Monthly Archives: November 2011

Our Dangerous Habits

Jesus said, “Then 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 not know you.’ Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  Matt. 25:1-13.

In the Lectionary today, we encounter the Parable of the Bridegroom. The parable sounds a well-known warning to us:  “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”  While Jesus is teaching us about the need for preparation, I think he’s also pointing out just how difficult the Christian life will be.

In the field of law, we have a doctrine called stare decisis.  It means that once a case has been decided a certain way, future cases that present similar facts should generally be decided the same way.  The doctrine allows for consistency (the hobgoblin of small minds), predictability and promotes a certain sense of fairness.

We apply a similar practice in our own lives.  Each of us have developed a habit, a rubric, for dealing with telemarketers, panhandlers on the street, or older people who corner us to talk about their aches and pains.  We have a formula for how we deal with the coworker who stops by our desk to talk about their family problems.  These rubrics, these habits, offer us a certain level of efficiency.  But they may also pose a danger to our spiritual lives because they prevent us from having to think about individual situations or feel compassion when confronted with a unique situation.

The great German philosopher Martin Heidegger called this “unreflective everydayness.”  I think, in part, that’s what Jesus was warning us about in the Parable of the Bridegroom.  By relying on our preprogrammed responses, we miss the opportunity to see the face of Christ in those around us, and perhaps, to be the face of Christ for them.  I do not know how often God intervenes in the world around us, but I suspect it’s a lot more than most of us realize.  Christ’s advice “Keep awake” may well offer the best cure for the spiritual doldrums that obfuscate  God’s presence in the world.

 To paraphrase one of  the great prophets of our age, Ferris Bueller, “The Christian life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Shabbat Shalom,

 James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2011 James R. Dennis

Where, O Death, Is Thy Sting?

When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’  1 Cor. 15:54-55.

Today, the Church marks the Feast of All Souls Day, which is the final day of the triduum (a three-day celebration) consisting of All Hallow’s Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day.  On All Souls Day, the Church recalls all the faithful departed.  We appropriately recall those we love who have crossed beyond that frightening door, and we know that for them it holds no fear anymore.  The Book of Wisdom teaches:

In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be a disaster,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace. Wisdom 3: 2-3.

Thus, All Souls Day offers one of the great messages of the Church.  Those who have gone before us are not forgotten; actually, they’re not really “gone.” All Souls Day reminds us that our real home lies in that place where “Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more…”  Rev. 21:  4.

There’s an old Polish custom of leaving their doors and windows ajar on the night of All Souls Day, as a sign of welcome.  I’m very fond of that notion, as a reminder to us that we invite those who have passed away back into our lives.  In my part of the world, November 2nd is the last day of the celebration of the Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.  It’s not uncommon for families to go to the graves of the dead with ofrendas (offerings), to have a picnic at the gravesite, or to build a shrine within the home.  These customs, and many others, serve to remind us of two vital lessons:  the dead remain with us, and death isn’t the end of the story.

There is nothing morbid, maudlin, or tragic about these traditions.  On the contrary, they serve as occasions of great joy and happiness.  They provide us with a foretaste of the reunion that our faith teaches, and toward which our hope directs us.

Now that’s “good news.”

Paz de Cristo,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2011 James R. Dennis