Some 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.