Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday in the 21st Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Exam Prep

Readings: 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; Psalms 97:1 and 2b, 5-6, 10, 11-12; Matthew 25:1-13

Students are often told that it’s far better to work steadily and regularly far in advance of an exam, than to cram for it at the last minute. The advice is not always heeded, of course. As a student, I too had my fair share of experience in burning the midnight oil. To be fair, this method does work, at least sometimes. It is possible to pass an exam, and even to ace it, in this way. Still, even if it may get one through the exams, cramming is hardly an ideal method of education. I was recently reminded of this fact when a conspiracy of various circumstances resulted in my having to take an exam at short notice – too short, as it turns out. Let’s just say the results left something to be desired…

As much as it is in the academic sphere, the temptation to resort to cramming is also present in the spiritual life. In his Spiritual Exercises, for example, St. Ignatius writes about a particular type of person who knows the steps that are necessary to attain salvation, but keeps procrastinating. Like a lazy student, s/he keeps putting off the necessary conversion till the next day. Perhaps, at the back of his/ her mind is the idea that it is possible to cram at the last minute and still pass that ultimate of all final exams.

This is exactly the kind of attitude that our readings warn us against today. Cramming is dangerous, especially in the spiritual life. For while a student often knows the exact date, time and place of the exam, we do not know either the day or the hour when we will be called to face our Maker. As Jesus’ parable makes clear, the Bridegroom’s coming will surprise both just and unjust alike. Do not all the ten bridesmaids fall asleep? What to do then? The answer lies in always keeping a sufficient supply of oil at hand. This, the scripture scholars tell us, means having a store of good works on which to rely.

It is not enough simply to try to stay away from sin. We know how difficult that is, in itself. What is just as, if not more, important is what Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to do in the first reading: to continue to make more and more progress in the kind of life that you are meant to live… What is required is steady and sustained effort at cooperating with the grace that God gives us to live just and virtuous lives – lives filled with good works. This is the only proper way to prepare for the Bridegroom’s coming, the only effective way to bone up for that ultimate of final exams.

Have you started studying?

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