Sunday, February 15, 2015

Wisdom Is Given Us, If We Persist

I arrived at the restaurant at 6AM on Saturday morning, my usual arrival time.  I noticed a couple of young women in the booth next to where I usually sit, but I went about my normal tasks, putting down the daily newspapers on the table, laying a tip for the extra service provided me there, and then opening my Liturgy of the Hours to begin with morning prayers.  Tina, the regular waitress, silently placed a steaming cup of coffee near me, and then left. 
As I read and contemplated my prayers, I could not help but hear portions of the low conversation nearby.  Both women said, a number of times: “You don’t understand,” and “Why don’t you understand?”  The conversation was not in anger, but seemed almost mournful, as were other words also said:  “I love you.”  And I silently included them in my prayers. 
After a while they rose to leave, but one turned to look towards me.  “Is that a bible?” she asked with a serious face.  “No,” I explained,” it’s just some prayers that priests and many other Catholics pray each day.  They’re largely the same prayers Jesus prayed from the Old Testament, including the Psalms.”  “And what do they say today?” she asked, heaving her breath as if she expected to hear more bad news.  And so I read a portion of a Psalm, explaining that it was saying that God loved us, and in our sorrows, He understands, and it also spoke about the wisdom He with which He blesses us.  I commented that in my youth I often thought I knew things, but it was only as I got older that it made better sense:  It was only then that I was blessed with the wisdom the Psalms talked about.  And then she smiled: “That’s good to know.”  And she turned and left.
Perhaps she got more out of my readings that morning than I did, but then, that’s how God sometimes works.
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Saturday afternoon I received the phone call:  the church’s Adoration Chapel was being closed for 24 hours.  Due to the snow, drifting, and freezing temperatures (forecast minus ten), they had received a number of calls from people saying they could not travel to keep their appointed times.  “Wimps,” I said in jest, and the woman coordinator who was calling me laughed.
Late in the afternoon I sat down and said prayers usually said in the chapel, and then curled up on the couch in the family room.  With the brick fireplace and large glass doors, the room was colder than the rest of the house, and so I took out an electric blanket and snuggled in to watch old re-runs on television --- no need to nap tonight in anticipation of any late-night adoration hours.  And at midnight I finally went to bed.
…..  I awoke to the cold.  I could feel the lower temperature as I breathed in and out, and the blankets didn’t seem warm to me.  I glanced at the nightstand to see the time.  There was darkness.  I got out of bed and walked to the window, pulled back the shade and glanced outside.  There was darkness there also; no house lights, no street lights.  The power was out.  I went downstairs and reached where I knew the flashlight always stood, and then rummaged through old bills until I found the Electric one, and the emergency number listed there.  Calling Detroit Edison, the mechanical voice told me that over 2000 homes were affected by the outage, and the estimated repair time was 2 hours.  I went back to bed, and snuggled under the covers, but I couldn’t sleep.
I began to pray the rosary, the first of my usual night prayers.  I thought of the people impacted by the outage and the cold temperatures, and prayed for them.  My thoughts then wandered to many things, and I am sure I drifted in and out of sleep.  Once I noticed that, strangely, the covers felt almost too warm and comfy, and it didn’t feel like I was breathing in cold air anymore, as when I first woke.  But everything remained dark, as I prayed on.
At approximately 6:30AM, the bedroom light went on.  The power was back, almost exactly 2 hours from the time I had first awoken.  I hadn’t gone to the adoration chapel that night, but I had prayed my usual two hours of prayers anyway, and God had kept me warm.  I set the alarm for another hour of rest, and went back to sleep.
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The highway was empty as I drove to church Sunday morning, as was the parking lot upon my arrival.  The car digital readout was -11 degrees.  I arrived early enough to say my morning prayers, and the words there seemed appropriate for the recent events as I noted above:
The beginning of the book of Proverbs:  The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel:
That men may appreciate wisdom and discipline.
(my underlines)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
And then there were these words from Romans 12:
Never allow yourself to be self-satisfied; if you pride yourself on your worldly wisdom, you will have to unlearn it all before you are truly wise.
But it was these words, written by Saint Ephrem, which spoke to my own recent thoughts on wisdom, humility, and on finding what God would tell me in the Scriptures:
