I sometimes forget that Jesus has conquered death. Well, I don’t really ever intellectually forget, but I certainly don’t live like it all the time. There are days when I get tunnel-vision and I fall into the temptation to believe the lie that a certain problem or situation is “just too much.” I don’t see the way out, and I forget that He is the way. Praise Jesus that He chose to conquer sin and death out of His undying love for us, out of His desire for us to spend eternity with Him in Heaven.
Maybe someone out there, like me, needs the reminder today that Jesus conquered death. What does this mean for us? That nothing is too great or too impossible for our Lord. If He can conquer death, something that is not possible for a human being to just do on their own, He can conquer all the other things in your life that feel like little deaths. He wants to, because He wants to be with you forever. The Lord is constantly loving you and trying to capture your attention with His immense tenderness and mercy.
Because of Jesus, death does not have the final word over our existence. “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep” (1 Thes 4:14). What a beautiful reality of our faith. There is so much more than we can see, so many glories that God intensely desires to share with us. With Heaven as our conscious goal each day, everything shifts into place. We can be free to live fully as God is calling us to, without holding back from Him and without fear. We can love others deeply and boldly as Christ loves us. We can have joy and peace in the face of challenges and pain because we know that “we shall always be with the Lord” (1 Thes 4:17) and that every last bit of death, pain, and suffering were slayed by our almighty God.
“I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” -John 16:33
A wedding is always something to get excited about: the decorations, the colors, the splendor of the Church, the bride’s dress, the groom’s smile watching her walk down the aisle. So much thought and dedication goes into planning a wedding. I have been a bridesmaid quite a few times and the excitement in seeing my friends get married is always the same, an abundance of joy, blessings and love.
In the time of Jesus, first-century Palestine, a couple was betrothed (legally married) for a period of about a year, and during this time the bride still lived at home with her family. After this period of betrothal the wedding feast would begin at sundown, when the bridegroom would go to pick up the bride from her family’s home and take her to their new home. Customarily, family and friends would come out of their homes and congratulate the newlywed couple as they passed by on the streets. Many would follow the couple in a procession of celebration through the streets to their new home and partake in the wedding feast together. This procession was guided by maiden torchbearers (bridesmaids!) as the crowd danced and sang around the newlyweds. Imagine it being the pitch darkness of nighttime, in first-century Palestine, and the one thing that guides you is this glowing light towards a feast.
In today’s Gospel Jesus tells us a parable about the ten virgins: five wise virgins with oil and five foolish virgins without oil, all of whom were waiting for the bridegroom to come to pick up his bride so they could celebrate and light the way in their procession. For some unknown reason the bridegroom was delayed and all ten virgins fell asleep waiting for him. When he unexpectedly came, the five foolish virgins realized that their flame was low and they would not be able to keep it lit as they did not prepare and pack oil. So they left to go buy some. In the meantime, the bridegroom arrived and the five wise virgins, who packed oil, were fine in relighting their lamps and joining the procession following the bridegroom to the wedding feast. By the time the foolish virgins came back with oil and made their way to the bridegroom’s home, the door was locked and they were not a part of the wedding feast.
That one line in scripture, “then the door was locked” (Matthew 25:10), really pangs at my heart. There is a clear distinction here on who enters the kingdom and who does not. As much as we focus on details and get ready for our friend’s earthly wedding, we must make all the effort to prepare for our own true wedding with Jesus Christ. Be prepared. Bring oil. What does this oil represent? It represents us living the faith, being true to our baptismal promises, celebrating and practicing the sacraments, praying, loving one another, doing good works of mercy. We are all in a state of waiting for our bridegroom to arrive; as Christians we have been waiting for over 2,000 years for the second coming of Jesus Christ. But we don’t know the exact day nor the hour when Jesus Christ will come again. So make sure you pack your oil. All ten virgins had intentions of going to the wedding feast and all ten virgins were waiting for the bridegroom, but only five virgins had oil, and so only five virgins were ready to follow him into the wedding feast.
In the first reading, St. Paul tells us that we should conduct ourselves in a manner that is pleasing to God. And the instructions on how to live a holy life were given through our Lord Jesus. Before Jesus had told us this parable of the ten virgins, he taught us on the Sermon on the Mount. He told us to be the light of the world; our light must shine before others in such a way that they see our good deeds and glorify our Heavenly Father. In order to be this light and remain a burning flame, we must have a flask of oil and continue in a course of action, even in the face of difficulties, to commit to doing good works willed by the Father.
“This is the will of God, your holiness”
“For God did not call us to impurity but to holiness.” Through God’s grace we are given every opportunity to continue in good works and so I pray that each of us are overjoyed, excited and well prepared for our own bridegroom, Jesus Christ, and our own nuptials in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,
where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal.
But store up treasures in heaven,
where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
While reading about today’s saint, St. Aloysius Gonzaga, I couldn’t help but notice many striking similarities between him and out patron, Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati. Both were born into wealthy Italian families that valued success and prestige more than faith. Both grew in virtue and piety despite the circumstances of their family life. Both were deeply devoted to serving the poor and disadvantaged, sacrificing their own time, talent, and treasure to care for the less fortunate. Both were described as having embodied the virtue of purity. And finally, both died from illnesses they acquired while serving others—Pier Giorgio at twenty-four, Aloysius at just twenty-three.
