A Wise and Discerning Heart – 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I continue my month of ministry up here at Martyrs’ Shrine and remain in awe of the faith of visitors. This past weekend included several thousand people, including people participating in the annual Polish pilgrimage and several groups of pilgrims who traveled here on foot or bicycle from places such as Guelph and London, Ontario.
It is heartening to witness the vibrant faith of so many people. Our culture may be increasingly secular, but a sacred place like the Shrine continues to speak to something significant in people.
I find up here the same longing and hunger that brings others to retreats at spirituality centres. It’s a longing for peace, healed relationships, personal spiritual strength to handle difficult situations, and wisdom to make prudent decisions.
I remember being on the famous Camino in Spain. As I checked in at the start, I was asked if this pilgrimage was religious, spiritual, or something else. I agreed that it was both religious and spiritual. I overheard several people say that it was other. I asked an organizer what people tend to list as their reason for walking eight hundred kilometres.
Many are on the Camino for the physical challenge or to cross an item off their bucket list. For many, the pilgrimage becomes spiritual at some point along the route. When you walk in solitude most of the day, something spiritual is moving in a person.
In today’s reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, we are advised to “be careful how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time …” We hear more about wisdom in the reading from Proverbs. That reading advises us to “lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
I think that most of us recognize wisdom when we see it in someone. It is that ability to think and act using a combination of knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense, and insight. As I said, it’s from a combination of qualities. I cannot gain wisdom from reading a million books.
Likewise, I can have a long list of life experiences, but they are without meaning, unless I have reflected on the experience and have appropriated it into the whole story of my life. Remember that famous line from one of T. S. Eliot’s poems: “We had the experience but missed the meaning.”(1)
Like scripture, Eliot’s line can justify anything! However, the point is clear: We can have many experiences, but miss how they work on our spirit.
We generally associate wisdom with older people who have lived for a long time and have seen much over the years. Unfortunately, there are many older people who have gone blindly through life and have not paid attention to potentially rich experiences.
On the other hand, there are many young people who have gained wisdom because of the life experience they have accumulated in a relatively short period of time. Have they dealt with a serious illness or a difficult family situation? Have they witnessed far more in their short lives than most of us witness in a long life?
Wisdom is a complicated matter. Let’s pray for the gift of a wise and discerning heart.
(1) Journey of the Magi.