Tag Archives: Salvation

A Cup of Poison

The first monks who tried to live under Benedict’s direction hated his regimen, so much so they plotted to kill their abbot. They put poison in a glass of wine and offered it to Benedict. Before he took it, he blessed it, as was the custom. According to the story told by Pope Gregory I (Benedict’s biographer), when Benedict made the sign of the cross over the wine glass, it shattered, and the wine spilled to the floor.

Benedict, Gregory wrote, “perceived that the glass had in it the drink of death,” called his monks together, said he forgave them, reminded them that he doubted from the beginning whether he was a suitable abbot for them, and concluded, “Go your ways, and seek some other father suitable to your own conditions, for I intend not now to stay any longer amongst you.”

                                                                                                                Christianity Today

Today is the feast day of St. Benedict of Nursia, who was born in about 480, as the Roman Empire began to crumble.  The son of a Roman nobleman, he left his home and his studies around the age of 20.  He established about a dozen monastic houses, but is most widely known for founding Monte Cassino, an abbey which to this day remains the mother house of the Benedictine Order.  Benedict died around 547, according to legend while standing in prayer to God.

Benedict is sometimes considered the founder of western monasticism.  The effects of the monastic movement, including the Benedictines, has been enormous. Largely as a result of their patience and painstaking labors, the Holy Scriptures were preserved through the Dark Ages.  They contributed greatly to science, literacy, and culture at a time when all of these were threatened.

As I reflect upon the story above, it seems to me to have a deeper meaning than first appears.  There’s nothing unusual about those of us in the religious life experiencing profound frustration, and even anger, with our brothers and sisters.  (I’m glad to report, however,  that I’m unaware of any conspiracy to poison my Prior or any of the leaders of my Order.)  According to legend, as Benedict made the sign of the Cross over the poisoned cup, it shattered.  It seems to me that the Cross has a remarkable way of breaking through anger and resentment, and that may be the point of this story.

Benedict’s response to that poison cup offers us another insight.  He forgave the brother’s responsible.  He teaches us something terribly important:  having been saved by the Cross, we cannot withhold from others the same forgiveness Christ displayed on the Cross.

God watch over thee and me,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Loving Everyone

Do all you can to love everyone.  If you are not yet able to, at the very least don’t hate anyone.  Yet you won’t even manage this if you have not reached detachment from the things of this world.
You must love everyone with all your soul, hoping, however, only in God and honouring him with all your heart.
Christ’s friends are not loved by all, they sincerely love all.  The friends of this world are not loved by all, but neither do they love all.
 Christ’s friends persevere in their love right to the end.  The friends of this world persevere only so long as they do not find themselves in disagreement over worldly matters….
 This is the Love about which it is written:  “if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and have all knowledge, but have not love, I am nothing.” [I Cor. 13:2]
Whoever has love has God, because God is love.  [1 John 4:16].

                                       –Maximus the Confessor, Centuries on Charity

I found this wonderful bit of wisdom in the reading for today in Thomas Spidlik’s book, Drinking From the Hidden Fountain.  I have previously written about Maximus the Confessor (see here), and won’t repeat that discussion in this post. I have, however, always found Maximus to be a source of great wisdom.

Perhaps no part of the Christian life challenges us more than Jesus’ injunction that we are to love all of God’s children.  This means loving the clerk in the grocery store who really perturbs me, the fellow in the gym who seems so full of himself, and the horrible gossip at Church.  It means loving the people who’ve wounded me, even those who remain unrepentant.

The Christian life demands that we love without regard to the question of who deserves our affection, without regard to their kindness, without regard to their history, and without regard to their merit.  That’s no small part of what underlies the Parable of the Good Samaritan, and it certainly  provides the foundation for Jesus’ teaching:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.” Matt. 5:43-46.

Those of us who follow Jesus walk down a difficult path, especially the road of loving our enemies.  Too often, I hear people make the Faith sound easier than it is.  Following Christ is hard; it is as hard as the nails on the Cross.  St. Maximus urges us take the discipline of the Christian life seriously.  I need to hear his voice more often.

I wish you a safe and happy holiday, and may the peace of Christ disturb you profoundly,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

So That She May Be Made Well, and Live

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” He went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, `Who touched me?'” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.  Mark 5:21-43.

