Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Let's see: who among you is wise and understanding? Show your hand! Anyone? No takers, a few takers? OK. Who among you is wise and understanding? Show your works! Show us a good life lived in the humility that comes from wisdom. Let's see you live day to day immersed in the love of God and in the full knowledge that you are totally dependent on Him for everything you have and everything you are. What should we see if we were to observe a wise and understanding soul live day to day? According to James, such a soul would be “peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits,” constant and sincere. A foolish and ignorant soul, James writes, is infested with “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition,” plagued by a manner of thinking and living, a wisdom that is “earthly, unspiritual, [and] demonic.” What distinguishes the wise soul from the foolish soul is not wisdom per se but the source of one's wisdom. The wisdom that brings peace comes down from above and is “first of all pure.” It's that divine purity that gives one's wisdom fertility, the unfettered ability to cultivate peace.
If you had to name the one thing you are pursuing in this life, what would it be? I hope, I pray, most of us here tonight would say, “I'm pursuing holiness by following Christ!” If we were wade into the Madri Gras crowds down on St. Charles tomorrow and ask, “What are you pursing in this life?” we might get a few coherent answers. More than likely, we'd get a Hurricane thrown in our face! Whether we know it or not, we are all chasing after something; we are all following behind someone or some idea. . .even if that someone is a potential mate or that idea is “just make it one more day.” We were created to desire the Good and we are given the tools to sift through all the flotsam we encounter to find the Good. But how often do we choose the Good? We desire it and we have what it takes to recognize it, but do we deliberately select what is Good and reject what it evil? The selection process can be daunting, even overwhelming if you are relying on human knowledge and experience alone. Thus, James tells us that true wisdom is Godly wisdom, “first of all [it is] pure,” from above. When you place yourself at the disposal of Godly wisdom, you place yourself in the way of righteousness, which is guaranteed to bear abundant fruit. And the first fruit of righteousness is peace.
Wisdom is one of those tricky words that needs a little explanation. Think of human wisdom this way: take knowledge add experience, throw in some prudence and over time you get human wisdom. A very valuable resource. More valuable still is Godly wisdom. Take knowledge gained from revelation (scripture, Christ, and creation) add the experience of the whole Church (2,000 yrs. of sacred tradition), throw in some faith, some prudence, and lots of perseverance and you get about as close to Godly wisdom as you can get this side of heaven. The difference that makes the difference here when it comes to fruitfulness is the source of the wisdom at work. Human wisdom can never evolve faster than humanity itself. Godly wisdom is always several stages beyond where we absolutely need it to be. This is why we are constantly astonished by the works of faith. This is why we are amazed by the lives of the saints. This is why we keep coming back to God over and over again no matter how many times we've run the other way. Who among you is wise and understanding? Show your works! Show us a good life lived in the humility that comes from Godly wisdom.
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