From the diary of St. Faustina.
One day, I saw two roads. One was broad, covered with sand and flowers, full of joy, music and all sorts of pleasures. People walked along it, dancing and enjoying themselves. They reached the end without realizing it. And at the end of the road there was a horrible precipice; that is, the abyss of hell. The souls fell blindly into it; as they had walked, so they fell. And their number was so great that it was impossible to count them. And I saw the other road, or rather, a path, for it was narrow and strewn with thorns and rocks; and the people who walked along it had tears in their eyes, and all kinds of suffering befell them. Some fell down upon the rocks but stood up immediately and went on. At the end of the road there was a magnificent garden filled with all sorts of happiness, and all these souls entered there. At the very first instant they forgot all their sufferings.
At this time of year, as we near the end of the church calendar we hear often of the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. We hear of the two ways over and over. One way leads to eternal happiness and the other doesn’t. And the choice is ours; we can either follow the easy broad path, or we can follow the hard and narrow path.
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of these two ways over 60 times. Over 60 times he speaks of the eternal consequences of refusing to respond to him with faith, repentance, and faithful friendship. And today we heard of one of those texts. According to the Church Fathers those flasks of oil that the wise virgins brought with them represent good works, mercy, joy of a good conscience, and their keeping of holy teaching. In their faith they performed good works, in their faith they were merciful, in their faith they had the joy of a good conscience, and in their faith, they followed the way of our Lord, that narrow path. The foolish on the other hand had none of these, no good works, no mercy, no good conscience, and no keeping of holy teaching. And consequently, were left outside pounding on a locked door.
In a recent Magnificat there was a biography about Julia Greeley. I found it very interesting. She is one woman who had a large store of oil when our Lord, the Bridegroom, came for her at the end of her life. Julia Greeley is on the path to canonization. Right now, she is recognized as a Servant of God. Julia was born into slavery probably between the years of 1833 and 1848 in Hannibal Missouri. She lost her right eye at the age of 5 from the whip of a slave master who was beating her mother. In 1865, just a few months before the end of the Civil War Julia was freed.
After the war Greeley moved west and became a cook and nanny for Julia Dickerson of St. Louis who would later marry William Gilpin. When President Abraham Lincoln appointed Gilpin as the first territorial Governor of Colorado, the couple moved to Denver and Greeley joined them.
Julia learned the Catholic faith from the Gilpin family. She was baptized in 1880 at Sacred Heart Church in Denver. With her newfound faith she became especially devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and the Holy Eucharist. She went to Mass and received Holy Communion every day. Julia was a great proponent of the Sacred Heart; she tirelessly walked the city streets distributing felt Heart badges and literature from the Sacred Heart League. She gave them to Catholics and non-Catholics. If she saw you on the street, she’d talk with you about the Catholic faith. She also made sure to visit every month all 20 firehouses in Denver. She talked with the fireman about the four last things (death, judgment, heaven, hell), these men were in a dangerous profession, and she wanted to make sure they were prepared for death. She never missed an opportunity to witness her Catholic faith.
Julia became known for her charitable works, she pulled a red wagon through the streets of Denver carrying coal, clothing, and groceries. She made her deliveries after dark so as not to embarrass families ashamed to accept charity.
In 1901, Greeley joined the Secular Franciscans and remained an active member for the rest of her life. In recognition of her dedication to the poor, Greeley has been dubbed “Denver’s Angel of Charity.” On June 7th, 1918, on the Feast of the Sacred Heart Julia Greely died. Her funeral was attended by thousands of people. In January 2014, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Denver officially opened an investigation for her sainthood. Julia filled her flask with the oil of good works, mercy, joy of a good conscience, and adhering to holy teaching. She was very wise.
What about us? Are we always wise? Is Christ, his Kingdom, his narrow pathway always our first priority? Is our lamp full of the oil of faith, which we can’t borrow from anyone else but must develop in the intimacy of prayer and sacrament? Are we keeping that lamp filled by persevering and growing in our prayer life, the mercy we show to others, our good works, and do we study Christ and the teachings of his Church?
Now is the time to renew this first priority, to put our lives back on track. That’s what the Church is inviting us to do through today’s liturgy, as the end of the Church year approaches. And it is the most practical thing we can do, because it has the most important consequences. If we need to refill our lamp, we should start doing so right now, during this Mass, when Christ comes once again to be our food, and to be our light.
Many of us at this time feel an anxiety about what is happening in our country and maybe even in our Church. There might be a certain unease about what the future will bring. Now is the time to make an act of trust in God. Maybe even many acts of trust. And pray, add a holy hour before the Blessed Sacrament, pray the rosary, after the Mass the rosary is the greatest spiritual weapon. Go to daily Mass. Be that Catholic witness, witness to life, witness to religious freedom. Be another Julia Greely, an unafraid Catholic witness.
Our Lord has already conquered sin and death, these are but skirmishes. We need only fill our lamps with the oils of good works, mercy, a good conscience, and keeping to the Way of our Lord. Because as our Lord tells us, “We know neither the day nor the hour.”
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley