Knowledge, Wisdom and Divine Folly

[Homily:  Mass of the Holy Spirit, ADDU Schools of Higher Education, Chapel of the Assumption, June 15,2017.]

Once again we gather at the beginning of the academic year in Eucharistic Celebration. We come together as a university community of teachers and students in academic freedom:  teachers of such as literature, languages, history, pedagogy, chemistry, engineering, nursing and business management, and students hoping in this university to be conversant in literature and knowledgeable in past events that shape the present, to become teachers, chemists, engineers, nurses and skilled managers of business enterprises and of government units.

But in the great tradition of the university, we come together as teachers and scholars not just to learn what others have learned before us, not just to learn a profession which will determine the quality of our living and the style of our life in the future, but we come in search of truth. What that truth is, what it entails and what it forbids, is itself part of our search.  We search for the truth behind a tasty scoop of ice cream, or the truth behind the artic glaciers locked for centuries in shapes like mighty frozen mountains now suddenly melting in a planet that is warming.  We search for the truth in the elemental material building blocks that make up the planet and universe, as we search for the truth of how human beings work on materials of this earth to feed, sustain, and shelter themselves, to builds homes, workspaces, colosseums, temples, mosques and churches and so change the face of the earth.

We search for the truth of the human person as embodied or spirited, enslaved or free, healthy or sick, alone or with others, distinguishing between right and wrong, choosing what is right or pursuing what is wrong.  We search for the truth with the eros of the insatiable human mind, and the relentless search leads us to acknowledge the Truth behind the many truths, the Beginning of many unfoldings, the final Goal of many proceedings, the Heart of many yearnings, the Being of beings.  We search for the Truth of this Being, and open ourselves needy to the Spirit of God the Creator, the Redeemer, the Lover.

Perhaps we can say in truth:  it is awe that brings us to the search for truth.  And it is awe that sustains us in the search.  It is the newborn baby that invites the search.  It is the loved one suddenly lost to death that demands it.  It is the insistence on the truth of humanity that stretches our hands to touch the truth of divinity.

But today, in this university, we come together as Christians around the table of the Lord who introduced himself to us as the Truth.  “I am the Way, the Life and the Truth,” he said.  Even as we know Jesus as the Truth and are touched by the truth of his Heart, we are in truth not allowed mental sloth nor allowed complacency.  We still feel impelled to search for truth.  I fill my world devoutly with Jesus as Truth – or so I think I do – yet I must search for truth in those who do not recognize Jesus as worth their attention, or in those who accept Jesus vaingloriously yet live as if they’ve never met him.  Knowing Jesus as Truth, I must yet search for truth in the horror of violence committed in the name of God that knows not its contradiction nor feels the shame of its blasphemy.  I must search for the truth of my participation, willy nilly, in that violence.

At this Mass which commemorates the truth of our redemption, we ask the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth, to aid us in our labor for knowledge and guide us in our need for wisdom.

We must labor in our search for truth for the knowledge that separates us from the ignorant, the superior knowledge that separates us from the mediocre.  We must labor humbly to master calculus, to learn the governing algorithms of the system, to appropriate the proper nursing skills, to grasp the principles of accounting.  We must labor to learn of our teachers, to study the theories of experts, to appropriate best practices, and so grow in knowledge of nature, the human being and of God from the treasures this university has access to in its faculty, its libraries, its relationship with the world of erudition.  For this labor against ignorance and ineptitude, we ask for the Spirit’s help.

But we beg for the Spirit’s guidance as we dare in truth to search for wisdom. Wisdom is a gift from God.  James says, “if any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:15).  We seek not only to be knowledgeable but to be wise.  Wisdom is not only knowledge but good judgement.  Wisdom is not only knowing what fire is, but when to use it to warm our hearth and not to burn down our house.  It is not just knowing how to make a gun, but when to use it to promote good and thwart evil.  It is not just knowing the constitutional powers of political office, but knowing how to wield power effectively in favor of the common good.  It is not just knowing what is healthy, it is keeping healthy.  Knowledge is what is taught, wisdom is what is formed from centuries of discerning between folly and sagacity.  It is the power behind the ought.  Describing wisdom, Fr. De la Costa once said, “There is faith, hope and charity.  But the greatest of these is prudence.”

But in a Catholic university there is a deeper truth, to which we are invited in faith.  We gather here around the Eucharistic table where Jesus, one in his Passion with the infinite Compassion of his Father, expresses his Love for us in the Sacrifice of the Cross, saying, “Take me.  Eat.  This is my Body…  Take me.  Drink.  This is my Blood” (cf. Mt: 26:26-29).   When Jesus first spoke of himself as the Bread of life inviting all to take and eat, many of his disciples, scandalized by the foolishness of this, walked away and ceased being Jesus’ disciples (cf. John 6).  At this Mass of the Holy Spirit, we hear in our First Reading St. Paul’s words, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God, so that we may know the things given to us freely by God, which things we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by God, because they are foolishness to [a normal man]; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:12-14).  “For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” (1: Cor 1:18).  “My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor 2:4).

As our new academic year at Ateneo de Davao University commences, we call on God’s Spirit of Knowledge to guide us in our quest for knowledge. Beyond knowledge, we call on God’s Spirit of Wisdom to help us attain wisdom.  But beyond the wisdom of the world, we call on the power of God’s Spirit to strengthen us as we humbly encounter the folly of the Cross, the foolishness of a God’s love for us that endured so much pain that we might know his love.  We call on this Spirit to empower us to respond to the Crucified Lord not with the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of the wealthy, the oligarchs, the selfish, the powerful and the wise, but as “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10).  As fools for Christ, let us study hard to help the needy.  Enkindled by the fire of God’s love, let us work hard to empty ourselves in love for our God and neighbor.  As forgiven sinners, let us build one another up in love that as fools for Christ we might be one with God’s Spirit in renewing the face of the earth.


