At daily Mass we are reading from the Book of Sirach, and there are several verses which bespeak blessing but also warning:
Wisdom breathes life into her children and admonishes the one who seeks her…. She puts him to the test; Fear and dread she brings upon him and tries him with her discipline until she try him by her laws and trust his soul. Then she comes back to bring him happiness and reveal her secrets to them and she will heap upon him treasures of knowledge and an understanding of justice. But if he fails her, she will abandon him and deliver him into the hands of despoilers. (Sirach 4:11, 18-19)
There is in this text great reminder and admonishment for all of us about the decisions that lay before us. Either we will heed God’s ways, and walk in the life of his holy wisdom, or our life is all too easily dissipated and despoiled. And we shall see how this is so in a moment.
But first let us consider that to embrace holy Wisdom is to see all things as pointing to, and related to God himself. It is to see created things not as gods or idols, but as things pointing to God who is the giver of every good and perfect gift.
Holy wisdom counsels moderation, for the gift is only the symbol pointing to the greater reality. The gift alone cannot supply the fuller reality to which it points.
To reject this holy Wisdom leads to dissipation because it mistakes the sign for the reality and thinks that the gift is the giver. Dissipation and dissolution comes because one embarks on a foolish and futile (and very costly) attempt to make the gift satisfy, as if it were God and giver of the gift. But the gift can never supply what it is merely pointing to, namely the Giver, and the Giver is always so much greater than the gift. And only the Giver can really satisfy, not the mere gift, no matter how great the quantity we try to heap up.
Holy wisdom knows and appreciates this. And, at the end of the day Wisdom saves us a lot of money and from all sorts of dissipation. Fleshly foolishness rejects Wisdom and indulges gifts, even wildly so, well beyond what is reasonable, and this is where dissipation enters in. Let us consider some examples.
Greed – By definition, greed is the insatiable desire for more. On account of it, we are never satisfied, no matter the quantities, no matter how much we heap up, it is never enough, never. And the greedy abandon the moderation that comes with holy Wisdom, a moderation that enjoys the gifts, but look at the giver for a deeper and truer fulfillment.
Abandoning reasonable moderation and the call to be grateful for the gifts that one does have, the greedy person suffers dissipation. The desire for more becomes increasingly insatiable, they will often incur huge debts, spending increasingly, even wildly, on the things they cannot really afford and do not really even need or use. As such their wealth is dissipated the often find themselves in debt and soon enough in bankruptcy court.
This is because they have mistaken the gift for the giver, thinking that mere gifts can fill the God-sized hole in their hearts, greed takes hold of them, and makes their desire for more increasingly insatiable.
Abandoning holy wisdom, the text is fulfilled in them that says they are delivered into the hands of despoilers.
Gluttony – Food is a funny thing. We often think if we just get a good amount of food, our hunger will go away. But instead there is a strange pattern regarding food that the more we get, the more we seem to want.
After a series of large and immoderate meals, our appetite does not decrease, it increases. As one gains weight, the desire for food does not diminish, it grows. Too soon, things go off the hook, weight continues to increase and our health is dissipated. With extra weight and obesity come endless health problems: cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, sleep apnea, asthma, and on and on.
Holy wisdom would have us enjoy the food God gives us, but to remember that it is the gift, it is not God. It is on account of gluttony that we too easily fulfill the text of St. Paul that says Their God is their belly (Phil 3:19). And losing sight of the holy wisdom, there is fulfilled in us as our health dissipates, We are delivered into the hands of despoilers.
Lust too can have a wild, “off the hook” quality. Sexuality is very great gift from God but it has his proper place in marriage and must be governed by moderation and reason. Abandoning his holy wisdom many are surely handed over to their despoilers.
On account of wild and uncontrolled lust many lives are dissipated, and destroyed. So many great tragedies come from lust despoiling the lives of vast numbers by things such as: sexually transmitted diseases, Aids, teenage pregnancy, single motherhood, abortion, absent fathers, juvenile delinquency, poverty, and ruined marriages.
Uncontrolled lust Is also powerfully evident in the great tragedy of Internet pornography addiction today. What begins as looking at reasonably normal but sinful pictures, ignites a lust that becomes increasingly dissatisfied with the merely normal and it sinks rather quickly to levels of deeper depravity and debasement. For many, as their lush grows increasingly wild, they begin to look at pictures and acts almost too awful to describe. Many married men carried off by this begin to lose interest in normal relations with their wife, who will not simply conform to or participate in their increasingly debased notions of sexual intimacy. As lust grows increasingly out-of-control some hook up with prostitutes. Others begin to visit illegal sites and eventually the FBI shows at the door. Arrest and jail are in their future. Yet even knowing these dangers and having been warned many cannot stop, so wild has their lust become.
Abandoning holy wisdom in which sex is a gift from God for the particular context of marriage, and for the particular purpose of loving procreation, lust indulged, and Wisdom, having been forsaken, many are delivered over dissipation, disease and countless other costly complications.
Other examples could be given, for example the way alcohol and drugs and other things destroy people’s lives. but allow these examples to suffice to show that these ancient biblical texts are not so abstract after all. They speak to us of a reality that is all too easily experienced if we do not hear the admonition of holy wisdom.
The gifts of God are not gods, they only point to God. God is the real point. Holy Wisdom teaches us and counsels moderation, counsels that we enjoy the gifts of God and then turn to God and gratitude with joy and satisfaction for what he is given, counsels and admonishes that we turn to God in worshipful thanks.
If we will heed this wisdom, happiness will be ours, as will joy, serenity and satisfaction. But if we reject this wisdom and insist on making the gift the god, we will be handed over to our despoilers.
4 Replies to “Practical Advice File: How Wisdom Protects us from our Despoilers.”
Thank you, Msgr. Appreciate these posts.
Could you change “got” to “God” in “the food got gives us”?
Thank you for the great post, Msgr. Pope. The Church is our friend when it comes to learning moderation. Our friends, our spouse, and those we meet at Church can gently let us know when we need to moderate our desires. (And they would be performing a spiritual work of Mercy: Admonish the sinner.) They are also great examples for us in learning moderation. It might even be a good thing to strive to be average especially if our ambition needs to be moderated.
P.S. I don’t mind typos. In fact, I could tell you my favorite.
In the Confessions, St. Augustine says that the memory is, by way of analogy, the belly of the soul. Maybe St. Paul’s text about the belly applies both to our physical and spiritual bellies.
Monsignor, thank you. I am reminded of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatious of Loyola, where he cautions about confusing the End, God, with the means to this End, the gifts of God in this life.
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