Lesson 2- Proverbs and Wisdom
As I ended my last program, I was commenting on the fact that the EarlyChurch existed in an environment of philosophical speculation. The Ancient Greeks were tremendous philosophers and one of their favorite past times was to meet at the market place everyday and discuss deep philosophical questions. You might remember that in the New Testament, St. Paul entered some of these discussions. In Acts 17:22-31 it quotes him as saying:
"Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
St. Paul went on to preach to them the Gospel and eventually many of them converted to Christianity.
The original language of the New Testament was Greek and most of the early converts to the Church were Greeks. Where do you think Corinth, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Galatia, and Philippi are? There were all Greek cities to which St. Paul wrote letters or epistles.
Because of this philosophical environment, the EarlyChurch dealt with questions that would probably be of little interest to us today. They were interested in the "basic nature of things." Questions like "did Jesus have one nature or two?" "Was Mary the mother of just His human nature or also of His divine nature?" "Should she be addressed simply as the `Mother of Jesus' or the `Mother of God?' " "How did His divine nature interact with His human nature?".... and so on. They took these discussions very seriously and, as I mentioned, when we recite the Nicene Creed, we are reciting the conclusions from the philosophical speculations of the Early Church Fathers.
We would be wrong to think that these conclusions were reached by unanimous decision because the EarlyChurch was in almost constant battle with heretics within her own ranks. Ultimately, when these conflicts reached the boiling point, the Church would call a council of bishops and they would meet and compare the new insights to the oral and written traditions that had been passed down to them through apostolic successions from the Apostles. This should not surprise us because Jesus Himself had said that He had to leave so that the Holy Spirit of Truth would come and He would teach us all truths. He had also given the Apostles and their successors the power of "binding and loosing" which implied that new and deeper insights were yet to be discovered and that the Church, through the discernment of the Holy Spirit, would know what to "bind" and what to "loose." For example, although the New Testament mentions the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it never uses or mentions the word Trinity. What the Trinity was and how it should be understood has been part of the philosophical speculation of the Church and, as time passed, new and deeper insights have been added by the saints and thinkers of the Church. That there is a Trinity is without doubt because the Holy Scriptures mentions three distinct expression of God. How this is possible is still a mystery that has to be explored.
Probably the most philosophical of the four Gospels is the Gospel of St. John. John, of course, is known as the Beloved Disciples because of the great personal love that Jesus had for him. He was one of the three that witnessed the Transfiguration of Jesus when He appeared in His God-like splendor with Moses and Elijah on a high mountain. He was the Apostle who rested his head on Jesus chest at the Last Supper. And, he was the only Apostle who was at the foot of the Cross when Jesus died. In fact, it was here that Jesus, with His dying breath, gave John the responsibility of caring for His mother, Mary. The Church has always interpreted this on the symbolic level as meaning that Mary is all of our spiritual mother and the mother of the whole Church. John was also the last apostle to die somewhere around the year 100 A.D. and, of course, the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelations, is attributed to him. It is the most mystical and difficult to understand book of the New Testament because it is full of symbolic references that have been interpreted and misinterpreted by many throughout the centuries.
I think that it would be fair to say that St. John probably knew the divine dimension of Jesus as well as, if not better than, the other New Testament writers. He was exceptionally close to the person who knew Jesus best, his mother, Mary. Tradition says that Mary lived with John until her death. One can imagine the conversations that they had and the insights into her Son that she might have given him.
Therefore, it is not surprising that John should begin his Gospel with one of the deepest philosophical statements about the divine nature of Jesus to be found in the New Testament. In John I:1-14, he writes:In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God (and) all things were made through Him and without Him nothing came to be. What came to be through Him was life, and this life was the light that was found in all men. And the light shone in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.A man named John (the Baptist) was sent from God. He came to testify to the light, so that all might believe through Him. He, John, was not the light, himself, but came to testify to the light. It was the true light which enlightens everyone and it was coming into the world. He was in the world and the world came to be through Him, but the world did not know Him. He came to his own, but his own people did not accept Him. But to those who did accept Him, He gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man's decision but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us. And we saw His glory, the glory of the Father's only Son, full of grace and truth... From His fullness we have all received, grace from grace, because while the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."
What powerful words and every Christian who wants to have an intimate relationship with Jesus needs to meditate upon them because John is not just speaking of the "Holy Card Jesus" depicted in our art and statues. Rather, he is talking about the Cosmic Jesus who, we believe, made heaven and earth. He is talking about the Jesus found in Proverb 8: 22-31 who, as Divine Wisdom says....The Lord begot me, the firstborn of His ways, the forerunner of His prodigies of long ago. From of Old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth. When there were no depths, I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water; before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth. While as yet the earth and the fields were not made, nor the first clods of the world. When He established the heavens I was there, when He marked out the vault over the face of the deep; when he made firm the skies above, when He fixed fast the foundations of the earth; when he set for the sea its limits, so that the waters should not transgress His command; Then was I beside Him as his craftsman, and I was His delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of His earth; and I found delight in the sons of men. So now O children, listen to me; instruction and wisdom do not reject! Happy the man who obeys Me, and happy those who keep My ways, Happy the man watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts; for he who finds Me finds life and wins favor from the Lord; but he who misses me harms himself; all who hate me love death."
Did you get it? Did you understand what this is saying? Our eternal soul may depend on it!
This Proverb has a special meaning for me because it changed my entire life. As I mention in my first three talks, I had a conversion experience when I was eighteen and in the Navy. From that point on, religion was always an essential part of my life and, as time passed, I joined just about every renewal movement that came along. I joined the Cursillo, the Marriage Encounter, the Malvern Retreat League and participate in other devotional experiences. However, much of my religion was personal and private. It never occurred to me that I should be preaching to others. Of course, as a Social Studies teacher, my religiosity always crept into my courses but it was very low keyed.
Then in 1972, I went through a spiritual crisis that radically changed my life. I had reached another crisis point in my life because my own teaching was frightening me. As I taught economics and social studies, I could see that many of the premises upon which the modern world was built were crazy. We were destroying the environment and, more and more, our economy was built upon credit which, if there ever were a depression with mass unemployment, would cause the whole system to come tumbling down like a house of cards.
As I pondered this state of affairs and considered the fact that I had a wife and two young children, the thought of having to fight for a can of peas in the street disturbed me greatly. Where had we gone wrong? Didn't God want us to have all the marvelous things that modern technology had created? Was he against airplanes, automobiles, television etc? Why did He give us the ability to create them and put the potential for them in His creation, if He didn't want us to discover and use them? He must have meant for us to have them. But if this was so, what was the problem. It must be the way we are using them, I concluded. We were taxing the resources of the earth because instead of using things in a cooperative manner, each person was trying to duplicate and surpass what his neighbor had. Everyone had expensive cameras, which were only used once or twice a year; each person longed to have his own second house in the Poconos or down the shore. Each person wanted his own playground, his own swimming pool, his own creek etc. Common sense said that if this type of lifestyle became pervasion throughout the earth, the natural resources would never support it and the impact on the environment would be devastating. So what was the answer? Then it came to me. If we were all trying to create independent, self-sufficient worlds for ourselves in which each person became more and more less dependent and less connected to others, then the obvious answer was to return to community in which resources were shared. Wasn't that what God was all about? The Trinity itself was a community of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each parish was suppose to be community which was tied together by the communion which we shared. You know. It's like the song says: "One bread; One body." But somehow we had lost this sense. The people in the Devil's Pocket, where I was born, were a community where everyone knew and cared about everyone else. Sure it had its down side but it also had its good side. The new parishes had better real estate but little sense of community. Thus, I became convinced that the solution to most of the world's problems was Christian community and I longed to find people who felt the same way.
I happened to call up an old friend whom I hadn't seen for quite some time and I mentioned my thoughts to him. He invited me to attend a Catholic Charismatic prayer meeting where he and other Catholics were seeking the same thing. It was like an answer to my prayers and the following week both my wife and I began to attend a prayer meeting at the House of Good Shepherd on Verree Road.
The people varied. There were nuns, priests, male, females, young, and old and even a few Protestants and they were all enthused about Jesus. They talked about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and about "speaking in tongues" and prophecy.
At any other time in my life I probably would have considered them a bunch of "kooks" and have walked out. But I was desperate for some answers and at least these people were searching.
They encouraged my wife and I to join a group of people who were going through a seven-week series of talks entitled "The Life in the Spirit Seminars." The intent of the talks was to review the basic beliefs of our Christian faith, and, at the end of the seminars, they talked about the "laying on of hands" to reawaken and reactivate the "gifts of the Spirit" that we all had already received in Confirmation.
I was totally open to the experience. The Lord had brought me to a place where my intellectual pride based on my college degrees had been brought low and now humbled and open like a child, I was willing to accept anything that He had to give me.
A couple of things happened during those seven weeks that are worth mentioning. First, I was determined to win God's favor so I decided that I would attend the 6:30 Mass every morning and, for six weeks and seven day I didn't miss once. Then to my horror on the last day, -the day on which I was to go through the "laying on of hands", I overslept. I jumped out of bed, dressed quickly, and started to run towards the church but it was too late. The Mass was already over. I was devastated. How could I have missed on the very last day? I went home feeling that I had blown the whole thing and, seeking some comfort, I open the Bible randomly and began to read. It was the Acts of the Apostles chapter 8:17-22. And it read:
"Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon the Magician saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "Your silver will perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you."
As I read it, I understood immediately what I had been doing wrong. I was trying to bribe God. He was offering me a free gift and I wanted to earn it by going to Mass every morning. You can't buy a holy object and to try to do it is an insult to God. In fact, there is a sin called "simony" which is named after Simon the magician and it means to try to buy something that is sacred. With this insight, I decided to drop any attempt to bribe God and to freely accept whatever gifts He wanted to give me.
The second thing that happened was later that same day when I returned from work. As I was parking the car, I noticed that my wife was sitting on the front steps. She had a book in her lap and she was crying. I asked her what was wrong and she said that she had been worried because we were suppose to go through this deep religious experience that night and she had absolutely no feelings. She said that, in the past, she had felt more religious emotions while on retreats than now and she was worried that her lack of feelings would undermine whatever was supposed to happen. Then, she said, that she picked up this book and opened it up and there on the page were words that leapt out at her. They said, "Feelings don't count!" She was so touched by this direct answer to her concerns that she had begun to cry.
We both received two important messages that day. First, you can't bribe God because there is nothing that we have that He needs. Therefore, it is His nature to give and the only thing that we can do is to be open like a child to receive it. Second, faith, rather than feelings, is what is necessary to experience His presence in our lives. Feelings are for animals that, because of their nature, are totally dependent on them to validate reality. If they can't feel it, then it isn't real. We were created rational beings and faith based on knowledge is how we validate reality.
That night, my wife and I entered a room crowded with people who had been in the seminar and those who had come to pray. I was wide open to receive anything that the Spirit had to give. I wasn't shy and if a spontaneous urge came for me to speak in some strange tongue, I was totally willing to yield to it. However, they prayed over me three times and nothing happened. All around me I heard people praying and singing in strange tongues but nothing was happening to me. I felt all right, but nothing was happening. After awhile, the lights came up and I saw my wife coming towards me. She said, "Did you speak in tongue?" I said, "No, I guess it wasn't meant for us." She said, "What do you mean "us"? "Don't tell me that you did," I said in disbelief. She said, "Yes!" How could this be, I wondered to myself. I was the one who was full of enthusiasm and she was the one devoid of all feelings. It didn't seem fair but, nevertheless, that's how it happened.
