Friday, August 28, 2020

Memorial of Saint Augustine

Jesus tells a parable of the 10 virgins: 5 wise; 5 foolish. The wise virgins had enough oil for their lamps to light when the groom arrived;the foolish virgins had no oil so their lamps couldn’t be lit. Presumably, they were bridesmaids waiting for a groom about to be married, not the bride; a very strange parable. Why didn’t the wise virgins “share” their oil with the foolish ones? Sounds like they were a bit stingy.

When in the seminary, inside the chapel, there was a painted mural of the 5 wise virgins and at five different places in the mural, a glass container filled with oil was placed, literally, 5 oil filled glass containers were inserted into this wooden mural, one for each virgin. This stretched across the sanctuary behind the altar. This was the ugliest piece of artwork I have ever seen, and I had to look at it every time I entered that chapel. The virgins were painted with huge lips and immense breasts. Back in the 70’s, kitsch art was in. Usually I’m into kitsch, but not this time.

The mural, while also being grotesque, was too literal, for the oil wasn’t actual oil but symbolic of spiritual, inner oil. The wise virgins weren’t only caring about themselves in not giving the foolish virgins some of their oil. The oil was the oil of joy, of hope, of patience, of vigilance, of love!!!! You can’t “give” these to anyone, you must live these virtues. The foolish virgins wasted time in their own selfish pursuits. Virtues come from God, not humans. We, hopefully, live them so that our witness may rub off, but we can only witness these virtues, not give them.

A wonderful postscript: when the chapel was renovated in the 80’s, while I was still a seminarian, this mural was taken down, finally!!! Nothing but a beautiful cross over the tabernacle was in its place. I last saw the disassembled mural in the basement of the dorm collecting dust . I believe it eventually made its way into the garbage dump. Justice.

Fr. Frank