What Were You Arguing About On the Way? A Homily by Deacon Alan Doty

Today’s readings have one common denominator. They all speak of wisdom.

From the Book of Wisdom, we heard prophetic words of the evil plans of the godless ones. “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings” they say. They waited for the righteous one, the Lord Jesus, to test him with insults and torture and a shameful death. As we know through the Gospels, these prophetic words have all come to pass, and that the message of the cross overcame the wisdom of the world.  

What is wisdom? How does one become wise? It depends on what wisdom we are talking about. We can talk about worldly wisdom on the one hand and spiritual wisdom on the other. 

To seek worldly wisdom requires knowledge and understanding. Knowledge can come from studying and learning. Applying logic and human intelligence, knowledge can lead to understanding and then, in a few of us, to wisdom. The book of Proverbs tells us “The heart of the intelligent acquires knowledge”(Prov 18:15). 

Spiritual wisdom on the other hand is a gift, one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Spiritual knowledge and understanding cannot be obtained unless one is enlightened by the Holy Spirit by the grace of God the Father. Illuminating the mind to truth, the Holy Spirit aids a person to grasp the truths of faith easily and to penetrate the depths of those truths. Such illumination and penetration allows one to enter a divine intimacy with the Lord. The Holy Spirit alone establishes this intimate contact.

We received the gift of wisdom through the Sacrament of Baptism and that gift was deepened in our hearts through the Sacrament of Confirmation.  The letter of St. James told us that “the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace”.

The first two readings contrast the fruits of purely worldly wisdom described in the first reading as revilement, torture, testing, and shameful death, to the fruits of spiritual wisdom, which leads to holiness. It is peaceable, gentle, full of mercy and good fruits. 

How do we see this reflected in the Gospel we just read? 

In today’s Gospel Jesus is teaching the disciples about his approaching passion and death. The disciples do not understand what Jesus was talking about and are afraid to ask him.  Why this lack of understanding, this reluctance to pursue knowledge? 

The worldly, logical world of the apostles does not have the necessary knowledge and understanding to perceive what Jesus was talking about. They depended on human wisdom and had not yet received the spiritual wisdom to perceive the meaning of the death and resurrection of the Lord that was quickly approaching. Their dependence on worldly knowledge alone accounts for their behavior on the way to Capernaum, as they argue with one another about who is the greatest, exhibiting jealousy and selfish ambition. 

Human nature in a fallen world is inherently weak. Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among us come from?  (Jas 4:1). How easy it is for us to fall back to our worldly, logical minds to apply purely human wisdom in our daily thoughts, words and actions. But we who have received the gifts of the Holy Spirit are able to resist the wisdom of the world when it opposes the pure spiritual wisdom from above. If any of us are lacking such wisdom, we must ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given to us. [Jas. 1:5]

Both worldly wisdom and spiritual wisdom are desirable. In another place, Jesus tells his disciples to be  as ‘shrewd as serpents and simple as doves’ (MK 10:16). Catholicism encompasses neither faith that rejects reason on one hand nor a type of reason that rejects faith on the other. The marriage between faith and reason produced the great universities, the flowering of the arts, the explosion of scientific knowledge that built Western civilization. The essential element in our transformation into the likeness of God is found in love: God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom. 5:5). As the Holy Spirit transforms us according to that love, by the grace of our heavenly Father, we are able to perceive spiritual wisdom, which is necessary in order that the actions and words of Our Lord Jesus bear fruit in our lives. 

What if, this morning, in the course of this Mass, we humbly and sincerely asked the Holy Spirit to stir up in us the gift of spiritual wisdom? How will you change, and how will the world change if we did? It would enable us to have the mind of Christ and to judge well and wisely in the matters that confront us from day to day.  Ask the Holy Spirit to stir up in your hearts the gift of spiritual wisdom, that gift that enables you and me to see, to judge, and to act as Christ would do. Call upon the Lord Almighty, asking him with a sincerity of heart for the gift of wisdom. God is always pleased to bless his children with his abundant treasures when we seek him out so that we may glorify him in all things. Through the gift of wisdom, we will be blessed with a new perception of things, receiving the divine light that the soul absolutely needs to perceive spiritual things with a spiritual mind.

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