Sunday, August 19, 2012

Wisdom: It's Personal

(20th Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B; This homily was given on 18 August at Our Lady of Loreto Church, East Providence, R.I., and on 19 August at St. Brigid Church, Johnston, R.I. and Holy Apostles Church, Cranston, R.I.  See Proverbs 9:1-6 and John 6:51-58)

If you had the choice to possess all the information that you would ever need to know, about everything, or to be a man or woman of great wisdom, which would you choose?  In other words, if you could be the person on Jeopardy who always answers every question correctly all the time, or instead to be a person recognized by others as filled with the wisdom of God, which would you want to be?  There is a difference, we discover in our first reading this weekend, between those two realities.

Our first reading for this weekend is a beautiful and poetic excerpt from the Book of Proverbs which speaks rather eloquently to us about wisdom. The intriguing figure of Lady Wisdom is the very personification of the way of life God calls us to. We are told, “She has built her house, she has set up her seven columns” (Proverbs 9:1).  In that well-established place, in fact, Lady Wisdom has prepared a banquet of choice foods and delicious wine!  Then she invites you and me to join her in that intimate meal:

Let whoever is simple turn in here; to the one who lacks understanding…Come, eat of my food and drink of the wine I have mixed!

—Proverbs 9:5

This delectable passage from the Book of Proverbs reveals to us that the wisdom of God, like God Himself, is not merely informational.  It is, instead, relational. It is personal. God does not give us an instruction manual or a series of checkpoints to guide us through life. He invites us into a personal relationship with Himself, in which we grow in virtue, knowledge and holiness because the God who calls us is Himself filled with all of these things, and more.

I do not learn to be a person of love and generosity by reading many books about those subjects; it is not by memorizing definitions of the virtues—like temperance, prudence, justice and courage—that I suddenly acquire them.   No, it is when I fall in love with God, the One who is love, who exudes humility and gentleness, kindness and all virtue, that I suddenly thirst and hunger for these very things in my own life.  It is only when we encounter and embrace a real and growing relationship with the living God that we begin to embody the wisdom of God and suddenly find our lives transformed.

Is this not what Christ has been proclaiming to us in the Gospel for these past four weeks?  For the last month, and also including next weekend, we hear from the same chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Chapter 6 or the Bread of Life Discourse.  Over and over again Christ has announced that He is the Bread of Life come down from heaven; He has invited us to receive Him, become united to Him, draw closer to Him in His body and blood.  This weekend He proclaims boldly:

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in Him.
—John 6:56

Receiving Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is not merely a fleeting moment experienced at Mass each week. It is a personal encounter with the Savior who offers His body and blood on the cross to redeem us; the Eucharist is the second person of the Blessed Trinity who calls us into a personal relationship with God.  When we come to Mass each week do we recognize and acknowledge that?

In her book The Way of Perfection, the great mystic and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila, is instructing her sisters in prayer and she teaches them how to avoid obstacles that keep them from recognizing the personal relationship that is at the center of the Christian life. She says that, in prayer, they should not merely try to picture Jesus and imagine what He would look like in a given situation or scene. No, instead she says they should also look at Him (see The Way of Perfection, Chapter 26, #3). She reminds them how Christ never takes His eyes off them! When they pray, they should look right back! They should look at the One who is already looking at them and allow that intimate and personal connection to grow even deeper.

In the Eucharist we do well to do the same. How captivating, to suddenly recognize that the God who suffers and dies for us out of an abyss of Divine mercy, is actually looking at us with that same love, even here, even now. 

When we look at the tabernacle we are looking at Him.

When the priest raises the Host at Mass and proclaims, “Behold, the lamb of God…Behold Him who takes away the sins of the world,” we are looking at Him.

When the body of Christ is offered to us at communion each week, we are looking at Him.

What is the best way to prepare for such a personal encounter? What is the best way to savor such an experience even long after the Mass is over? I would suggest we take the counsel of St. Teresa of Avila and spend as much time as possible—before, during and after the Eucharistic sacrifice—watching in prayer and looking at Christ who never takes His eyes off us.  For the more we fall in love with Him, the more we are lost in His gaze and swept up in His love, the more we will ourselves become men and women who embody the love of God, and the wisdom of God.