The Liberal Catholic Universalist Church

Jenny Gray

February 22, 2019 | Jenny Gray

Practical Wisdom

The first reading we had this week was from the Wisdom of Solomon. For those who don't know, this is an interesting book. It was probably written in Egypt in the second century BC and is one of the books that Catholics accept as part of the Bible but Protestants generally don't. Those of us who are used to the Liberal Rite will recognise bits of this reading. In Prime and Complin I ask every day, "that we may be filled with the brightness of the everlasting light, and become the unspotted mirror of Thy power and the image of Thy goodness" and we say those words at every Mass. The reading explains the words. We are asking for the Wisdom of God, for the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, for the Christ to be born is us. Again, we have the words "He that loveth [Wisdom] loveth life, and they that seek her early shall be filled with joy" - these words begin the Gradual that's said at Mass after the first reading. So Wisdom, and the Book of Wisdom, is important to Liberal Catholics.

In classical Christianity there are seven great virtues - prudence, justice, temperance, courage, faith, hope and charity. Over time these words have changed their meaning. Temperance used to mean moderation, the Middle Way if I can borrow the Buddhist version. Prudence is another. These days the word means being cautious but it used to mean something best described as practical wisdom, and we get an example of that in the Gospel reading. Where did the foolish virgins go wrong? They weren't completely daft. They took their lamps. They just didn't plan ahead far enough, didn't consider the options and realise that the bridegroom might take longer than their lamps would last. Now, St Matthew's Gospel often interprets these stories as being about the Last Judgement. Are we going to be let into the wedding feast of Christ and his Church or will we be shut out in the cold for ever? Liberal Catholics don't see judgement in those terms - we believe that all his children shall one day reach his feet and that God really is Love. So I'm going to suggest that we see the judgement in these Gospel stories as representing moments of opportunity in our lives. They might be small but important opportunities like being there for a friend in need, and the equivalent of having no oil in your lamp could be that you've not taken care of yourself and burned out, so you can't help. They might be something big and life-changing like starting on a path to ordination, and the having no oil might be that you've not been wise enough to deal with serious issues in your life that are going to throw up huge roadblocks, and so you miss out for a time. And yes, that example's directly from my life! Practical wisdom.

So how do we acquire this practical wisdom? Like all virtues, wisdom is a gift from God and we should ask for it in prayer but we also have to prepare the ground. The reading gives one answer. Watch. Be aware. Be mindful. Don't go through life with our eyes shut. Remember what we're doing, what we're seeking and actively look for wisdom. There are ways of making changes in our lives to help bring this about. Regular structured prayer times especially those with Wisdom readings! Coming to Mass, mindfulness and meditation practice are the traditional methods Christians have found and used through the centuries and they're the ones I follow. But the key I think, is building into our lives reminders to really live life, awake and aware of what we're doing, noticing not ignoring, making our own decisions and not living on auto-pilot. "Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour."