“Our lamps are going out.”
This is the phrase that jumped out at me from this weekend’s parable — the parable of the Ten Virgins — mostly because I think so many of us feel this way at times.
“My lamp is going out…. The light is flickering! It won’t last much longer!
I don’t have enough oil to make it to the end…”
Burn-out is a very real and present danger for so many people today. So often, modern day stresses and anxieties try to beat us up and make us feel worn down, tired, cynical, resentful, exhausted, spent, hopeless, and… just… empty. Like there’s not enough left in the tank to finish!
This weekend, the Church places before us this jarring Gospel image of “having enough oil” — Oil that we will evidently need if we want to properly meet the Bridegroom when He finally comes.
According to Jesus, this “oil” is not something we can share, even if we wanted to. It’s something personal and nontransferable. We each need enough oil pre-prepared if we want to enter into the wedding feast before the door is permanently locked behind us. It’s a striking “end-of-the-world” parable that divides the wise from the foolish — those who have already burned up all their oil, and those who still have a sufficient stock… and so I think it’s a VERY appropriate image for us to meditate on today and ask ourselves — and ask the Lord:
What’s burning up all my oil?
Work? Drama? News? Money? Social media? The daily demands of family life? The ever-growing list of activities we’ve committed ourselves to… that we couldn’t say ‘no’ to? The pressure to perform? The pressure to have a certain physical appearance? The pressure to meet expectations and to constantly please other people? The endless stream of “what-ifs?” Various worries and fears of all shapes and sizes, real or imaginary…?
What is it that’s burning up all your oil?
What’s causing you to get burned out?
Because the reality is: When our oil starts to run dry — when we start to burn the flesh, and not the oil — we tend to view our God-given vocations, our real-life responsibilities, our most important commitments …not as gifts to receive, but as impossible burdens…
…Burdens that we just want to run away from!
I know in my own life as a priest, there have certainly been moments when I’ve thought: “I don’t think I’m going to make it. I don’t have enough love, faith, zeal, interest… I don’t have it in me to do another confession, another rosary, another sick call, another staff meeting, another liturgy… LORD, I’m running out of OIL!!!!…. My lamp is flickering!!! It’s going out!”
If you’ve ever felt that way about your responsibilities — if you’ve ever suffered from BURN OUT — then I just want to say: Do not be afraid.
God wants you to burn bright, not to burn out!
And so, there is more oil.
There is a way to be refilled.
You have access, RIGHT NOW, to an infinite resource of fuel. An unending flow of the richest, most soothing, most re-energizing oil. Oil that will help you carry your cross, glorify God, and keep your lamp lit now until eternity.
What exactly is this oil, you may ask?
Well, according to many of the early Fathers of the Church, the supernatural oil that we so desperately need… the oil that will ultimately keep us from burning out… is the Holy Spirit Himself.
St. Macarios the Great says that “the five wise virgins, watchful and alert, had taken oil in the vessels of their heart. That oil,” he says, “means the grace of the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit! The Third Person of the Trinity!
Spirit and oil go together so often in our faith.
Priests, Prophets and Kings were all anointed with sacred oils. When babies are baptized, when their life in the Spirit first begins, we anoint them with oil… with the Sacred Chrism… and then we hand them a burning candle, saying: “Keep this candle lit! Don’t let it go out!” In other words: Don’t ever let the fire of grace… the fire of the Spirit… be snuffed out!
At our Confirmation, when we received the fullness of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we were anointed with oil on our forehead — the Sacred Chrism.
Form al, this, it’s clear: That when we have oil, we have the Holy Spirit — “Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions!”
And here’s the encouraging truth:
You have access, right now, to this oil of gladness — you have access to the Holy Spirit Himself.
God wants you to burn bright with the Life of the Spirit — He doesn’t want you to burn yourself out!
But how do we best dispose ourselves to Him? How do we open ourselves up to this oil of gladness? To this Holy Spirit REFILL?
I’m going to share three basic, fundamental ways that we can open ourselves up to receive more oil, and to make sure we don’t burn out:
- We need to declutter our lives
We have to get rid of clutter! Get rid of distractions! We need to simplify our lives and get back to basics!
