Three Wisdom Sayings for Cultural Warriors

030214Some final thoughts from the Wisdom tradition, which we have been sampling in the Liturgy of the Hours, just prior to the arrival of Lent. The following two Proverbs from Ecclesiastes come to mind, along with some concluding advice at the end of that Book. These sayings seem especially apt for those of us who engage and struggle with our troubled culture, and they help us to keep things in perspective.

Do not in spirit become quickly discontented,  for discontent lodges in the bosom of a fool.

We certainly do live in times that challenge our sense of well-being. There is much to lament in these times of broken families, confused sexuality, secularism, and greater hostility to the teachings of our holy faith.

And yet, in all of this, we must not yield to the temptation to become too sour. Or as the proverb says, we ought not become too quickly discontented.

At the center of every Christian heart should be a deep and abiding gratitude to God for his many, indeed countless gifts. Into every life, every family, every community, every culture, and every nation, there are admixed many beautiful blessings, along with struggles and hardships.

The proverb here warns us against “discontent.” The word comes from the past participle of the Latin word continere meaning to contain or hold. And thus to be discontented amounts to refusing to hold within us the joy and gratitude that we ought to have for so many rich blessings, even in the midst of difficulties.

Every day, ten trillion things go right and only a handful of things go wrong. It is no exaggeration to speak of ten trillion things going right when we consider that every aspect of every cell within our body, every molecule that makes up those cells, every atom that makes up the molecules that make up our cells; all those things are up and running and functioning by the grace of God.

And beyond our bodies is a vast ecosystem with myriad complex interactions such as photosynthesis enabling plants to produce oxygen for us to breathe, the Gulf Stream moderating our temperature, the Van Allen belts protecting us from the harmful radiation of the sun, Jupiter and Saturn out there catching comets, the Earth’s orbit maintaining itself carefully, a mere 3° from being a perfect circle, keeping our temperatures more stable. Our sun remains stable, unlike many other stars, and we live in a relatively quiet section of the Milky Way galaxy, free from the usual space debris that flies about in other areas.

And troubled though America is, people are still (literally) dying to get here. We drive on paved roads, have a functioning and reliable electrical grid, a stable government, and a good market system.

We ought to be filled with immense gratitude, with large doses of wonder and awe at the countless blessings that God bestows on us from moment to moment.

To become quickly discontented, and even more, to allow discontent to lodge in our hearts, is deeply foolish. It is foolish first of all, because it is so myopic. Refusing to see, or to reflect frequently on our manifold blessings is a kind of self-imposed blindness.

Consider a rich man who thought himself poor. Only a fool would close his eyes and refuse to see the millions he actually had in the bank. Why live poor and run from creditors? There is no one would not agree that a man of such resources claiming to be poor must either be blind, or a fool, or both.

So much more so for us who have even more blessings. And yet how easily we become discontented and negative.

Thus, even though there are things about which we must be very sober, there are also many other things about which we must be exuberantly joyful. Without this balance we are, as a Proverb says, foolish.

Do not say: How is it that former times were better than these? For it is not in wisdom that you ask about this.

Here too is an important caution for those of us who lament many things in these difficult days. We may tend to look to previous decades see them as more idyllic than they actually were. All ages have struggles particular to them, but they have blessings too. Some look to the 1950s with nostalgic affection but they forget the nuclear arms race, the Korean War, and the Cold War. The 1940s had the second World War; the 30s had the Great Depression; and the 20s was a time of rather widespread immorality and organized crime. The 1910s had another major world war. The 1900s was a time of great economic recession, and waves of immigrants were often made to live and work in horrifying conditions. And so forth with every decade going backward in time. But each of these decades also had its blessings.

The fact is, whatever strengths or struggles there were in the past, whatever strengths or struggles there are in the present day, we are living now. Accept your assignment with humility, and seek to influence positively the many difficulties faced in these current times. And do not fail to be grateful for the many blessings we have today such as medicine, technology, and many creature comforts that make life a little more pleasant.

Be actively grateful and gratefully active.

Finally, then, comes this word from Ecclesiastes, as we look to Lent and to essential goal of our life:

The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man’s all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.

Yes, look to your own judgment. Have a healthy Fear of God and a sober appreciation for the fact that judgment awaits us all. Prepare for your own judgment and help others prepare for theirs, insofar as it is your duty to remind and prepare them.

If you have suffered injustice, or grow weary of these sinful times, remember God sees all and others will answer to God for what they have done if they have not repented. Pray that they do repent; for nothing will be unrequited and every idle word will have to be accounted for (see Mat 12:36).

Do not delay your own repentance either. Tomorrow is not promised, but judgment is.

Jesus our Judge says, For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. (Luke 8:17-18)

Jesus gets the last word!

