ through service to others…” That’s the challenge. Yes, sure, stay pure. But don’t sit there in your purity: do something. My spiritual director had the sense to see that sitting at home was dangerous for me – even though it kept me out of one sort of trouble. The Gospel is not the Gospel unless it’s shared with someone else.

You can set your life apart, certainly, but unless you’re doing the works of mercy, unless you’re shedding your light around you, that is unless you’re reforming your sphere of influence into conformity with the Gospel, then you’re not actually doing anything. Your faith, without works, is dead. You can be Parthenos.

And still be dead.

St Paul makes it clear that preaching the Gospel will make us seem like utter fools to the world: to Jews and Greeks alike. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” To be one of those who are being saved in the active present tense (salvation is not something that happens once) is to be engaged in mercy.

Again, this is keeping watch. Jesus tells us to be about his Father’s will until he comes back. We learn in the parable of the Sheep and Goats what these works are – feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, etc – these are the things we are to be about. These are the oil.

Yes, you need the faith. You need to be set apart, to be parthenos. Do these works, though, and you can rest at night without worry.

Author: Huw Raphael

A Dominican Tertiary living in San Francisco, CA. He is almost 59. He feeds the homeless as a parochial almoner and is studying to be a Roman Catholic Deacon. He is learning modern Israeli Hebrew and enjoys cooking, keto, cats, long urban hikes, and SF Beer Week.

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