Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Wisdom of Solomon: Sunday 17A

Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy gave the most-quoted presidential inaugural address since Lincoln. Even those in church today who weren't born in 1961 probably know its most famous line: "Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country."

In today's first reading, God takes the opposite approach. Instead of asking something from Solomon, he asks Solomon, "What can I do for you?"

It's quite a question, isn't it? But it's something of a trick question, since God makes it clear He wasn't expecting to be treated like a genie in a bottle. He's pleased with Solomon's request for wisdom, for the gift of knowing what is good and what is bad.

What's the message for us, here? I don't expect God to appear in a dream tonight and ask what He should give me—it's not really the way He works.

But one thing is very clear, not only from the story of Solomon but from all that the Gospels tell us about God: He wants very much to give us "a wise and discerning mind." Has it ever struck you that four of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit—namely wisdom, understanding, counsel, and knowledge—all have to do with our intellect? All four are related to knowing God and knowing what He wants us to do.

So in Confirmation we've been given the same thing that God gave King Solomon—not so we can rule over Israel, but so we can make good decisions in our lives and help others to do the same.

We can, however, take this gift for granted. We can be like Henry Ford, who said "Exercise is bunk. If you're sick you shouldn't take it, and if you're healthy you don't need it." Even the most robust person needs to maintain good habits to stay healthy; the same is true spiritually—we must both safeguard and strengthen the wisdom God has given us.

So how do we do that? First of all, we live good lives. St. Paul points out in more than one place that sin darkens our understanding (see 2 Thessalonians 2:10-11; Ephesians 4:19-19). Every week or two we read in the paper about some public figure behaving in ways any sensible person would realize were doomed to end in disgrace—but in almost every case, sin (usually lust) had taken away the knowledge of the inevitable consequences.

The second answer, almost as important as the first, is to think about—to fill our minds with—what is true. That's St. Paul's last word as he bids farewell to the Philippians (4:8).

Today I'd like to talk about one of the easiest ways of filling our minds and hearts with the truth—one of the most effective ways of acquiring and developing the wisdom and understanding that God wants us to have and to use.

But before I do, I want to ask you a question. Don't raise your hands (it could be embarrassing)—just answer honestly to yourself.

When's the last time you read a spiritual book? I don't mean a pamphlet or the BC Catholic, or even a good article on the internet. When did you last pick up and read a Christian classic or a modern spiritual writer?

Perhaps some of us will answer: never. Others will recall leafing through a musty old book from childhood.

The fact is: spiritual reading is one of the most pleasant and productive ways to grow in faith—and to grow in holiness. You can, with a little help, find a book that suits where you are on the Christian journey, and that fits your taste as well. Very often the right book leads directly to prayer; often enough it can even be a source of conversion.

Spiritual books come in all shapes and sizes. There are lives of the saints and other holy Christians, journals, autobiographies, letters, sermons, and works of theology—although only some theological works make good spiritual writing.

There are classics suited to just about everyone, and other books that are particularly helpful to those struggling with a particular issue or at a certain stage of life. Modern writers continue to produce excellent books that connect readily with the problems we face today.

I'm always happy to suggest spiritual books to those who call or visit, and the volunteer librarians in our small parish library can help you find something to your liking.

Today, though, and not for the first time, I am recommending a modern and easy-to-read book that will appeal to many. It's called Rediscovering Catholicism by Matthew Kelly, a dynamic young Australian writer and speaker who lives in the U.S.

Rediscovering Catholicism is a remarkable book filled with insights about what our faith means and how to live it. I'm not pretending it is a modern classic, but Matthew Kelly has made it available at such a low cost that there's simply nothing out there we can make available to you so easily.

There are copies on the table to the left of the church doors, and I'm suggesting a donation of $5 per copy. That's less than they cost the parish, so if you're young or poor or simply tight with money, just take one—so long as you'll read it.

Continuing with the summer reading theme, our librarians have put out a selection of spiritual books on a table on your right as you leave. These books may be borrowed, but we ask that you check them out by signing for them with your phone number.

Finally, there's a sheet listing some of my favourite spiritual books. Most of them are easy to order through Amazon or I usually find Amazon has the better stock. If you have trouble ordering on the internet, just call the rectory and we'll get it for you.

Ask yourself today "What can God do for me?" and then go looking for the treasure that's waiting for you, hidden in a book.

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