20th Sunday Ordinary Time – Wisdom as a way of life

This week’s notes:
Former Parochial Vicar Fr. Anselmus will be saying the 12:10 PM Mass this Thursday, August 23. Welcome back!

Save the date: 9/16 Meet and Greet after each Mass.

Speak with Fr. Smith after Mass if you are interested in completing your sacraments, have a new child to be baptized, or would like to be married at St. Charles.

We would like to invite parishioners with expertise in PR, advertising, media relations, marketing and communications to a meeting on Tuesday, September 18 at 7 PM in the Rectory at 31 Sidney Place.  The goal is to plan a strategy for outreach and growing the profile of St Charles in the Brooklyn Heights community and beyond.  Food will be served. Please RSVP to [email protected] or call (718) 625-1177 so we can order enough food.

First Reading
Aug. 19, 2018
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Proverbs 9:1-6

It is odd to say but the college seminary was an exciting place to be in the late 60s. It may at first seem parochial but to ask why one would privilege a classroom when so much was happening in the streets is to show how far we have slipped from the ideal of a liberal arts education. The aim was to take experiences from the world and examine them with the best ideas available. Many of us were taken aback that we were so comprehensively exposed to the best of pagan thought, old and new, but were gratified by the vigorous Catholic interpretation and indeed amplification of the best of humanism. Fr Robert Lauder’s weekly column in our Diocesan Newspaper, the Tablet, is an example of that tradition. (For full disclosure, Fr Lauder was my teacher then and is a close friend now.) As an example, recently he spent 10 weeks examining personalism, the philosophy he shares with Pope Francis, and showed how the themes that emerged in the late 60s of freedom, community and commitment by decidedly Non-Christian authors could be enhanced by a belief in Jesus.

This is reflected in the Wisdom literature in the Old Testament. It includes the books of Job, Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, many Psalms and as we read today the Book of Proverbs. Wisdom was a term used throughout the ancient Middle East. It was a compendium of reflections used to train young members of the governing class to be wise leaders. The Jewish Elders wanted to show that they could answer the questions of their young in a way that would have made sense to their children but also reflected their traditions and belief in God.

The Book of Proverbs is particularly interesting because it collects Proverbs, short pity statements, from about 1000 to 350 BC, from the court of King Solomon to the rebuilt temple in occupied Jerusalem. The section that we read today is somewhat different because it not a collection of these sayings but part of an extended song to wisdom sung by a father to his son.

Much of what he will say is common sense and would have been repeated by any good father then as now: avoiding bad companions and illicit sex are the first lessons. Yet in chapter one he states:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
fools despise wisdom and instruction (1:7)

His son should follow the way of right not only for his own peace of mind and good fortune but because of his belief in a God who is involved in history both social and personal. A good Egyptian would not perhaps act much differently in most things. He would not steal or lie but he would not do so as a consciously religious act. We see what kind of religious acts were special to the Jews by looking at Creation. The Jews were unique in holding that the world was created by a loving God. Unlike the other religions of the time the Jews came to see their God as all powerful, he created rather than merely formed the world, and he did so consciously and lovingly certainly not by accident, pride or spite. Thus

The LORD by wisdom founded the earth,
established the heavens by understanding;
20 By his knowledge the depths break open,
and the clouds drop down dew (3:19-20)

By acting wisely, we are reflecting the way the universe is made and showing God we appreciate his love for us.

Our passage today reveals an emphasis on community. This would have been shared with other ancient peoples, but the author wishes to show that the distinctly Jewish understanding of the Divine/ human relation created a deeper bond.

1 Wisdom has built her house,
she has set up her seven columns;
2 She has dressed her meat, mixed her wine,
yes, she has spread her table.
3 She has sent out her maidens; she calls
from the heights out over the city:
4 “Let whoever is simple turn in here;
to him who lacks understanding, I say,
5 Come, eat of my food,
and drink of the wine I have mixed!
6 Forsake foolishness that you may live;
advance in the way of understanding.

Note that Wisdom is personal but not private. It is not obtained by one-on-one instruction but in a community. The simple and those who lack understanding are not invited to a tutorial but to a banquet. People will grow together.

They can also shrink together as well. A characteristic of ancient writing is clarification by comparison. If there is a Dame Wisdom, there will also be a Dame Folly and in this same chapter we read:

13 The woman Folly is fickle,
she is inane and knows nothing.
14 She sits at the door of her house
upon a seat on the city heights,
15 Calling to passers-by
as they go on their straight way:
16 “Let whoever is simple turn in here,
or who lacks understanding; for to him I say,
17 Stolen water is sweet,
and bread gotten secretly is pleasing!”
18 Little he knows that the shades are there,
that in the depths of the nether world are her guests! (Proverbs 9:13–18)

Like Dame Wisdom she invites the simple and those who lack understanding but not to a sumptuous meal but to stolen water and the way is not to understanding and wisdom but to the nether world.

Wisdom is a way of life not just a set of practices and we may find that people may say the same things and seemingly act the same but because they are doing it for different reasons ultimately divide from each other. Recently Pope Francis declared capital punishment inadmissible in all cases. This will strike a cord with many who do not share our faith. This is wonderful, but we must remember that the Pope holds this and exhorts everyone to do the same because of his belief that we are made in the likeness of God and that likeness can never be completely obliterated. This same belief informs the church’s implacable opposition to abortion. Living in a libertarian society we can expect conflict with some of the same people who most enthusiastically applaud the Pope for his stand on capital punishment.
This is not to deny that we can learn from the wisdom the modern world has obtained through psychology, anthropology and the other social sciences, but we must be like the authors of Proverbs and the wise men who taught me a half century ago and begin with an experience of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We cannot have the morality of the Judeo-Christian world unless we have the experience of the Judeo-Christian God.