Immersed in Christ: November 8, 2020
THE THIRTY-SECOND SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A
The Fidelity of the Wise
What does the word “wisdom” mean to you? Is there a difference between “worldly wisdom” or being “street wise” (on whatever social or professional street) and “spiritual” wisdom? What makes one different from the other?
The Entrance Antiphon begins “Let my prayer cone before you, Lord. Listen and answer me.” We begin or should begin everything with a conscious awareness of our limited knowledge, intelligence and power — especially our power to love as God loves us. So we ground ourselves in confidence by remembering that our prayer will always “come before the Lord.” He will always “listen and answer” us. We do not need to depend on our own wisdom and power.
In the Opening Prayer(s) we again draw confidence from remembering that God is the “God of power and mercy.” He will “protect us from all harm.” But so that we, on our side, may cooperate with his grace (“grace” is the divine life of God in us), we ask for “freedom of spirit.” We need that wholeness (“health”) of “mind and body” that frees us from the light-obscuring darkness and life-diminishing desires that blind and misdirect us in this world where infected cultures shape and distort our attitudes and values. We ask God to “help us to become more aware of your loving design,” because it is the end or goal we keep in sight that expands or limits the horizon of choices we will select from. “Wisdom” is defined (by Saint Thomas Aquinas) as “the habit of seeing everything in the light of our last end.” What we accept as our end will determine what we perceive as acceptable means. The Rite of Communion focuses us on our last end: the “wedding banquet of the Lamb.”
In praise of Wisdom
Wisdom 6:12 to 16 begins by telling us how valuable the gift of wisdom is. Wisdom is “resplendent and unfading,” the “perfection of prudence” that “frees us from care.”
She (wisdom) is not some unattainable treasure. But she doesn’t come free: we have to do our part. She is “found by those who seek her.” She “makes herself known” to those who “desire” her and those who “watch for her at dawn” will “not be disappointed.” For her sake we need to “keep vigil.’ If we do she will appear to us and meet us.
In other words, wisdom is as available as prayer. If we pray we will find her. If we find her we will pray. The only question is, do we want her. To want wisdom is wisdom already. If we pray, this will be given to us.
Light and Fire
The Responsorial (Psalm 63) is the cry of a wise heart: “My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.” Matthew 25: 1-13 tells us what keeps this thirst alive and focused. It is prayer.
The fire of the bridesmaids’ torches is wisdom. The oil that fuels it is prayer. Without prayer our torches go out.
Fire gives both light and heat, and both are images of wisdom. St. Thomas defines wisdom in two ways which really say the same thing. Wisdom is the habit of seeing everything in the light of our last end: flame as light. And wisdom is the “taste” or desire for God and spiritual things: flame as fire or fervor. (Wisdom in Latin is sapientia, from the same root as sapor or “savor” that arouses appetite).
As light, wisdom keeps our minds focused on the bridegroom, intent on the “wedding banquet of the Lamb,” our final end. As fire, wisdom keeps our hearts aflame with longing for the wedding feast and for union with the bridegroom, who is the “bread,” the essential joy of the banquet. Prayer is an exercise of mind and will, both united in a single focus and longing of our heart. Prayer is the oil that keeps the flame of wisdom shining and burning in our lives. Through prayer we enter into and remain in wisdom. Wisdom gives us both direction and desire: the goal that sets our course and energy to pursue it.
This parable puts us into the perspective of the “end time.” “Keep your eyes open, for you know not the day or the hour.” Jesus is speaking primarily of the Parousia, from the Greek par-eimi, to “be there.” It can mean “presence” or “coming.” In Scripture, it refers essentially to the Lord’s coming, the arrival or “advent” of the Day of the Lord, Christ’s return in glory, that we look forward to during the Rite of Communion at Mass, “as we await our blessed hope, the coming (adventum) of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Jesus, in this parable, is telling us to let the light of wisdom keep us always aware of and longing for his coming — both at the end of the world and when he comes to us through inspirations and desires of our heart. 1
Jesus told this parable in the context of urging us to faithful stewardship.
You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has put in charge of his household...? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions.2
In 1Thessalonians 4: 13-18 Paul holds up to us our “final end.” It is resurrection. The body we live in is a temporary one on earth; but it will rise. We will live in it forever. It is wisdom to see our body and everyone else’s body always in this light.
What is “wisdom”? How does knowing this definition help you as a “steward of Christ’s kingship”?
Adopt the ancient motto: “Respice finem” — “Look to the end.” Say it often.
1 See Xavier Léon-Dufour, Dictionary of the New Testament. 2 Matthew 24: 44-47. See also Matthew 25: 14-29; Luke 12:42-46; Revelation 3: 1-3.