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I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Trading compulsive behavior for God’s wisdom leads to virtue

“…He asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.”

The readings for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time present the conflict between the unredeemed within man and the wisdom of God. These readings throw light on what is happening inside of each of us as we open our hearts to God’s wisdom; it usually pinches!

In the first reading, the voice of wisdom spells out what goes on in the heart of the unjust. “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us; he sets himself against our doings, reproaches us for transgressions of the law and charges us with violations of our training.”

In other words, the unjust say, “The just one’s words make us feel very uncomfortable, therefore let us see whether his words be true; let us find out what will happen to him. For if the just one be the son of God, God will defend him and deliver him from the hand of his foes.”

God will indeed defend the just one, but that doesn’t mean God will save his life. Jesus was just, and God accepted His death as the ransom for all. The martyrs testitfy with their blood that God saves the just from eternal damnation.

In the second reading, James continues to develop the contrast between the unredeemed in the human heart and the wisdom that comes from above. Where jealousy and self-ambition exist there is “disorder and every foul practice.”

On the other hand, “The wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.”

These readings are so timely. When we turn on the evening news, we can hardly say that we receive “the wisdom from above.”

Each of us should ask ourselves, “How much time do I spend daily listening to the evening bad news compared to listening to the good news of the word of God?” Listening just to the raw, unfiltered bad news may be pleasing to my ego, but it is destructive to my relationship with God. If it leads me to hold onto anger, I am importing darkness.

I may draw some egotistical comfort in thinking that I’m not as bad as newsmakers, but that very endeavor leaves my spirit to languish. On the other hand, when I spend quality time in reflecting on the wisdom that comes from above, sometimes my soul is chastened with conviction because the Holy Spirit, while showing me my sin, also makes forgiveness and mercy so attractive. When I follow the Holy Spirit’s lead, my ego may be thwarted but my spirit rejoices in the peace of God.

This is what St. Benedict discovered for all of Europe. He taught people how to meditate on God’s word and become true Christians. That’s the peace that James offers us.

In the Gospel, we have a very dramatic case of applying the word of God to the unredeemed hearts of the apostles.

Jesus was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill Him, and three days after His death the Son of Man will rise.”

Jesus frankly tells His apostles that He is going to Jerusalem to die. They don’t want to hear this, so they argue about who of them is the greatest. Once inside the house, Jesus asks them, “What were you arguing about on the way?” “But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.”

Their best friend is on the way to His crucifixion, and the apostles are discussing who will inherit the spoils?

When the word of God burns in our hearts, that’s when we know that we have been had. That’s when we accept the invitation to mercy and a changed way of life.

Shame, conviction, embarrassment, discomfort and humiliation all are part of the riches of the kingdom; they lead us to trade in our compulsive behavior for God’s wisdom.

This leads us to practice virtue. Forgiveness frees us from the chains of bondage and enables us to participate in God’s mercy. Purity frees us from the chains of lust and enables us to participate in the godly love of others. I always encourage individuals who are enslaved with lust to turn to Mary. If they are men, I encourage them to ask Mary to see all women as beloved sisters of Jesus. This begets an immediate sea change of perspective. If we love Jesus, we would never want to violate one of His sisters.

The virtue of generosity sets us free from the slavery of self-worship and enables us to participate in the magnanimity of God. To be freed from the preoccupation of self-concern is truly a liberating experience. Giving oneself away in loving service is welcoming the kingdom of heaven into our hearts.

All of the above gifts are free blessings for people who choose to receive wisdom from above, meditating each day in quiet time on the mystery of Christ within us.

We carry within us the God of the universe, and yet so often we look outside of ourselves for fleeting pleasures that leave us empty and sad.

The choice is ours. Today, the rest of my life can change dramatically if I make the decision daily to spend time downloading God’s love by reflecting on His word. Then, each day God will give me the light to intercede for the darkness all around me. I can have a wonderful party in the midst of darkness.

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