Memorial of Saint Augustine, bishop and doctor of the Church
By Melanie Rigney
We earnestly ask and exhort you in the Lord Jesus that, as you received from us how you should conduct yourselves to please God–and as you are conducting yourselves–you do so even more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-2)
The Lord loves those who hate evil, protects the lives of the faithful, rescues them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalms 97:10)
“The foolish (virgins) 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.” (Matthew 25:8-13)
Lord, help me to keep my own lamp full of your loving Oil.
At first reading, this is a tough parable if you’re given to selflessness. Why don’t the wise virgins share some of that oil? Wouldn’t it be better if everyone had a little bit, even if no one had enough individually? Because they won’t share, those poor foolish virgins go and buy more and then, whammo, by the time the foolish one get back, the door is closed and won’t be reopened for them. Doesn’t that make the wise virgins selfish?
The wise virgins did what they could: pointed the foolish ones in the direction of oil. They understood that keeping their own lamps at the ready was essential.
And, ultimately, that’s what God expects of us. Not to spend ourselves to the point of spiritual emptiness, but to prayerfully examine what we can share—and to do so with love. Because, at the end of the day, the foolish virgins were responsible for their own lamps. And the brothers and sisters we help with service are responsible for their own spiritual journey. We can share and celebrate and pray and commiserate along the way... but we can’t make choices that last for other people.
The story of Saint Augustine, whose life and work we honor today, illustrates the point. When he came to the Lord after a profligate life that included a child out of wedlock and following an Eastern sect, it wasn’t because of all the tears his mother had shed. It wasn’t because Augustine was worn down by Monica’s proselytization. No, the reading of the Holy Scripture and its opening of his mind to God’s glory won his conversion. Augustine was appreciative of his mother’s efforts—he closes the section of Confessions about Monica’s death with the desire that readers “be fulfilled (with) what my mother desired of me”—but the ultimate decision was his. And without feeding her own strong faith during the seventeen years that she prayed and prodded, begged and pleaded for Augustine’s soul, Monica’s own passion for the Lord would have burned out.
Keep the flame strong. Be a careful steward of your own lamp’s oil.
Do something to fill your own lamp, even if it means not tending immediately to a ministry.