“Lord, who can comprehend even one of your words?  We lose more of it than we grasp, like those who drink from a living spring.  For God’s word offers different facets according to the capacity of the listener, and the Lord has portrayed his message in many colors, so that whoever gazes upon it can see in it what suits him.  Within it He has buried manifold treasures, so that each of us might grow rich in seeking them out.
And so whenever anyone discovers some part of the treasure, he should not think that he has exhausted God’s word.  Instead he should feel that this is all that he was able to find of the wealth contained in it.  Nor should he say that the word is weak and sterile or look down on it simply because this portion was all that he happened to find.  But precisely because he could not capture it all he should give thanks for its riches.
Be glad that you are overwhelmed, and do not be saddened because he has overcome you.  A thirsty man is happy when he is drinking, and he is not depressed because he cannot exhaust the spring.  Be thankful then for what you have received, and do not be saddened at all that such an abundance still remains.  What you have received and attained is your present share, while what is left will be your heritage.  For what you could not take at one time because of your weakness, you will be able to grasp at another if you only persevere.  So do not foolishly try to drain in one draught what cannot be consumed all at once, and do not cease out of faintheartedness from what you will be able to absorb as time goes on. “
What wonderful words!  How often have I read the Bible and thought I was finding nothing there, but as this saint explains, perhaps I just lacked the capacity at that time.  As I explained to the stranger at the restaurant, wisdom does come with age.  It’s almost funny:  How can I explain that to another, and yet so easily forget it applies to myself also.  “Be glad that you are not overwhelmed” by what you perceive Scripture is telling you, for that “is your present share.”  But, he reminds us, there is more there to be had than this bit you obtained, and “you will be able to grasp at another if you only persevere.”
Trust!  You don’t understand all things now; persist!  You will understand more.  Wisdom will come.
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Lent is about to begin; it is a time for change, not temporary change, but the beginning of an on-going change.  We are never too old to start.  Daily reading of Scripture might be a good place to start, to start changing our hearts.   As for me, I’ve been contemplating what I need to change.  Certainly humility is prominent on my radar.  I don’t know what I want to give up; I’ve tried many things in the past, and I’m not sure of the long-term benefits of any of them, even if that were some short-term sacrifices for the Lord.  Perhaps I just need a more general sacrifice, in humility.  Perhaps I’ll try to give up whatever I want, or want to do.  Maybe I can resolve to make Lent not about me. 
Can I remember to not be angry at the guy who cuts me off --- I always want to.  Can I see that tempting dinner commercial and think:  Mmmmm, that Cornish hen in the freezer would be good tonight --- and then not make it?  Can I note that nothing is on my calendar, and hear the siren call of a good novel --- and not read it?  Can I resolve to give up the things I want this Lent, all of them?  Certainly there will be things that both God and I want, and I will continue to do those things, and perhaps more, but much of my life is about doing things I want, which only benefit me. 
I don’t know how well I can achieve, or continue, to remember to deny myself any pleasures which enter my mind, but I can try.  This, at least, would be an attempt at something more on-going that just giving up coffee or meat or any of the other things I have given up in prior years.  This will be an attempt at making humility a part of my thinking and, if I am really blessed, a part of my natural habits.
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I have rambled on here, but the thoughts just came.  This is another, and perhaps the most important one here:  Our pastor announced this morning that one of our parishioners is among the marines on a military base in Iraq, which is surrounded by the ISIS forces.  We know what happens when ISIS advances. 
Would you please take a moment to pray for this marine and his family?


  1. Regarding Lent: The priest at Mass today reminded us that the sacrifices or penances of Lent are meant to increase our charitableness. So, if you love mustard, and give it up for Lent, and then begin to resemble Hitler in your behavior, please, have some mustard!!! Moderate your penance to allow you too successfully become more charitable. (I was at a TLM and the Epistle was St. Paul to the Romans, love is patient, love is kind. A good reading to meditate on for Lent, I think.)
    Hope you have a holy Lent. God Bless. ~ Fran

    1. Thanks for the reminder about charitableness, Fran. It's something we need to keep in focus, especially in Lent. As for myself, however, it shall be a secondary focus. I think the Lord is calling me to shore up the underpinnings of charity and love of neighbor; for me, it starts with loving myself a little less.