32A – 12 Nov 2023

32A – 12 Nov 2023

Why oil matters

Message by: Fr Richard M Healey

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In this homily, Fr Richard Healey shares their personal reflections from a visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. They discuss the significance of oil in religious rituals and the parable of the ten bridesmaids, emphasising the importance of preparedness and selflessness. The speaker also describes the unique experience of staying overnight in the church, observing the locking of the doors ceremony and the maintenance work, including the replenishing of oil lamps. The episode concludes with a discussion on salvation and the celebration of life, goodness, joy, and wonder.

Six years ago. During this time, I was in Jerusalem for a month of sabbatical, and one of the great treasures of Jerusalem is the church of the Holy Sepulchre. And most of the time, there’s just this huge queue of people, this massive crowds of pilgrims who are trying to make their way through the various sacred sites that are contained within that basilica. But I just wasn’t able to have the patience to wait hour upon hour for a few moments to be able to get into the tomb. And one of the other priests who was on the sabbatical program with us, said that he’d organise to get tickets for us to be able to stay overnight in the Holy Sepulchre. And I thought, yes, this is a chance that I won’t want to give up. And so we go there at the appointed hour. There’s only about 6 or 8 people allowed to stay overnight each time, and then watch this whole ceremony of the locking of the doors, the different Christian communities from the East and churches and from the Catholic Church and from the Orthodox churches all kind of gather for this ceremony, where the main door into the gas is, is locked from the outside, and it’s a muslim who holds the key to the door each night.

(00:01:27) – And I thought, yes, okay, now we’re about to go to the tomb and be able to finally pray there. But they said no, no, no, no. First they need to do the maintenance and cleaning. And so this whole veritable army of helpers begin to descend upon the basilica, and all of them begin to bring oil to replenish the oil lamps that adorn all of the area around the tomb. And so we just sitting, waiting and we’re like, how long will this take? They’re like at least an hour and a half. And so about two hours later, after all of this kind of happens, we’re finally able to get into the Holy Sepulchre, into the actual place of the tomb. And it was a wonderful moment. But that sense that all of that work kind of needs to happen. And during that first couple of hour period, I was trying to just go around. It’s a massive kind of building, trying to find somewhere that was relatively quiet, to be able just to sit and to pray.

(00:02:29) – But of course, if they weren’t changing the oil in the laps, they were starting to restore the frescoes, or there were people kind of setting up scaffolding or all this kind of stuff and just like, oh my goodness, all this kind of thing that needs to happen in order for us to, to enter into the worship. And so the oil in the lamp is a crucial part of our lives, because it represents all of that sense of being open to the wonders of God. It’s not something that you are able to borrow from somebody else. Now, the bridegroom was generally late. It was part of the game that apparently is even still played through to this day in that period in that area of Levant between both the Muslim and Jewish communities, they still have this practice of this extended period of a wedding feast that would go for about a week. And any time almost in that period, the bridegroom could arrive. So these bridesmaids know that they have to bring extra oil.

(00:03:34) – It was just the presumption you had to bring extra oil. So the wise ones are not doing anything extraordinary. That is, doing what is the normal expectation of life at that time that you need to be prepared, that you need to offer yourself in all that you can to look after the poor, to care for the vulnerable, to be aware of those who are most in need of our community, that all of them are also part of this requirement to to be prepared. But God will do the work. You know, it’s not something that we just have to. It’s not a workspace salvation solution that we’re after. It’s all about this recognition that no, God is the one who’s calling. God is the one who is inviting us more deeply into the celebration. And that’s what life is about. That’s the goal of this. It’s not getting ready for a life of drudgery. It’s not getting ready for a life of just being bored and dissatisfied. It’s this invitation into the wedding. It’s his invitation into this celebration of life and goodness and joy and wonder.

(00:04:44) – That’s what we’re preparing for. And as we get to the end of this liturgical year, and it can kind of just feel like this year is dragging on and all of the sadness, all of the stuff that’s kind of happening around us, and it can all just feel like it’s too. Too much. It’s just being overwhelmed by all of this. And yet the invitation is just to continue to do the one necessary thing that sits in front of us to do the next right thing. That’s all we ever have to do. We don’t have to solve everything. We don’t have to bring a solution to all of the world’s problems. But we need to do whatever is there in front of us. And the Holy Spirit is always nudging. The Holy Spirit is always inviting. The Holy Spirit is always giving us a little sense of of what that one thing is that is lying in front of us, that one need, that one person that needs to to have that smile, that one person that needs a word of encouragement, that one person that needs that listening ear listening is such a crucial and important gift.

(00:05:52) – So all of these works, all of these things are part of building up the stock of oil in our lives, because we know that God wants this direct and immediate access to us, that God doesn’t have any grandchildren. God only has people that he brings into that intimacy of relationship. He longs for us to be his children. He longs for us to respond in that way. And so for us, we need to remember that it’s our job, our role to do what we can to offer our hearts more fully and more completely to the God who’s always calling and always inviting us into the celebration of life with him.

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