I asked her what happened and she said that they were praying over her when a blackboard lit up in her mind and on it were written three words, "Abba, Abba, Abba" She said that she thought that she was making it up and became determined not to say those words when, suddenly, they began to stream out of her mouth. I said to her, "Don't you know what those words mean?" "No!" she said. Haven't you ever heard the word "Abba?" Again she said "No!" "That's an Aramaic word," I said, " which Jesus used to refer to God the Father. It means "Daddy" and it got Him into a lot of trouble because the Jews considered God so sacred that they couldn't even say His name and here was Jesus using a familiar term like "Daddy." She said that she never heard of that.
Now, if you knew my wife, you would understand why God would give her these words to say. She has a childlike disposition and faith and she relates to God the Father in a special way.
Even though I didn't "speak in tongues" that night, I left there believing that it was real because I knew that my wife would never lie to me or make anything up. She is brutally honest and if she says it happened, then it happened. I was feeling good but I still couldnt understand why I hadn't experienced anything. The next day, I got my answer.
My wife and I were sitting on the couch in the living room and my two young children were playing on the floor. My wife, who was sitting besides me, had a Bible opened and she was leafing through the pages. I saw her flip to one section, shake her head, then flip to another section and shake her head again. I said, "what's wrong?" She said, "This is crazy. Twice I tried to turn to the Book of Psalms and twice I was sure that I was there. But when I began to read, I realized that I wasn't. What's even crazier is that both times I started to read about the same thing. It's as though God is trying to give me a message." Then she paused, looked at me and said, "No! It isn't me. It's you that He's trying to give a message."
"What do you mean? I said. "What were you reading?" She turned to the Book of Job and pointed to the page. I started to read..."Men know where to find gold and precious gems but only God knows where to find Wisdom and Wisdom is more precious than the purest gold and the finest gems." As I read, I felt a stirring in the center of my chest and the next thing I knew tears were gushing out of my eyes. They seemed like they were coming in waves from the center of my chest.
"What was the second reading," I managed to say between sobs. "Proverbs 8," she said. I turned to it and began to read:
Does not wisdom call; does not understanding raise its voice? On the heights beside the way, in the paths Wisdom takes its stand; beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals Wisdom cries aloud: "To you, O men, I call, and my cry is to the sons of men. O simple ones, learn prudence; O foolish men, pay attention. Hear, for I will speak noble things, and from my lips will come what is right; for my mouth will utter truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are righteous; there is nothing twisted or crooked in them. They are all straight to him who understands and right to those who find knowledge. Take my instruction instead of silver, and knowledge rather than choice gold; for wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with it. "
As I read these words my sobbing became uncontrollable and I had to go upstairs to my bedroom to get away from my children who didn't understand what was happening to me. I never cried like that in my life for the tears were coming from the center of my being and not from my eyes. It took me over a half hour to get through the reading because every line evoked another wave of tears. There was a strange mixture of joy and sorrow because I couldn't quite make up my mind what the tears expressed. All I knew was that at that moment I knew deep down in my soul that Wisdom was a person and that I had been interacting with that person since I was a child dealing with alcoholic parents. All the deep questions that these personal problems had invoked in my child's mind, I had shared with this Person and I had been more intimate with Him than with any other person in my life. He knew me in my deepest being and I loved Him with all my heart. In fact, I had, and continue to have, more interaction with Him than with any other person. All day long a dialogue is taking place between me and this Person. And who was this person. It was the Wisdom of God. And who is the Wisdom of God? Jesus Christ, according to the teachings of the Church.