In today’s Gospel, Mark offers two portrayals of Jesus as a healer.  The first concerns the story of a man named Jairus whose daughter is dying.  Mark describes Jairus as a leader of the synogogue, which also reveals that some Jewish authorities looked up to and relied on Jesus.  While Jesus is on the way to help Jairus’ little girl, something remarkable happens.

Mark breaks into the story of Jairus and his daughter with an interlude, a story about a woman with a blood disorder.  This woman approaches Jesus, a woman who who had “suffered” and “endured” a lot.  Her disease had isolated her, hurt her, and left her penniless.  And yet, she believes that merely touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak will make her well.  She is cured, and moreover, Jesus tells her that her faith has made her well.

By the time Jesus arrives at Jairus’ home, the mourner’s announce that He has come to late and the child has already died.  Jesus counsels Jairus, “Do not fear, but trust.”  Jesus tells them that the child is not dead, but merely sleeping.  Jesus takes the little girl by her hand and tells her to get up, and she rises and begins to walk.

At the time of these events, Jairus’ daughter was twelve years old.  The woman had suffered from her hemoraging for twelve years.  These two are linked together, as the life flows out of them.  We might certainly read these stories in the light of the people of Israel (the twelve tribes).  One is a daughter of a man of honor and prestige, the other an “unclean” woman lost in her desperation.  Both the woman with the blood disorder and the little girl who had died are impure; by touching them, Jesus will share in this impurity.  And yet, through the touch of this unique Rabbi, both will find new life.

I think we miss the point of this narrative if we merely read it as a story about how Jesus was really good at conquering disease and even death.  I don’t think the message of the Incarnation was to simply to show us that God could work miracles.  Rather, God became man to show us how deeply he loved us and how he wanted to heal the wounds that separated us from Him.

Both Jairus and the woman with the blood disorder ask “to be made well” (sozo in the Greek).  This implies not just a curing them from their physical ailments, but also making them whole, restoring them, saving them.  Both Jairus’ daughter and the hemoraging woman were made well.  But Jesus offered them more than simply restoration of their health; He offered them life.

I don’t think these two stories are simply about Jesus’ remarkable power, or even about miracles.  Jesus didn’t come to show us how powerful He was; He came to show us how much God loved us.  He came to teach us about the extraordinary power of faith, and about the limitless compassion of the Living God.  And if we will reach out to touch His Son, we also will be made well, and live.

Shabbat Shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Laboring in the Soul’s Vineyard

All rational creatures have their own vineyard, their souls, their wills being the laborers appointed to work in them with freedom of choice, and in time, that is, for as long as they live.  Once this time is past they can work no more, whether well or ill, but while they live they can work at their vineyards in which I had placed them.  And these laborers in the soul have been given a strength no devil or any other creature can take from them unless they choose; for their baptism made them strong and equipped them with a knife of love and virtue and hatred of sin.

                              St. Catherine of Siena, from the Dialogue of Divine Providence

I found this wonderful little reflection in Fr. Robert Wright’s work, Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church.  It’s particularly meaningful for me because Saint Catherine of Sienna was also a member of the Dominican Order.  She lived from 1347 until 1380, is one of the two patron saints of Italy, and has been named a Doctor of the Church.

Although a mystic, she was also a theologian and a Scholastic philosopher.  She lived during the time when the black death ravaged Europe.  Her parents had 25 children, although only about half of them survived to adulthood.  She worked very hard to bring unity and peace to the Roman Catholic Church, deeply loved the poor, and both befriended and occasionally chided Popes and clergy.  The Dialogue of Divine Providence treats the whole of our spiritual lives as a series of colloquies between the Father and the human soul.

In this profound passage, St. Catherine compares the soul to a vineyard.  We might immediately think of Jesus’ description of us as branches of a vine.  See John 15:5.  We might also think of the parable of the vineyard workers set out in Matt. 20:1-6.  With regard to this vineyard of the soul, Catherine observes that we have been given a specific time within which to complete our work.  Once our time is past, she observes, we “can work no more”.  St. Catherine reminds us that our time is relatively short, and that we must be about our spiritual work while we can.

To accomplish this work, our Father has provided us with powerful tools: the sacraments (and baptism in particular).  Catherine compares them to a knife (such as one might use to prune a vine), but this is no ordinary blade.  God has provided us with a “knife of love and virtue and hatred of sin.”  With these, the Almighty has equipped us to work in the soul’s vineyard.  Important work awaits you and me, and The Lord has given us tools that neither the devil nor anyone else can take away from us without our consent.  For the work of the soul, we have everything we need.

