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You might have heard of Nikos Kazantzakis who is widely considered a giant of modern Greek literature. He is probably better known as the author of Zorba the Greek and The Last Temptation of Christ. Just before he died in 1957 he wrote an autobiographical novel called Report to Greco. It paints a vivid picture of his childhood in Crete, still occupied by the Turks, and then steadily grows into a spiritual quest that takes him to Italy, Jerusalem, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Russia and the Caucasus, and finally back to Crete again.

At one point in the book a young Kazantzakis recalls a meeting with a famous old monk and the conversation that ensued around being saved. Basically Kazantzakis wanted to know if there was an easier, more palatable way to be saved other than the very austere life that the old monk was living. When the reply came back that there was not Kazantzakis comforted himself by saying that he was still young and that there was plenty of time to change! At which the monk shot back immediately: Death loves the young. Wake up! Wake up before death wakes you up!

Today’s gospel is the well-known parable of the five wise and the five foolish bridesmaids. They should have been so excited at the prospect of the arrival of the bridegroom, they all should have been so thrilled in anticipation of all the festivities that the adrenalin should have kept them all wide awake. And yet it didn’t – all ten of them fell soundly asleep!

They were asleep to the present! Asleep to what was about to happen. Asleep to what was going on around them. I know their feeling and tiredness. It is so easy to stumble through each day in a sort of sleepy haze, fatigued by the distractions and worries that sometimes overwhelm, weary at confronting the issues and problems of life and relationships. Is it any wonder that days slip into weeks and before you know it we are looking down the barrel of celebrating yet another Christmas!

Did I sleep through last week? Did I sleep through the last couple of months? Was I so tired that I did not recognise the many blessings of my life? Was I so exhausted that I did not spend any time reflecting on the simple choices and actions that, taken together, indicate clearly the direction of my life and the person I am becoming?

I think what separates the foolish from the five wise bridesmaids is that the former thought there will always be enough time after they woke up to deal with all the issues of life and relationships. To say the things that need to be said, to do the things that need to be done.   After they woke up there will be enough time to make their lives all that they want them to be. They are foolish because they think there is an unlimited amount of “oil” in their lamps to make it all happen.

Today’s gospel calls us to see our lives as a wonderful gift from God – but a gift that is preciously short and fragile. It is never too late to wake up and recognise that now is the time to “trim” our lamps and stop sleepwalking. So perhaps the old monk that challenged Nikos Kazantzakis was right, there is not an unlimited amount of oil in our lamps, so – Wake up! Wake up before death wakes you up!

Fr Peter


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