 

 

[Homily:  Mass of the Holy Spirit, Chapel of St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) , June 15 2017, 9:00 am]

In the Mass of the Holy Spirt of the Ateneo de Davao University we shall pray to the God Spirit of Knowledge to help our students attain knowledge.  We pray that in the pursuit of their various professions they learn the knowledge and skills they ambition.  We pray that the engineers learn their physics, that the computer scientists learn their algorithms, and that the nurses learn their operating-room skills.  For our emerging theologians at SATMI, we pray at this Mass of the Holy Spirit at SATMi that Spirit of God help them to attain the knowledge they require, the knowledge of the Sacred Scriptures, of their sacred and profane origins and the manner of their interpretation, the knowledge of salvation history, the knowledge of the key doctrines of the Church including its social teachings, the knowledge of the theological foundations of morality, the knowledge of the manner in which the Church cares for its people, the knowledge of canon law.  We pray for God’s help because no matter the discipline, the attainment of knowledge is an arduous task requiring rigorous study, and for the future servant of the people of God, whether religious or cleric, married or singly blessed, a heavy responsibility.  We are not interested in ignorant pastors.  The poorer the people we serve, the greater the necessity to serve them with knowledge not only of theology but of disciplines like anthropology, psychology, law, entrepreneurship and management to enrich and deepen our service.

We also pray to the God Spirit of Wisdom to lead our students to wisdom.  Knowledge is not enough.  Wisdom is required.  One begs humbly for wisdom in prayer, for wisdom is not just acquired.  It is a sublime gift.  St. James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you”  (James 1:5).  Yet St. Paul says, “…to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit.” (1 Cor 12:8).  One begs for wisdom, as we beg for wisdom at this Mass of the Holy Spirit. It is not enough to know how to make a car; wisdom is required to discern when to drive it and when to keep it in a garage.  It is not enough to know what a friend is; wisdom is required to care for a friend, to enrich a friend’s life, and rejoice in a friend’s love.  It is not enough to know what love is; it takes wisdom to love or not to love, to manifest one’s burning desires or to keep them carefully discreet, to come closer to a beloved in distance, or to overcome cold distance in a warm embrace.  It is not enough to know psychology and how human groups function in different cultures; but it takes wisdom to advance love genuinely when there is a conflict in loves or a quarrel among friends.  It is not enough to know the myriad propositions of Church dogmas; it takes wisdom to open oneself daily to the quiet experience of God’s truth, who loves in truth, and to share of God’s truth with others.  It is not enough to know of the Word of God’s Love and to know the exigency to proclaim this in season and out of season; it takes wisdom to share the Word of God’s love with the lonely, the poor, the excluded, the homosexuals, the transsexuals but also with the straight, the wealthy, the powerful, and indeed the sinner, how to use it as hope for a person in despair or as a double-edged sword against injustice.  Fr. Horacio de la Costa, the historian and first Filipno Jesuit Provincial spoke of sublime wisdom when he said, “There is faith, hope and charity, but the greatest of these is prudence.”

But in SATMI there is a deeper truth, to which we are invited in faith.  We gather here around the Eucharistic table where we remember Jesus, one in his Passion with the infinite Compassion of his Father, expressing his Love for us in the Sacrifice of the Cross, saying, “Take me.  Eat.  This is my Body…  Take me.  Drink.  This is my Blood” (cf. Mt: 26:26-29).   When Jesus first spoke of himself as the Bread of Life inviting all to take and eat, many of his disciples, scandalized by the foolishness of this prospect, walked away and ceased being Jesus’ disciples (cf. John 6).  At this Mass of the Holy Spirit, we hear in our First Reading St. Paul’s words, “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God, so that we may know the things given to us freely by God, which things we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by God, because they are foolishness to [a normal man]; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:12-14).  “For the message of the Cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate” (1: Cor 1:18).  “My message and my preaching were not with persuasive words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith would not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor 2:4).

As our new academic year commences at SATMI, we call on God’s Spirit of Knowledge to guide us in our labors for knowledge. Beyond knowledge, we beg God’s Spirit of Wisdom to gift us with wisdom.  But beyond the wisdom of the world, we call on the power of God’s Spirit to strengthen us as we encounter the folly of the Christ’s Cross in awe, the foolishness of a God’s love for us that endured so much pain that we might know his love.  We call on this Spirit to empower us to respond to the Crucified Lord not with the wisdom of the world, the wisdom of the wealthy, the oligarchs, the selfish, the powerful and the wise, but as “fools for Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10).  St. Ignatius suggests we pray before the Crucified Lord, “If this is what you have done so foolishly for me in love, Lord, what have I done for you?  What am I doing for you?  What ought I do for you?”  As fools for Christ, let us study hard not for grades and academic distinctions, but to help the lost and the needy.  Enkindled by the fire of God’s love, let us empty ourselves foolishly in love for our God and neighbor.  As forgiven sinners, let us build one another up generously that as fools for Christ we might be one with God’s Spirit in transforming cultures and renewing the face of the earth.  In God’s Spirit let us embrace this foolish Jesus loving us and be filled with joy, for ultimately we are about joy.  “The joy of the Gospel,” Francis says, “fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.  Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness.  With Christ joy is constantly born anew” (EG, 1).

 

 

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About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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