God watch over thee and me,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Peace! Be Still!

When evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”  Mark 4:35-41.

In the Gospel reading from today’s Lectionary, we find Jesus and the disciples after a long day of teaching and healing.  In fact, the crowds had swelled to such a point that Jesus had preached from the boat as the crowd listened on land.  Jesus devoted much of his teaching that day to explaining about the Kingdom of God.  I think we might interpret today’s Gospel in that context, although Jesus will now show the disciples what the Kingdom is like.

When a violent storm arises and threatens to swamp their boat, the disciples feel a genuine terror.  I have often asked the exact question that they raise:  “Do you not care that we are perishing?”  I have often asked God almost exactly the same question:  “Can you not see what’s going on down here?”  We wonder where God is while we struggle through our troubles, our danger, and our fears.  And yet, the disciples found that their rabbi was with them all along, sleeping in the stern of the boat.  So, this story suggests that while we are panicking in chaos and certain that we are perishing, Jesus remains right there with us, in the middle of the storm.

Mark tells us that Jesus rebuked the storm, telling the maelstrom:  “Peace!  Be still!” We all wish that we could give such instructions when chaos arrives.  What would happen if we could rebuke cancer, or automobile crashes, or church fights, telling them:  “Be still!”  Even the wind and the sea obeyed Jesus, but I suspect that’s mostly because Jesus had such a profound trust of the Father.

Earlier, I suggested that this Gospel passage, like those that immediately precede it, is about the Kingdom of God.  Jesus can sleep through the storm because He knows that God reigns over all, and wants to take care of, all creation.  While the control of meteorological events may seem beyond most of us, trusting God is well within our reach.  Perhaps then, we too can be still.

I wish you Sabbath peace,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Christian Freedom

 

 

 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. Gal. 5:13-15.

Today’s reading from the Daily Office offers us a glimpse of St. Paul’s notion of Christian freedom.  Earlier in the passage, Paul says that Christ has set us free for freedom.  Gal. 5:1.  Paul notes that Christ has freed us, not only from the yoke of the Law, but also from sin itself. 

Generally, we think of being freed from some sort of difficulty (financial debt, addiction, or a broken heart).  Jesus has not only freed us from the law, He has freed us for a new relationship with the Father.  Thus, St. Paul tells us our new freedom does not liberate us for self-gratification.  If that were so, we would simply trade one set of chains for another.

St. Paul’s next move is somewhat surprising and offers us one of those paradoxes that we so often encounter in Christianity (a virgin birth, Jesus as fully divine and fully human, loving our enemies, etc.).  Paul tells us that Christ brought us liberty so that we might become “slaves to one another.”  We might well ask, “What kind of freedom is that?”   

St. Paul argues that the contrary view of freedom (absolute liberty devoted to selfish goals)  leads to an “eat or be eaten” way of living.  He says, “If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”  His language here conjures up images of wild animals tearing each other apart.  (I’ve certainly been present at dinner parties which would suggest that Paul was right.)  We have too often demonstrated the capacity for greed, humiliation, violence and making a way for ourselves on the backs of others.  Paul is right; we consume each other.

 St. Paul offers us another way: the Way of the Cross.  He tells us “the only thing that counts is faith working through love.”  Gal. 5: 6. Paul believes this new relationship with God compels us toward a life of charity and compassion. This new relationship with Christ draws us into a life of serving each other.  There, we will encounter the freedom to be the sort of people God intended us to be.  Stated another way, Jesus freed us to become the Church, His mystical body.  Beyond compliance with a set of rules and beyond the “righteousness trap”, St. Paul calls us to a life of devoted service to God’s children. 

That life of devotion, of self-denying love, constitutes the essence of the Christian life.  Saint Paul does not see a life in community, spent in the service of God’s children, as the best sort of Christian life.  Rather, he sees it as the only life than can authentically be called “Christian.”

God watch over thee and me,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

In the Garden

The man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. But the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the LORD God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.” The LORD God said to the serpent,

“Because you have done this,
       cursed are you among all animals
       and among all wild creatures;
upon your belly you shall go,
       and dust you shall eat
       all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
       and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike your head,
       and you will strike his heel.”  Gen 3:8-15.

