Sunday, December 17, 2017

Holy Wisdom

While today is Gaudete Sunday, the Sunday on which the color rose is used to symbolize rejoicing, this year it is also the first day of the O Antiphons which are sung on the last seven days of Advent. These ancient antiphons focus our attention on images for the messiah taken from the Prophet Isaiah. The last, the one to be sung on December 24th is the most famous, Emmanuel. 

Today we begin with wisdom:

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, Who came out of the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come and teach us the way of prudence.

Khakam in Hebrew, Sapientia in Latin or Sophia in Greek, the concept of wisdom is not particular to Christianity. But today’s antiphon reminds us that there is a particularly Christian understanding of wisdom. For us Christians, wisdom is not something which comes to you simply by virtue of getting old. While there is the saying “with age comes wisdom”,  there is also the saying “there’s no for like an old fool.”

The wisdom which Isaiah prophesied is not a thing it is a person. The wisdom of God which has come forth is the Messiah, the word made flesh. Knowledge we can acquire from reading and listenin; true wisdom, Holy Wisdom, comes only as a free gift of God, it comes from grace. It comes from prayer and the reception of the sacraments, instruments of grace. 

How do we know we are growing in wisdom? The antiphon links it to another virtue, the “way of prudence.”  As we look at our day to day choices, do we see in our choosing signs of prudence? Do we thoughtfully act or do we react?

Prudence is understood to be the mother of all other virtues. It is the ability to choose the right course of action, often in spite of our feelings at that moment. It is more than a general desire to do good. For the Christian, prudence is the ability to apply our Christian principles to the concrete situation in front of us. When it becomes habit we call that virtue. 

It is not easy for us to stay on, what the antiphon calls the via prudentiae, the path of prudence. We know the priciples when we are sitting in church. But then when we are at home or at work, our feelings or expediency, or profit or promotion get in the way. 

Today, and perhaps for these last seven days of Advent, it would be a good time to pray for the gift of wisdom, that we may daily know and choose the right path.