I was amazed to discover how many people don't know that. A number of years ago I mention to some of my "born-again" students that Jesus real name was Wisdom and they looked at me like I was crazy. Another time, a famous Protestant evangelist on the radio asked the question "What was the first thing that God made? When he said "Wisdom", I almost flipped." He didn't know who Jesus was! And just recently, while on retreat, the priest was asking for some of the names of Jesus and when I said "Incarnate Wisdom" he looked befuddled and confused.
There's a religious kid's song entitled "Everybody Ought To Know Who Jesus Is!" and I couldn't agree more because until you know who He is, you don't know how to follow Him.
Well, that day, following the "laying on of hand" I knew deep down in my being who He was and realized that the Church knows too even if many of its members don't. Let me compare some references to Jesus with you.
In Proverbs 8, Wisdom says:"The Lord begot me, the firstborn of His ways, the forerunner of His prodigies of long ago. and the Nicene Creed says that Jesus was "begotten not made."
Proverbs 8 says:"From of Old I, Wisdom, was poured forth, at the first, before the earth was formed. "When He established the heavens I was there, when He marked out the vault over the face of the deep; when he made firm the skies above, when He fixed fast the foundations of the earth; when he set for the sea its limits, so that the waters should not transgress His command; " and John I says, "In the beginning was the Word.... and the Word with God and the Word was God."
Proverbs 8 says: Then was I beside Him as his craftsman. And John I says, "He, Jesus, was in the beginning with God (and) all things were made through Him and without Him nothing came to be."
Proverbs 8 says:...and I was His delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of His earth;" It almost sound like Wisdom is God's child and that He is it's Father. And the Nicene Creed says, "God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten not made. One in being with the Father, through whom all things were made..."
Proverbs 8 says:"I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me, and Jesus said, "Seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened unto you.
Proverbs 8 says:So now O children, listen to me; instruction and wisdom do not reject! Happy the man who obeys Me, and happy those who keep My ways, Happy the man watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts; for he who finds Me, finds life and wins favor from the Lord; but he who misses me harms himself; all who hate me love death." And Jesus said, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life... No follower of mine will ever walk in darkness." And St. John said, "Why does God condemn man? And he answers. Because the light came into the world and men loved darkness.
Remember that the Ancient Jews said that there were two dimensions to every person: the outer person or flesh, which ate bread and the inner person or spirit, which ate Wisdom. And Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me shall not hunger; He who believes in me shall not thirst...." And also, "Unless you eat my body and drink my blood you shall not have life within you."
And what is the obvious logical conclusion that we can draw from all of this. It's that people are in hell for being stupid not for being bad. We are all bad and have sinned because we all "miss the mark." Wise people learn from their mistake and repent and reform.... stupid people keep on repeating the same behavior while expecting different results.
I didn't get the "gift of tongues" that night when the people prayed over me. In fact, I didn't get any gift that night. Whatever I got, I had received when I was confirmed as a child. However, like many people, I didn't bother to open the gift and therefore it lay unused for years. That night I finally opened the gift and discovered that I had received the gift of Wisdom and what better gift could a teacher receive.
Now let me tell you an important piece of wisdom. Even though I claim that I received the "gift of Wisdom", and you might even believe me, that does not mean that you should accept everything that I say as Gospel truth. Like all human beings, I am an imperfect instrument.
In the course of these talks, I will be challenging you to look at old things through new eyes and, as a faithful Catholic, I always look to the Scriptures and the Church, for guidance. In the final analysis, the Church, not me, is the one who has the final says as to what the Scriptures mean and what we should believe. They, not me, have inherited the "chair of Moses" and, even when some of them might prove to be less than admirable human beings, it is our belief that the Holy Spirit will protect the Church from error in its teaching mission.
In my next talk I will begin to explore some of the philosophical dimensions of our beliefs from the point of view of psychology, anthropology, sociology, and science. It is my hope and belief that you will see, as I see, that we have nothing to fear from these areas of knowledge because, if anything, they only confirm the major beliefs upon which our faith rests.
Well, I see that my time is up. Here's Dom.