In today’s Lectionary reading, we encounter the third chapter of Genesis, taking us back to a time when God walked freely within His creation, a time before the separation of God and mankind, and before the separation of mankind and nature.  Yet through their disobedience, mankind has chosen to separate themselves.  I think that’s how it still works today.  We chose to move away from God, and find ourselves isolated and sometimes exiled.  

When God asks if they’ve eaten from the forbidden true, Adam’s response typifies our own response to being caught.  “It wasn’t my fault; you’re the one who made her, and she’s the one who gave the fruit to me.”  Eve joins in the fray, shifting the responsibility for these events to the serpent. 

The knowledge of good and evil leads, in a primordial sense, to our urge to compare ourselves to others.  Right from the outset, mankind is caught in a “worthiness trap”, in which we try to avoid the consequences of sin by comparing our tiny offenses to the far greater misdeeds of others.  Within this story, mankind discovers that it’s nakedness; we have learned shame.

I think the story also teaches us a bit about the nature of God.  God makes himself vulnerable to creation, endowing mankind with the free will to make choices, some of which are self-destructive.  This understanding of  God allowing Himself to be vulnerable to humanity will echo again in the story of Jesus, who suffers remarkable humiliation through His entry into human history.  It’s sometimes difficult for us to imagine an omicient, omnipotent God who somehow remains vulnerable to us, and yet, that seems to be exactly the sort of Father we have.

The third chapter of Genesis offers us an insightful examination into humanity’s instinctive habit of transgression, trespassing across the boundaries God has set for us.  Rather than depending upon God, mankind has sought its independence, we choose to discovery “good and evil” for ourselves.  The lynchpin upon which this story of the Fall turns is mankind’s refusal to trust God.  Our mistrust, not our sexuality and not our gender, places us on a path of separating ourselves from paradise and the Father.

For thousands of years, our stubborn insistence on our own ability to understand the nature of good and evil has resulted in a steady process of separation from the Source of our lives.  The story of Genesis teaches us about our remarkable ability to forget that this is God’s world, that we belong to His family, and our willingness to blind ourselves to the spiritual landscape that surrounds us. Genesis centers around a profound feeling of loss, the feeling that we have lost an intimacy with the Source of our lives.  The rest of the Bible examines the issue of how we might recover what we’ve lost.

Shabbat Shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

Holy, Holy, Holy

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”  Isaiah 6:1-8.

In today’s reading from the Lectionary,  Isaiah describes the vision in which he received the call to his vocation as a prophet.  He locates this mystical moment at a very specific time,  “the year that King Uzziah died.”  King Uzziah had enjoyed a long reign (783-742 B.C.), during which Judah achieved the summit of its power.   The economic, agricultural, and military resources of the country increased substantially during his rule.    Like a Greek tragedy, however, Uzziah’s strength emerged as his great weakness.  He usurped the power of the priesthood, ultimately leading to an outbreak of leprosy on his forehead which precluded him from entering the Temple.  II Chron 26:18-21. 

The death of the King, especially under such metaphorical circumstances, placed the kingdom in a time of mourning and uncertainty. It was a time, as Shakespeare observed, to “sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings”.   Richard II.  Upon entering the Temple during this troubling moment, Isaiah receives a mystical vision of God which sets the fledgling prophet on a unique path.  (It’s worth reminding ourselves that the prophets’ primary function was not foretelling the future.  They acted as the voice of the Lord, most often in the role of social critics.)

Isaiah has the remarkable experience of actually seeing the Lord (“Adonai”) in this vision.  Surrounding Adonai are seraphs who cry to each other, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory.”  The threefold repetition of the Lord’s holiness should resonate with us particularly on Trinity Sunday.   

Like a number of Christian mystics, Isaiah’s initial response to this intense and personal encounter with the Almighty is one of profound humility, even inadequacy.  He says:  “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips….” Overcome with a feeling of acute inadequacy, Isaiah expresses profound awe at this vision.

Rather than offering a word of consolation, one of the seraphs touches his lips with a burning coal, burning away his sin and freeing him to speak God’s word.  As a priest explained to me when I was a young boy, within this passage the seer is seared. I think for many of us this rings true:  our vocation does not always arise from a remarkably joyous event, nor does it occur without some pain. And yet, somehow this burning moment will both heal and enable Isaiah to become God’s voice.  Having been thus cleansed and healed, Isaiah can now hear God’s call and answer “Here I am; send me!”  In a very rich sense, that vision will provide the touchstone upon which the balance of Isaiah’s life and ministry will depend.

