"Behold, the Bridegroom is here! Go and welcome Him!” What stirs in your heart? “The Bridegroom is here!” Does your heart leap, does it wince or is it indifferent? We, like the ten virgins, all hear the same message and are called to be prepared, to keep vigilance and to respond at the arrival of the Bridegroom with blazing lamps filled with oil.
What is this oil? St. Seraphim of Sarov teaches us that the oil is “the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God.” He says, "The true goal of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. What God requires is a true faith in Himself and His Only begotten Son. In return He generously bestows the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Lord seeks hearts filled with love for God and for one's neighbor." This oil is the oil of desire—the oil of love. Jesus promises us, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, because He abides with you, and He will be in you” (Jn 14:15-17).
We should learn from the foolish virgins who were indifferent and sought oil at the “market place” (the world that cannot receive, see or know the Spirit of Truth). How often do we seek to purchase the oil of our desires in the “market place” and become distracted and lost in its distorted view of reality and its temporal gratification and artificial fulfillment? The Bridegroom is the ultimate fulfillment of our desires.
All ten virgins were virtuous and did good works. However, the oil of the Holy Spirit filled the wise virgins’ hearts with desire and love for God and neighbor, while in contrast, the foolish virgins, who were lacking this oil, were indifferent and acted more out of obligation than love.
The five wise virgins were prepared because they knew and loved the Bridegroom and possessed the oil of desire. Prayer, which is ultimately union with God, is essential to know and desire Christ. Prayer is a dialogue or a knowing silence of oneness of being with the Other. “The Fathers of the Church say that prayer, properly understood, is nothing other than becoming a longing for God” (Mary: The Church and the Source, Ratzinger and Hans Urs Von Balthasar, 2005). Our “oil of desire” that keeps our lamps burning is continuously replenished and purified with each encounter with Christ. St. Augustine, in his reflection on Psalm 37, says, “Desire is your prayer; and if your desire is without ceasing, your prayer will also be without ceasing. The continuance of your longing is the continuance of your prayer.”
This longing is echoed in the troparian (hymn) for a woman martyr, “I love you my Bridegroom. I seek You with painful longing,” and expressed in Psalm 63:1,3, “O God, You are my God. For You I long, for You my soul is thirsting. My body pines for You like a dry, weary land without water.” May our hearts be lamps burning with desire for union with the Bridegroom as His heart mutually yearns for us (Sg 7:11). His love for us is an eternal, inexhaustible flame that nothing can quench (Sg 8:7).
The sessional hymn for Matins of Great and Holy Tuesday incites us to be enflamed with divine desire for Christ our Bridegroom:
“O faithful, let us be on fire with love of the Bridegroom, and with lamps burning, let us go out to meet Him. May the light of our virtue shine brightly, and may our faith be radiant. With the wise virgins, let us prepare to enter the banquet hall of the Lord; for the divine Spouse offers us all the crown of immortality.”
The Bridegroom is here! Go and welcome Him!