Peace be with you and welcome to our celebration of the Mass for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. So today, before I talk about the readings, I’m going to take just a couple of minutes to talk about this coming Wednesday, November 11th. The day here in America, we’ve specifically set aside to honor our countries’ Veterans. For all of you history buffs, you also know Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day in recognition of WWI veterans only. When at the eleventh hour, on the eleventh day, of the eleventh month, in 1918, the battlefields went silent, bringing to a close the “War to end all wars.” Unfortunately, the egos of the victors got in the way and the severe conditions of surrender forced upon the losers ultimately, laid the foundation for WWII, just 20 short years later. Maybe a lesson to learn here, you think?
OK, enough about that ancient history. Personally, I would like to say, as a Veteran, it’s really good to live here in Huntsville. For one thing, this city has one of the biggest Veteran’s Day Parades in the entire Nation. Unfortunately, this year, because of the pandemic, there will be no parade. Regardless, Huntsville really does love showing appreciation for our Nation’s veterans, and all of us who served, really do feel the love. Thank you.
Let me talk briefly about one hero in particular though. CPT Michael J. Quealy died 54 years ago today (tomorrow), November 8, 1966, in combat, in the Tay Ninh Province of Vietnam. At 37 he was a little old for a brand-new CPT but what really made him unique – he was a Catholic Priest serving as a Chaplain with the 1st Inf Div. And he was exactly where he wanted to be, doing exactly what he wanted to do. In a Time Magazine article, you can read online, it said he had developed his own solution so he could best spiritually support the troops. He would hop on the outgoing Medevac helicopters headed into the heaviest combat and then remain on the ground serving the injured and administering Sacraments to the dying. Concerning the day, he actually died, the BN Cdr told Time he was, “the bravest man I’ve ever seen.” Chaplain CPT Quealy was posthumously awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. So why did I choose to talk about Father Quealy in particular? Well, it seems, before he volunteered for the Army he served right here in our own Diocese. He had been the Pastor at Holy Spirit Church in Winfield, AL and when our own Father Tim was assigned there as Pastor some years later and researched the story, he went to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC, did a rubbing of CPT Quealy’s name from the Memorial’s Wall, and brought it back to Holy Spirit for framing and mounting. One last Veterans Day point before I move on to today’s readings. From WWI on, six Chaplains have been awarded the highest medal for valor in the US, the MOH. All six were Catholic Priests.
So, our second reading for today is from Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians. Now, if you were listening you’ve already heard Father Tim say, 1st Thessalonians was Paul’s first letter written. There is an important point to remember about all of Paul’s letters though. Most scholars agree, Paul wrote his letters before Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John wrote their Gospels. Now, if you meditate on that for a while, you begin to realize just how much the Holy Spirit must have filled Paul’s mind and heart to be able to write everything he did without ever experiencing the human Jesus or reading the Gospels. So, if 1st Thessalonians is his first letter, that means it is oldest document in the entire New Testament, probably written in the early 50’s of the 1st Century AD. And as you read it, you might realize, Paul was expecting Jesus’ second coming real soon. This is important when we read Paul’s letters in context of the whole New Testament. He didn’t have Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and sometimes his theology might seem just a little bit contradictory to the Gospels. That’s why I always say, read the whole of Scripture. For example; today we just heard 1Thess 4:17, “Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” This specific verse is one of the primary scripture passages some of our Christian brothers and sisters use to prove the “Rapture”. You’ve probably seen it portrayed in movies when, just before that nasty tribulation starts, the righteous people all disappear leaving only a pile of clothes behind.
This time of year, as Ordinary Time draws to a close, the Church always gives us these “apocalyptic type” readings to get us ready for Advent and Christmas but what’s the real message Jesus continues to give us over and over in these readings? Always be ready because no one knows the actual time. Personally, I call it the “banana peel concept”. I could slip on the old proverbial banana peel today and my life on earth would be over. Then the only question then is; have I kept enough oil in my lamp to light the path and am I ready to meet the bridegroom? Friends, in today’s Gospel that lamp stands for the divine life we were all given in baptism and that lamp is filled with oil by prayer, faith filled study, the Sacraments, love, works of mercy, and any other spiritual example Jesus gave us by his words and actions.
What burns that oil up is our own indifference, our vanity, our inability to establish genuinely human relationships, our failures to help someone who is alone, abandoned, or ill, our ever-consuming human desire for power, pleasure, and wealth, and perhaps most of all, our own pride.
Staying vigilant does not mean physically keeping our eyes open, however. In todays parable all ten virgins went to sleep. It means having one’s heart free and facing the right direction. Being vigilant in life is the attitude of faithfully awaiting the Lord, of being ready. Jesus Christ presents himself in some way each and every day of our lives. He knocks at the door of our hearts but if our hearts are so full of things of the world, the things that are always there pulling us away from the divine life of baptism, there may be so much distraction, we never hear His knock. Jesus proposes life as a vigil of diligent expectation, which heralds the bright day of eternity. So, let’s keep our lamps full with the oil that illuminates our divine lives and don’t let the world burn it all up.