The Wise Virgins: re-discovering leisure
Updated: Nov 22
The Wise Virgins – or the re-discovery of leisure
Jesus told his disciples this parable: "The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps. Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise ones replied, 'No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.' While they went off to buy it, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards the other virgins came and said, 'Lord, Lord, open the door for us!' But he said in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you.' Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour."
What is the value of vigilance? What is our value in a world that is ever more technological? With the rise of artificial intelligence, I am amazed at the technological advances. The other day, I was speaking with a priest friend who runs a lot of apostolate through the Internet, working out of Sao Paulo, Brazil. He wanted to dub some videos from a mutual priest friend here in the United States. First, he hired a human voice to narrate the video in Portuguese. It looked pretty good, although the voice was significantly deeper than the original speaker. Then, he showed me the same video, but with artificial intelligence dubbing the video “with the original speaker’s voice!” It was amazing, to say the least. We live in a world where things are changing quickly.
How are we reacting to a world that is changing so quickly? We need rules for such a world. A few months ago, I read Isaac Asimov’s classic science-fiction novel, I, Robot. I was amazed at how up-to-date it seemed, even though it was originally copyrighted in 1950. It was amazing to see how he could come up with rules for robots that we should consider seriously with the rise of “A.I.” The story that Jesus tells in the Gospel gives us some insight about how to live in an ever-changing world. The wise virgins give us an image of the contemplation that should characterize a Christian’s life.
The Wise Virgins have their lamps full of oil. They symbolize the Christian who is looking to the future, anxious for the return of the Lord. We are called to be waiting with great hope. “The one who has hope lives differently; the one who hopes has been granted the gift of a new life.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 2)
Where do we find the Wise Virgins? They are imitated most fully by the brave women of contemplative religious life. These women consecrate their lives to prayer. They remind me of the Rangers of Lord of the Rings. While we may not notice that they are there, they keep us safe through their watchfulness and their willingness to wage battles of which we remain unaware. “It is the expectation of things to come from the perspective of a present that is already given. It is a looking-forward in Christ's presence, with Christ who is present, to the perfecting of his Body, to his definitive coming.” (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, 9)
We live in a world that is so focused on output and production to determine value. Contemplative religious help us to remember that life is not only about production. Being comes before action. Their being in the presence of God comes before any particular actions that they may need to perform to preserve their monastery’s way of life. They take as their model the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is the fruit of the Immaculate Conception, as we remember from the apparition at Lourdes. She had an absolute purity. Contemplative religious reflect this through their dedicated service in the shadows of the world. They are not famous. They do not appear on the cover of Vogue magazine. And yet, they are the women who have the deepest impact in the world. Their time of solitude and seclusion is the very definition of leisure. They have time to dedicate to the noblest of pursuits – the contemplation of God and his good works.
The foolish virgins imitate the lazy busyness to which we can fall victim. Rather than contemplation, we get carried away by hurried watching. We have the TV on in the background, while we scroll mindlessly through one or two other screens we hold in our hands. We may be together in the same room with friends and family, oblivious to their presence. When Jesus comes back to earth, do you want your face glued to your phone screen?
The condition for being ready for the encounter with the Lord is not only faith, but a Christian life rich in love and charity for our neighbor. If we let ourselves be guided by what seems easiest to us, by the pursuit of our own interests, our life becomes sterile, incapable of giving life to others, and we do not accumulate any spare oil for the light of our faith; and this – faith – will be extinguished at the moment of the coming of the Lord, or even before. If instead we are watchful and seek to do good, with gestures of love, of sharing, of service to our neighbor in difficulty, we can remain at peace as we await the coming of the bridegroom: the Lord will be able to come at any moment, and even the sleep of death does not make us afraid, as we have a reserve of oil, accumulated with the good works of every day. Faith inspires charity and charity safeguards faith. (Pope Francis, Angelus Prayer 12.11.2017)
In a world that focuses so much on use, production, and efficiency, it is good to re-discover the value of “uselessness.” The life of contemplative religious is not about producing, but about being. We should all spend some time this week, trying to be, resting in the presence of God. Prayer is a wonderful leisure activity, one we should all engage in daily. We will either become contemplative of the things of God, or caught up in distraction. Prayer, reflection, and service to the poor fill our lamps. Mindless scrolling, impure images, and biting remarks empty our lamps. What will we choose? When Jesus comes again, will our lamps be full or empty?