Who are these ten virgins? We can get a sense of this if we recall that Jesus has just left the temple area with his disciples. They point out the temple buildings to him, magnificent as they were, and he tells them about the tribulations to come, including the destruction of these buildings and tremendous loss of life. He then warns them to stay awake and care for those entrusted to them. He goes on to tell them this parable to underscore the necessity of readiness, for they too will come upon times of dire happenings, whether the end times themselves or only the end of their own life.
Thus we see that the ten virgins refer to the disciples of Jesus -- those who try to follow his commands, and, in particular, obey the rules. Even among these, Jesus tells us, there are the wise and the foolish. The wise will be prepared for the end-times, whether universal or personal, and the foolish will not. This is the clear meaning of the midnight arrival of the bridegroom. He comes late at night, signifying end times. He comes after a time of sleep, signifying the natural spiritual torpor that comes upon human beings who frequently tend to coast in the spiritual life. He comes late, at a time when we are likely to be tired and disoriented. Clearly, this signifies the extremity of the times we must confront when we are at death's door. All the more, at such times, do we need spiritual and moral reserves.
How does Jesus describe this preparation? He likens it to the 5 wise virgins who carry extra oil for their lamps. Evidently the lamps signify the light of faith, a necessity in very dark times. The oil? Jesus has spoken before about what strengthens faith. When he spoke about the Sower and the Seed, and explained that the seed of faith takes root when it is planted in rich soil, he was speaking about what nourishes faith. [Matt 13] When he spoke about the man who built his house upon rock, he was speaking of how to hold fast to the content of faith. [Matt 7:24-27]
In many ways in through many figures of speech, Jesus spoke of acting upon faith as the key to nurturing faith and entering the kingdom of heaven. Thus, we may assume that the oil represents a storehouse of this food of faith.
Another way to see this is to refer back to our model of virtue. Virtue is acquired through practice. Thus, faith is strengthened by practice of faith. But we must see this in all its dimensions.
Faith involves trust. If we choose to trust in Jesus, we will act upon his word, for that is how we demonstrate trust. When we see that our efforts have good results, our faith is rewarded. Even more deeply, the Holy Spirit strengthens us through the practice of faith even when the circumstances of the world seem to militate against it. Thus we grow in trust of Jesus by acting on that trust regardless of how the world responds to us.
Faith involves understanding and appreciation of God's providence. When we obey natural and divine law, we come to see how everything fits together. We begin to sense an underlying unity, beauty, meaning and purpose. We develop the light of faith. We withstand the challenges of the world because we appreciate the vacuousness of those challenges. Key to developing this light, however, is humility and trust in the guidance of Jesus and of his Church, scripture and tradition. Critical to this is our acceptance of his many assurances, "He who hears you hears me." [Luke 10:16] And we recognize that this applies to scripture, to tradition and to the magisterium of the present day. This is particularly critical in the darkest times because it is then that the world's attacks on the Church are strongest and the Church's own internal sanctity and wisdom is called most into question. At such times, we will always tend to hang back until we see the evidence of good fruit before committing ourselves. At such times, unfortunately, we will not always have the luxury of hanging back and waiting. What the do we do? Beyond question, our first impulse should be to trust those whom God has established in authority -- the magisterium. We will not hold ourselves aloof and above the wisdom of the Church, as Buckley did in "Mater, si! Magistra, no!" We will not be cafeteria Catholics.
The fullness of faith involves growth in love. Without love, faith is, in the words of St. Paul, a "sounding brass or tinkling cymbal." [1 Cor 13:1] When we build trust in God and come to understand and appreciate his providence, our love of God naturally grows in strength. We appreciate the wisdom, strength and beauty of God. This augments the natural reverence we have in the creator, because God shows that he is personally involved in our salvation. He cares for us. In the words of his beloved apostle, John:
In this is love brought to perfection among us,
that we have confidence on the day of judgment
because as he is, so are we in this world.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear
because fear has to do with punishment,
and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us.
[1 John 4:17-19]
Because God loves us so much, he provides us with all of the grace we need to develop these spiritual and moral reserves. Jesus died for us so that we might have life. [John 3:16] He left us an example. In the words of St. Peter:
For to this you have been called,
because Christ also suffered 10 for you,
leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.
"He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth."
When he was insulted, he returned no insult;
when he suffered, he did not threaten;
instead, he handed himself over to the one who judges justly.
He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross,
so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness.
By his wounds you have been healed.
For you had gone astray like sheep,
but you have now returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
[1 Peter 2:21-25]
He did not leave us orphans. [John 14:18] He comes to us in many ways. He comes to us through his Spirit. [John 14:16-17] Even the Father dwells within us. [John 14:23] We enter into the Holy Communion of unity through interpenetration.
He has given us (the Church as the Body of Christ) the keys to the kingdom of heaven. If we get locked out it will not be his fault.