This video is an allegory of a woman who rejects the offer of truth and order. Truth offers his friendship. After being rejected, he warns, admonishes, and offers again. But the woman’s rejection of truth persists and great is her ruin.

9 Replies to “Three Wisdom Sayings for Cultural Warriors”

  1. Many’s the time Ive been mistaken and many times confused,
    Yes and I’ve often felt foresaken and certainly misused.
    But I’m alright, I’m alright. I”m just weary to my bones.
    Still you don’t expect to be bright and bon voyant so far away from home.
    Soemtimes I feel so far from home.

    I don’t know a soul that’s not been battered.
    I don’t have a friend that feels at ease.
    I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered,
    or driven to it’s knees,
    but it’s alright, it’s alright, for we’ve lived so well so long.
    Still when I think about the road we’re traveling on I wonder what went wrong.
    I can’t help but wonder what went wrong.

    And I dreamed I was dying.
    And I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly, and looking back down on me,
    Smiled reassuredly.

    And I dreamed I was flying.
    And I dreamed high above my eyes I could clearly see, the Statue of Liberty,
    sailing away to sea.

    And I dreamed I was crying.

    They come on a ship they call the Mayflower,
    They come on a ship that sailed the moon.
    They come in the age’s most uncertain hour to sing an American tune.
    But it’s alright, it’s alright, we can’t be forever blessed,
    Still tomorrows gonna be another working day and I must get some rest,
    I know that I must get some rest. ( Paul Simon’s perspective of the struggle.)

  2. I often feel sorry for myself. I look at the past and remember the good times. I am 69 years old. I have had a wonderful life and should be very grateful, however I get depressed a lot. I am going to copy this blog and put it in my word perfect file. Whenever I feel that I have a hard life, I can go back to this writing. I should also try and spend more time with God. I get involved in petty, time, wasting activities, like playing pacman – when I could spend the time more rewarding. I have a goal to study the bible, and I should work toward this goal more often. Thank you Msgr. for tonight’s message.

  3. Dear Msgr.
    I would be most grateful if you could explain the term “Lord of Hosts” which was widely used in the Old Testament.
    Thanking you in anticipation.
    God bless.

  4. The quote near the end. Luke 8:17&18. If completed, we find ” …will be deprived of even what he thinks he has.” New Jerusalem Bible
    Like a beam of light whose focus was suddenly narrowed, there it was, about the one who has little ” …what he THINKS he has.” Oft and ever I seem to recall the one who has little will lose what he has but, checking numerous translations it’s about the one who has little, does not have (in Young’s Literal Translation – seemeth to have) appearance of having; and not the having.
    Is this about, describing an illusion of posessing something – like an intangeable, likely (but not necessarily limited to) knowledge and/or understanding? Be careful how you listen (or read) – like He says.

    In Young’s Literal Translation, ” …seemeth to have…

    1. Upon reflection Gideon had the light(s) hid in a jar but, in Judges 7:19, the jars were broken and the light was revealed – even to those who feared it and so as to engage in mutual, and co-operative, self-destruction.

  5. Msgr, don’t you mean, “Prepare for your won judgement”, not “Prepare for your own judgement”? Thanks.

  6. I meant, “Msgr, don’t you mean, “Prepare for your own judgement”, not “Prepare for your won judgement”? I guess it’s too early for me.

  7. “Do not in spirit become quickly discontented, for discontent lodges in the bosom of a fool.” Those such as now-deceased Herbert Marcuse taught discontent, because the notion of self-identified oppression was thought to create more in the ranks of those who would tear down civilization to replace it with the “new order.” Proverbs tells a truth from millennia ago, which is one reason why “modern” man made the 20th century the bloodiest in all written history, from the “oppression” stance of the post-Versailles treaty to “Communism sweeping the world” to race wars in such places as Rwanda and the horrid killing fields brought by the Khmer Rouge. Discontent is the language of modern politics, is it not? Ever promising relief from oppression, and somehow never delivering. One thinks about campaign finance reform and transparency and all, while the promises never are answered with the fruition of such promises. Is this not why faith is so very important, to defuse discontent and put in its place contentment? We cannot changes all things to our liking, but we can change ourselves through grace to like ourselves and our neighbors more than many do. I have found a kind word changes those with whom I deal, far more than manipulation and ginned-up outrage of the likes of those who profess to want change but offer little contentment. Thank you, Father Charles. May you go from strength to strength.

    1. “Discontent is the language of modern politics, is it not? Ever promising relief from oppression, and somehow never delivering.”
      Thank you for that very much. It reminds me of how it was related by George Orwell in his book “1984” about a war where rights were temporarily suspended for a war but; the war went on and on and rights remained suspended. The two principles in the story even seemed to wonder if the war really was or, if it was being faked to keep rights suspended.

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