The story of the lives of these two young men, both cut short in their early twenties, seems a terrible shame if you look at it through the eyes of the world. But through the eyes of God, it is a triumph. Their treasure was not their material wealth, their earthly successes, or even their youth and potential. Their treasure was in heaven. By embracing God’s will and allowing His love to radiate through their lives, they built up treasure for themselves that transcends the plane of this transient world. None of us know how many days we have left here on earth to enjoy its fleeting pleasures, but we can be confident that each work of love we offer to God knits our souls ever more closely into His eternal Kingdom.
If, therefore, we wish to fly to heaven, perishable things are to be cast aside, and these two wings of actual poverty and poverty of spirit are to be assumed, on which we may be borne to the place where our treasure is and there enjoy it.
—St. Aloysius Gonzaga
“Thus says the LORD:
Lo, I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
The things of the past shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
Instead, there shall always be rejoicing and happiness
in what I create;
For I create Jerusalem to be a joy
and its people to be a delight;
I will rejoice in Jerusalem
and exult in my people.
No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there,
or the sound of crying;
No longer shall there be in it
an infant who lives but a few days,
or an old man who does not round out his full lifetime;
He dies a mere youth who reaches but a hundred years,
and he who fails of a hundred shall be thought accursed.
They shall live in the houses they build,
and eat the fruit of the vineyards they plant.” -Isaiah 65:17-21
Today’s first reading is a little reprieve of hope in the midst of Lent, a reminder of what is to come. A reminder that suffering is never the end of our story, that God brings about resurrections from our seasons of suffering and the ultimate resurrection from all our pain in the hope of the eternal life Christ won for us.
“No longer shall the sound of weeping be heard there, or the sound of crying.” This reminds me of the line from the Psalms where it says that God collects our tears in a bottle (Psalm 56:9). One of my friends and I joke about a bottle not being big enough for God to collect our tears, but that instead we have bathtubs full. Why would God collect our tears? Why would God make it a point to tell us through the prophets that in Heaven there will be no more weeping?
Because our suffering matters to God, and He wants us to know that it is not in vain. Our suffering is sacred to the God who suffered it all for us. Jesus didn’t have to suffer and die for us, but He did so He could understand our pain and so when we suffer, we wouldn’t ever have to be alone in it. His suffering meant an eventual end to ours, that Heaven could be opened for us.
In Heaven there will be no more tears of sorrow, no more pain. Every ounce of hurt and betrayal will be redeemed and atoned for. Every wound healed. Every sin taken away. Revel in that glory for a second. That is how much we’re loved by our Father. That’s what this Lenten journey is all about. Earth is not our home. Heaven heals. And in the meantime? God counts every single tear. We don’t even know how many tears we cry, but He does. He holds each one as precious and sacred, collecting them and not letting them go to waste. He is not absent in our tears; He is here.
Ponder the marvels of Heaven today, and allow God’s glory to reorient your hope.
P.S. My song recommendation of the day is one of the most beautiful choral hymns based on the first reading and a similar passage in Revelation, “And I Saw a New Heaven” by Edgar Bainton. Listen for the part where they sing, “And God shall wipe away all tears.” Enjoy!
I tell you, my friends,
do not be afraid of those who kill the body
but after that can do no more.
I shall show you whom to fear.
Be afraid of the one who after killing
has the power to cast into Gehenna;
yes, I tell you, be afraid of that one.
Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins?
Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God.
Even the hairs of your head have all been counted.
Do not be afraid.
You are worth more than many sparrows.
My confidence is placed in God who does not need our help for accomplishing his designs. Our single endeavor should be to give ourselves to the work and to be faithful to him, and not to spoil his work by our shortcomings.
—St. Isaac Jogues
Today we celebrate the feast of St. Isaac Jogues, one of the North American martyrs who gave his life serving the Native American people (and also the first priest to set foot in Manhattan). Through his life and martyrdom, he embodied the verses from today’s Gospel. He had no fear of those who threatened to kill his body, although there were many. He focused instead on the well-being of the soul, both preserving the sanctity of his own soul and awakening other souls to Christ.
In the summer of 1642, while Fr. Jogues was traveling with the Huron people he was serving, he was captured and tortured by attacking Mohawks. They beat him mercilessly and chewed off his forefingers, leaving his hands permanently mutilated. Fr. Jogues spent the next seventeen months in captivity, treated as a slave. Even in those unimaginable conditions, he sought to connect with people’s souls. He baptized seventy people and tended to the sick, including one of the men who had bitten off his fingers.
For Fr. Jogues, the horrible bodily tortures he suffered—undoubtedly painful though they were—were ultimately inconsequential. When he was freed from captivity and returned to civilization, he spoke fondly of his former persecutors, never allowing the physical pain they had caused him to cloud his awareness that they were beloved children of God. He had demonstrated his genuine love for these people, who had reason to distrust Westerners, by learning their language and customs and being attentive to their needs. He wanted them to realize the incalculable worth of their souls—they were worth more, indeed, than many sparrows.
People thought Fr. Jogues was crazy to return to his mission after the ordeals he had suffered, but he was undeterred. He was eventually martyred in 1646, captured again by Mohawks and killed by a blow to the head with a tomahawk. Some of his last words were, “I do not fear death or torture. I do not know why you would kill me. I come here to confirm the peace and show you the way to heaven.”
Curiously, his killer later underwent a radical conversion to the Catholic faith and took the name Isaac Jogues when baptized. He too was martyred just a week later. One of the missionary priests said afterward, “God willing, there are now two Isaac Jogueses in heaven.” I have to imagine that the first Isaac Jogues had taken an active interest in caring for his persecutor, interceding for his conversion and a martyr’s crown. His goal, after all, had always been heaven, not just for himself but for everyone. Ultimately, his joyful confidence in Christ drew many souls upward in his wake.