More often than not, we try to do too much. We have too much stuff. We’ve filled up our calendars with too many events and plans. Too many commitments. And it bogs us down. We become attached and worried and anxious… We get distracted and cluttered. And soon enough, all our oil reserves get used up on stuff that doesn’t matter a whole lot.
Here’s a little word that will help free you from clutter and open yourself up to the oil of gladness:
We need to learn how to say “no” to things. Why?
Because we want to be able to say “yes” — we want to have enough oil to say “yes” to the right things. Which leads into the second way we can open ourselves up to the oil reserves that God deserves to provide for us:
- Invest in holy recreation and rest
It’s a fact that we need good, holy leisure to be recharged. We need real recreation… RE-CREATION. This is different than the feverish, restless self-entertainment that the world tempts us with.
What we actually need is to enter into restful activities that bring us actual life and actual relaxation. Things like going on walks in the woods. Hanging out with friends. Smoking a pipe. Planting a garden. Curling up with a good book and a warm cup of coffee. Going to an art museum. Doing useless stuff that revives the soul.
Leisure is the “basis of culture,” as Josef Pieper once wrote, and he’s right. Without leisure, we quickly become cogs in the machine. We get so fixated on being productive and useful that we start to lose our humanity. We run ourselves ragged. And therefore… we run out of oil…
Related to this is the fact that we need plain, ordinary REST. It’s encouraging to me that all ten of the virgins in today’s gospel “fell asleep.” I have a feeling someone here today needs to hear this: You need more sleep. We all need to get to bed at reasonable hours if we want to avoid burning our oil down too low.
- Make time for deep prayer
This one is absolutely non-negotiable, guys. If we want to have a rich store of the oil of gladness, we need to go to the source. We need to pray. And I’m not talking about surface-y prayers that we sort of mechanically grind out and then move on with the rest of our day.
I’m talking about a deep, soaking sort of prayer. A drinking in of the Holy Presence of the God who loves you and desires you.
This kind of deep prayer is like breathing. And if you don’t breath, you die.
So many people wander through life wondering why they are so burned out, run down, and exhausted… but they never make time to really pray. We have time for just about everything else, but personal prayer is the last thing we intentionally schedule. We rack up 6, 7 hours of screen time… but how much Tabernacle-time… how much Bible-page-time are we logging?
Somebody just shared with me recently: “Very few people get burned out by praying.”
That’s so true.
Dan Dematte says this: “Without intimacy with God, you will burn out. With intimacy with God, you will burn bright.”
Prayer is intimacy with God. So we need to go to prayer. We need to go into that “inner room,” shut the door, and pray to our Heavenly Father in the secret place. He’s waiting for you there.
In fact, to close this homily, let’s pray. Let’s ask — in faith — for more oil right here, right now… God wants us to burn bright, not to burn out, so let’s ask Him for what we need:
Come Holy Spirit — Come Holy Spirit, and fill us up!
Give us new oil. We’re tired. We’re worn down. We’re burned out. We need You. Rejuvenate us! Refresh us! Fill our flasks with Your Presence!!!!
Anytime you feel like your oil is running low — you can pray like this. You can lift up your heart, and turn to Him in your desperation, in your thirst.
You can pray in those gorgeous words from today’s psalm… Psalm 63:
“O God, you are my God whom I seek; for you my flesh pines and my soul thirsts like the earth, parched, lifeless and without water…. Through the night-watches I will meditate on you: You are my help, and in the shadow of your wings I shout for joy.”
The Lord will provide.
He will give you that oil you so desperately need. And then, after a lifetime of relying on Him, and being filled again and again with that oil of gladness, the Bridegroom Himself will finally come.
Jesus is going to come back.
And when He does come back — at that word of command, that voice of an archangel, and that the trumpet of God — on the Last Day when all the dead are raised, is Christ going to find a Church that’s beat up, tired, and burned out? With no oil left to greet Him?
Or… are will He find us burning bright? Will He find us filled to the brim and overflowing with the oil of gladness?