Too often, our world seems to have devolved into a pathology of the ordinary, where nothing is sacred.  For so many people, their experience of life and creation strikes them as commonplace, as profoundly ordinary.  This passage offers us a glimpse of something completely different.  Isaiah suggests a vision of creation brimming over with the divine, “full of his glory.”

For many of us in liturgical churches, the cry of the seraphs (“Holy, holy, holy”, known as the sanctus) now serves as a part of our weekly worship.  When we hear that wonderful hymn, I wonder if we also hear a call to our own vocation.  I wonder if we can hear the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send?” and whether we will answer that question. Isaiah’s encounter with the Living God changed him forever.  I pray that ours will, too.

Shabbat Shalom,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

A Study of Wisdom

     Augustine said:      “The wise will shine like stars and those who can make others wise will be bright with eternal splendour.”      “Feed your soul on divine readings; they will prepare for you a spiritual feast.”  
Jerome said:
     “It is much better to speak the truth clumsily than to wax eloquently with a lie.”
Gregory said:      “Wisdom is to fear God and keep far from evil.”
“The beginning of wisdom is to avoid evil:  the second stage is to do good.”
     “Whoever wants to understand what he is hearing must hasten to translate what he has already heard into action.”
     Isadore said:      “Simplicity joined with ignorance is called stupidity: simplicity joined with prudence is called wisdom.”

Defensor Gramaticus Book of Sparkling Sayings, 18

Again, I found this piece in today’s readings from Drinking From the Hidden Fountain.  From a very early age, I have been attracted to the notion of wisdom, particularly as distinct (although not always separate) from intellect.  Wisdom seems to call for a special kind of “knowing”, and implies patience, simplicity, kindness, and carefulness.  In my experience, although intellect may be a personal quality, wisdom most often comes from community.

In the spiritual setting, that community involves listening creatively to the voices around us, including the voices of the past.  Holy Scripture, when read carefully, offers us the collective wisdom of the Church. That “great cloud of witnesses”, the saints who have gone before us, they get a vote, too.  Similarly, the we sometimes locate wisdom collective voice of the Church.

I particularly like the quotation from Gregory, suggesting that our notion of wisdom is always incomplete if we simply try and avoid evil.  Real wisdom lies in seeking out the good.  Rather than simply avoiding sin, we are called to make this world a better place:  alleviating suffering, helping out the poor, visiting those who are sick or in prison, and binding up the brokenhearted.  Perhaps there we will find wisdom, in the translation from a good idea to a committed heart.

God watch over thee and me,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

A Study of Wisdom

Augustine said:
     “The wise will shine like stars and those who can make others wise will be bright with eternal splendour.”
     “Feed your soul on divine readings; they will prepare for you a spiritual feast.”
Jerome said:
     “It is much better to speak the truth clumsily than to wax eloquently with a lie.”
Gregory said:
     “Wisdom is to fear God and keep far from evil.”
     “The beginning of wisdom is to avoid evil:  the second stage is to do good.”
     “Whoever wants to understand what he is hearing must hasten to translate what he has already heard into action.”
Isadore said:
     “Simplicity joined with ignorance is called stupidity: simplicity joined with prudence is called wisdom.”
Defensor Gramaticus
Book of Sparkling Sayings, 18

Again, I found this piece in today’s readings from Drinking From the Hidden Fountain.  From a very early age, I have been attracted to the notion of wisdom, particularly as distinct (although not always seperate) from intellect.  Wisdom seems to call for a special kind of “knowing”, and implies patience, simplicity, kindness, and carefulness.  In my experience, although intellect may be a personal quality, wisdom most often comes from community.

In the spiritual setting, that community involves listening creatively to the voices around us, including the voices of the past.  Holy Scripture, when read carefully, offers us the collective wisdom of the Church. That “great cloud of witnesses”, the saints who have gone before us, they get a vote, too.  Similarly, the we sometimes locate wisdom collective voice of the Church.

I particularly like the quotation from Gregory, suggesting that our notion of wisdom is always incomplete if we simply try and avoid evil.  Real wisdom lies in seeking out the good.  Rather than simply avoiding sin, we are called to make this world a better place:  alleviating suffering, helping out the poor, visiting those who are sick or in prison, and binding up the brokenhearted.  Perhaps there we will find wisdom, in the translation from a good idea to a committed heart.

God watch over thee and me,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis