True Wisdom

Yesterday’s readings during Lauds and Vespers caused me to think seriously about my secondary vocation as a Lay Dominican.

READING Wisdom 7:13-14

Simply I learned about Wisdom, and ungrudgingly do I share –
her riches I do not hide away;
For to men she is an unfailing treasure;
those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God,
to whom the gifts they have from discipline commend them.

READING James 3:17-18

Wisdom from above is first of all innocent. It is also peaceable, lenient, docile, rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are its fruits, impartial and sincere. The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.

If I am given an insight to Scripture, or insight to how to live a good, Christian life, it wouldn’t be right to hide such riches away. If I can assist someone by talking about what I’ve learned – the wisdom I have gained – then I must share these things with others. To be sure, it’s not my own wisdom that I’m sharing, but wisdom God grants me through the sources He sees fit to use: commentary on Scripture, formation at our Dominican meetings, even speaking to me quietly in my heart while I meditate on His word.

These gifts come from discipline, the book of Wisdom says, and it’s true. The closer I draw to God through prayer and study, the more often I am rewarded with insights into how I ought to be living out my vocation, how to be a better disciple of His Son. And all of this takes a certain discipline; I must put aside other things that tempt me and focus on what I’m being called to do. Only then will such gifts be given.

But sharing wisdom cannot just be an act of pounding it into people’s heads. In every instance, I must follow the advice of Saint James:

Wisdom is peaceable: I cannot attack someone with the wisdom I’ve been given. In strictly human terms, it puts a person on the defensive when you start in with “You’re doing it wrong!” I cannot create conflict in order to make my point, attacking people and treating them as adversaries.

Wisdom is lenient: I read recently that when a person is trying to do good, but fails, it is not the same as not trying and just choosing to do wrong. So if a person is striving to avoid sinning, but fails and commits that sin, we must be lenient in dealing with him rather than emphasizing the sin. This isn’t to say that, say your child does something you’ve told them not to after resisting the urge, you shouldn’t punish your child at all; rather, we should look at it with our Father’s eyes and try to determine if an effort was made to avoid the sin, and then any punishment should reflect this aspect.

Screen Shot 2013-08-28 at 6.06.56 PMWisdom is docile: Docile means submissive and ready to take instruction. Not only should we be ready to submit to God and His Church – taking instruction from our priests and bishops and pope – but we also must recognize when someone wiser has something to teach us, as well. Pride can be the biggest stumbling block to this. If you can’t learn from those who have more wisdom than you, then you aren’t exhibiting wisdom at all.

Wisdom is rich in sympathy and the kindly deeds that are its fruits: The wisest people I know don’t need to lord it over others. They don’t even work hard to drive home their points most of the time. Again, it’s counterproductive to beat people over the head with your great wisdom or to state it so brashly that it’s hurtful to those who must turn away from past sins to accept God’s truth and wisdom. (Remember, it’s not even your own wisdom we’re talking about.) If someone is at the tipping point of leaving the abortion industry, and all she sees of Pro Lifers are people tweeting that she’s #prodeath and #murderingbabies, that’s going to keep her from leaving her past and moving into a new life that embraces the truth. Wisdom is ready to accept that person as she struggles to leave her past behind. Wisdom shows sympathy for people who have been fooled by the devil’s lies; wisdom looks for ways to be kind instead of hurtful and condescending.

By Phillip Medhurst (Photo by Harry Kossuth) [FAL], via Wikimedia Commons

The harvest of justice is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace. We can do all we are able to achieve justice here on earth, but our justice will always be imperfect. Only God’s justice is perfect, and it will be meted out before everything is said and done. The hard part for us is that we might never see this justice while we live, and yet we must strive to sow peace in the world. Sowing peace means that we follow laws (when just and not requiring us to sin), we respect those in authority over us, and we love our neighbor (which includes those people who hurt us). It doesn’t mean we shrink from public life, as tempting as that might be at times like the ones we live in, but that we engage our culture with joy and love. We cannot just tell people we have learned a better way, we must show them by our lives.

This perfectly fits into my role as part of the Dominican Laity. I must study and pray for God’s wisdom, then be ready to sow that wisdom, like the sower of the parable, and allow God to let the seeds take fruit in people’s lives. And while sharing anything I’ve learned through my study and prayer, I must show wisdom and love towards others in the process. As Saint James says in the first chapter of his epistle:

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.  Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.

Combine this with Saint Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians, and there’s a pretty clear message: Spreading the Gospel cannot be done without love and kindness. To do so is to misrepresent what the Gospel is all about. The call to repentance must be done with compassion, and I must present myself in this way at all times, for my very actions will speak the Gospel to others, even if I don’t mean it to. And when I don’t live up to the standards given to me above, I am lying about the Gospel.

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