32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
November 6, 2011

I am still reeling from the startling impression given me by the words of St. Judith Zoebelein to Dr. Moynihan: “Find wisdom … Live from your heart, not just from your mind.”

It was, to say the least, a jolting reminder for one who, as teacher and educator, may have a reputation of living a little more from the “mind” side.

Wisdom … this is something we all hanker for and desire above everything else. In the morning of everyone’s life, we all look for learning, information, credentials, titles, and everything that enriches our resume. I am sure those who are younger than me will find this true. But I am sure those of you who are my contemporaries (or older) will find this more wise than true.

Many years ago, as a young freshman in college, I was touched by a line from Boris Pasternak’s novel “Dr. Zhivago.” “Man is born to live, not to prepare for life,” he wrote. Too bad so many of us forget about getting a life, and focus all our efforts at making a living, or getting a name for ourselves, or making it big in what we call “life,” oftentimes seen as a rat race.

All this makes for a lot of utility or usefulness. It certainly comes in handy when one needs to write his or her curriculum vitae, in view of landing a great job, or a posh position up the corporate ladder. It can bring one places. It can potentially help us reap honors and get on ahead of others. But it can also leave us, at a certain point in time, empty and bereft of that satisfaction that comes from knowing that one has done a whole lot more than “merely live” and at having “faced the essential facts of life.”

Let me remind you today, based on God’s Word, what are some of these “essential facts of life” that make for wisdom …

First and foremost, it would do us good to recall that mere material physical life is not what we are ultimately created for. There is more to life than merely surviving, and the core wisdom that stands at the base of our search for ultimate meaning is an acceptance of the basic truth that “my soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, my God!” (Response after the First Reading).

Wisdom starts here … in accepting that we all basically long and thirst for God. He is at the bottom of all our earthly desire, no matter how hidden, no matter how unbidden. Behind our every little dream, is our fundamental desire for God, again, what Ronald Rolheiser refers to as “holy longing.”

Second, there is meaning in death, casually seen by many as a mere cessation of earthly life, as the end to everything that we narrowly call earthly life. Here, St. Paul comes to our aid and offers us a vision of death, not as mere stoppage of what we do here on earth, but as a continuation of what we have begun here on earth – life as life with God, and life as willed and wanted by the same God who granted us that life.  Earthly, material, physical life may, indeed, cease with death, but life as God envisioned it, continues on, and even if the material body dies, we are called to eternal life. “For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God, will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first.”

Mere material learning and intelligence may help us lead the pack in this rat-race world. But it is only Wisdom from above, wisdom that comes along with faith in the ultimate meaning of our life in and with God, that will lead us to live a life that is, in the words of J.G. Blumberg, “good to the core.”

Today’s five virgins, though called “foolish” in the gospel passage according to Matthew, are good in their own way. They were sure to meet the bridegroom, and they were so cocky as not to think about certain contingencies. They had too much “faith” in technology, for one. They probably thought their store of oil in their lamps would never run out, and that they had more than enough to spare. They were too focused on the here and the now. They did not cast one eye on the potential scenario of the bridegroom running late, or the transport system breaking down unforeseeably.

But the other five were not called “wise” for nothing. They were wise for they were good to the core, as it were. There were simply some core values and beliefs deep within them that made them stand out in the crowd. There were seeds inside them that told them that things are not exactly always what they seem to be; that life goes beyond merely holding on to what it offers here and now; that life is all about working  for and aiming for something greater that comes further up ahead, beyond the bend, beyond the proverbial earthly end of the rainbow.

Blumberg’s image of an apple with seeds at the core can help us understand what this is all about. Wise women and men, ought to be “good to the core.” Basically, it means that wise men and women act out of certain core beliefs and core values from within. It is like being an apple with seeds at the core, and while we all can count the seeds in the core, only God, as Robert Schuller puts it, can count apples in the seeds! And it is those seeds that would stand to become more apples in future. It is those seeds that can potentially become great apple trees that would, in turn, bear good fruits in future.

This is the reason why Sr. Zoebelein’s words to Dr. Moynihan struck me immensely. Merely living from the mind is just like accumulating apples. By merely earning titles, one accumulates apples – good apples, no doubt  - but life as God intends it to be, goes beyond gathering good apples, but bearing good fruits for others. This means one has to work for those seeds, those core values and core beliefs that will govern everything we do, everything we are.

The five foolish virgins were good apples, no more, no less, and not much else.

We Christian believers are called to be much more … not just mere do gooders … not just mere experts and title-holders. We are called not just to be intelligent people who know, but people who understand. We are called to possess not just knowledge, but wisdom. We are expected by God, not just to cognitively know, but genuinely understand.

And according to today’s readings, this genuine understanding begins with accepting the core belief and the core value that we all need God to the core! “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, my God!”