Mystical Word  |  Weekly Reflection
Mystical Word is a weekly reflection on the Sunday Gospel reading by L.J. Milone, Director of Faith Formation, Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle

Stay Awake!

In this reflection, we learn about what it means to be awake.

Awakened people see reality, just as it is, and not as we would like it to be.  In that moment of pure seeing we change.  Anthony de Mello tells a wonderful story in this regard.  “There was a lion that grew up in a flock of sheep and so he had no consciousness that he was a lion.  He didn’t know he was a lion.  He would bleat like a sheep, he’d eat grass like a sheep.  One day they were wandering at the edge of a big jungle when a mighty lion let out a big roar and leaped out of the forest and right into the middle of the flock.  All the sheep scattered and ran away.  Imagine the surprise of the jungle lion when he saw this other lion there among the sheep.  So, he gave chase.  He got hold of him.  And there was this lion, cringing in front of the king of the jungle.  And the jungle lion said to him, ‘What are you doing here?’  And the other lion said, ‘Have mercy on me.  Don’t eat me.  Have mercy on me.’  But the king of the forest dragged him away, saying, ‘Come on with me.’  And he took him to a lake and he said, ‘Look.’ So, the lion who thought he was a sheep looked, and for the first time he saw his reflection.  He saw his image.  Then he looked at the jungle lion, and he looked in the water again, and he let out a mighty roar.  He was never a sheep again.  It took only one minute.”

Jesus tells us to “stay awake.”  To be awake to reality, to know the truth, liberates us.  This is the point of Jesus’ parable of the five wise virgins and the five foolish virgins.  What might arrest us from a contemporary perspective is the seeming injustice of the situation.  Why don’t the five wise virgins share their oil with the five foolish ones?  Jesus is making a spiritual point with this exchange.  The lamps and their oil represent spiritual consciousness.  The wise can’t lend the foolish their oil just as one can’t lend consciousness to another.  Jesus is saying that we all have to walk the spiritual path ourselves.  No one else can do it for us.  Jesus calls each one of us, particularly and personally, to let go into God.

The wise virgins tell the foolish ones to “go and buy” their oil from some merchants.  That the foolish ones believe they can deepen their spiritual consciousness by buying something is what makes them foolish.  It symbolizes conventional consciousness, which treats spiritual reality in crass materialistic and mechanistic ways.  Conventional consciousness attempts to buy one’s way into heaven.  We are all caught in this conventional consciousness in myriad ways.  How would Jesus have responded to the sale of indulgences in the middle ages?  Has the Church even learned this lesson that grace is utterly free and requires us only to surrender in faith regardless of our opinions about doctrine, our sexual orientation, our marital situation?  All that is needed is trust in the infinite mercy of God.

Furthermore, the need for oiled lamps is revealed when the groom comes.  They allow the groom to see the faces of the wise virgins.  This face-to-face seeing is powerfully symbolic.  To see truly we need light.  We must be enlightened, awake.  Our Catholic tradition has frequently called God, “Being” or “Reality.”  After all, God says to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).  God is, to use the phrase of Thomas Keating, That Which Is.  Or, to use Meister Eckhart’s word, “Is-ness.”  To see reality as it is, through Christ, we must be open, alive, and present to That Which Is.  To know the divine Is-ness, we have to be here and now, in the present moment, and awake and alive in the now.  Perhaps this is what St. Paul meant by “unceasing prayer” (1 Thess 5:17).

Religion that leads us into the aliveness of the moment is true religion.  If it leads us away from the now, focusing us on the past or future only, then we miss what John’s Gospel calls “eternal life” happening right under our noses.  This eternal life is our real life, which the lion experienced when he saw the truth, namely that he is a lion.  When we are in touch with Reality through Jesus, we come to know who we truly are.  Our identity awakens in the presence of That Which Is.  This is good religion.  However, if our religion is punitive, narrowly focused on doctrine (to the exclusion of prayerfully connecting to God), shame-based, or filled with empty ritual, then we are in the domain of conventional consciousness.  We are surrounded by foolish virgins.  To become wise, Jesus tells us to wake up to reality and become present to That Which Is.