Take a sober, second thought – Third Sunday of Lent

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Paul reminds us in his First Letters to the Corinthians, “For God’s foolishness is wiser that human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” Many of us are able to offer illustrations of that from our personal lives. We so often think that we know what is best for us and that conviction gets projected onto our desires for our lives.

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It never hurts to ask someone who knows us quite well (knows our strengths and weaknesses, our history of successes and failures, our struggles and joys, what makes us most at peace) what they honestly think of a decision that we are considering or have made.

God’s wisdom doesn’t usually fall from the sky. It will likely take the form of the words of a friend or family member. Or, it will come to us in an image from a dream or something that we have read. God’s wisdom can come to us as a “sober second thought” (the supposed gift of the Senate of Canada).

This is another way of describing discernment. I can recall apostolic assignments that I was initially questioning. As I spent time immersing myself in the particular location, I realized the gift of the assignment and couldn’t have imagined having said no.

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A companion-piece to Paul is, “God writes straight with crooked lines.” This is a Portuguese proverb (though mistakenly attributed to Saint Augustine). I often think of it when I consider the circuitous route that many of us take through life. What appears to me as a mistake can often be an indirect route to where I am really meant to be.

Even though our life may not go according to our plan, God will work with it to achieve the result that is best for us. If we were to portray our life on a graph, it would have many ups and downs, many twists and steep spikes and valleys. It would have the appearance of a wild roller coaster. There are certain moments of our lives where we assume that it’s all over. But we discover that God is using this experience in an unexpected way.

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The prime examples in my life are my two brain tumours. I later discover how much God is able to make use of what I perceived as a tragedy. It’s not what I would have planned for my life, but good can still come from it. St. Francis de Sales suggested, “Bloom where you are planted.” I’ve adapted it to how you are planted. I would never have chosen these health crises, so I have to make the most of how I was planted.

Benedict XVI used the Portuguese proverb it in a 2007 address in Austria. Scripture “presents the history of Israel from Abraham onwards as a pilgrimage, which, with its ups and downs, its paths and detours, leads us finally to Christ. The genealogy with its light and dark figures, its successes and failures, shows us that God can write straight even on the crooked lines of our history. God allows us our freedom, and yet in our failures he can always find new paths for his love. God does not fail.”

A good Lenten exercise can be to ponder the foolishness-wisdom dynamic in our lives, or the crooked lines of our lives.

Philip Shano, SJ has many years of rich and varied experience working with Ignatian spirituality: teaching, writing and using it in his ministry. He resides in the Jesuit community in Pickering, Ontario.

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