Saint Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr – Readings

Commentary on Hosea 2:16-17, 21-22; Psalm 44; Matthew 25:1-13

The Gospel reading comes from Matthew’s account of the end times where Jesus speaks of the coming destruction of Jerusalem and mingles it with images about the Second Coming of Jesus for the General Judgement.  This section also contains three important parables linked to the Final Judgement.

We have the first of these parables as our reading for today’s feast.  Not surprisingly, it is the Parable of the Ten bridesmaids, sometimes referred to as the Ten Virgins.  Jesus says that the Kingdom of God (he uses the word ‘heaven’) can be compared to ten bridesmaids going out to welcome the bridegroom at a wedding.

Five of them were sensible and had foresight and the other five were foolish.  The sensible ones took a reserve of oil for their lamps while the foolish ones did not.  Then the groom took much longer to come than expected and all the virgins became heavy-eyed and sleepy.

At midnight the call went up:

Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.

But as the bridesmaids trimmed their lamps, the foolish ones realised all their oil was used up.  They asked the sensible young women to share some of their oil.  They refused on the grounds that all of them would end up with not enough.  They told the foolish bridesmaids to and get more oil.

But, while they were on their way, the groom arrived and those who were ready went into the wedding hall with him and the door was locked.  When the foolish young women arrived, they begged for the door to be open:

Lord, lord, open to us.

But he answered with one of the most chilling statements in the Gospel:

Truly I tell you, I do not know you.

The moral is then given – keep your eyes open:

…for you know neither the day nor the hour. (Matt 25:13)

We know that in the very early Church many believed – and it is reflected in the earliest letter of Paul – that Jesus would come again during the believers’ lifetime (even in our own days, there are preachers who continue talk about the imminence of the ‘end times’). 

Or, there are people who work on the principle of ‘eat, drink and be merry’ and straighten things out just before the end comes. Jesus is warning that this is not a very good idea.  We do not know when the Bridegroom will come.  We have no idea when life on our planet will come to an end.  Even more practically, we do not know when our own time on this earth will terminate.  The point of these Gospel texts is that, whenever it happens, we be ready, that our lamps are burning bright.

This is not a question of piling up good works and putting them into some celestial account.  It is clear from the Gospel that God does not work that way.  What is important is that at any given moment we are in a right relationship with God.  And how do we do that?  We do it by seeking, finding and serving God in every experience of every day, finding and loving God in every person that comes into our life.  Sometimes we will fail, but we just turn round and start all over again. What is most important is where we are when he calls us.  Strangely enough, we guarantee the future by focusing on the present, on the here and now.

Cecilia was just such a faithful virgin who had consecrated her whole life to God, and in bringing others to know and love him and unhesitatingly, gave that life back to God.

The First Reading is a short passage from the prophet Hoseah.  The words describe Yahweh speaking to Israel but they can be understood as describing the Lord calling someone to be espoused to him as his bride, very appropriate for someone like Cecilia who has vowed virginity and makes Christ her Spouse:

On that day, says the Lord, you will call me “my husband”

The Lord then makes his proposal of marriage:

And I will take you for my wife forever; I will take you for my wife in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will take you for my wife in faithfulness, and you shall know the Lord.

Words again which apply so well to Cecilia who was truly a Bride of Christ, a Bride who was always ready with her lamp burning to greet her Lord.

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