November 16, 2014 - 16TH SUNDAY:

Proverbs 31:10-31 ; 1Thes 5:1-6

Wisdom quite regularly proves surprisingly difficult to recognize, even by those persons who would seem most prepared by nature to be her most ready and capable disciples.  Wisdom is a virtue quite distinct from knowledge, though readily makes use of the contribution of such information as the store of knowledge makes available.  Consider the instance of the gifted quantum physicist, Richard Feynman, whose brilliant mind enabled him to gain insights into the sub-atomic nature of matter.  His contributions were justly acknowledged and rewarded by the Nobel Prize.  Yet he lacked the living and practical knowledge of the simplest of the faithful, so that he had no grasp of life's ultimate meaning and the final purpose of our earthly existence. When he was lying on his death bed he had nothing better to say to his grieving wife than the complaint "How boring it is to be dying."  Without faith in God, he experienced death, not as the entry in the loving presence that is our ultimate goal, but as hopeless loss of all that is good.  It is with the recording of this sad complaint that his biographer ends the story of his scientific genius.  A contemporary of his, also a Nobel laureate, producing no less brilliant original work on nature's mysterious ways in the realm of matter commented to the effect that "the more I understand the workings of the universe the less meaning it displays."

The inability to discern the true lineaments of that wisdom which penetrates to the deepest purpose of creation and discloses the ultimate meaning of our human life is not a phenomenon restricted to modern times, or to the several centuries since the so-called Age of Enlightenment. The authorities of the most celebrated of ancient Greek cities, Athens, in the year 399 B.C., far from recognizing and honoring their wisest citizen, Socrates, put him to death.  They so little understood his penetrating insights that have continued to the enlightenment of some of the best and noblest persons through the centuries that they accused him of corrupting the youth of his day by his way of teaching.

Already some centuries before, however, the most thoughtful men of Israel showed themselves not only intelligent, but uncommonly sensitive to the ways of wisdom and devoted themselves to its pursuit.  Not only those known as specialists of Wisdom such as the man who wrote in today's first reading the description of a wise women that certainly applies to Saint Gertrude whose feast is commemorated today.  There are others as well experts in the higher wisdom, such as the early prophets who sought to inculcate its insights.  To mention but one such prophet writing and preaching several centuries before Socrates, Isaiah encourages the Jews of his day to take heart for there will spring up a shoot from the stock of Jesse.  "On him will rest the spirit of the Lord, the spirit of wisdom and insight." (Is.11.2) Such reflective observers of nature and human affairs were recognized to be guided by the spirit of God in concluding from their prayerful meditation on the world and its ways that there is a creator who lives and continues to intervene in his creation.  As a result of their application to searching out the nature of things and God's plan for his work, they attained to this lofty virtue of wisdom and were recognized as inspired by God, as they claimed.  As the centuries passed, increasing attention was given to such searching and describing its features and applications in history as well as in nature.  Evidence for depiction of its ways and the consequences of its practice became prominent in the Jewish traditional way of life.  Surprisingly frequent are the references to the presence of this virtue in the Old Testament.  Interestingly such concerns with the effects of its presence become more frequent as time goes on.  By the time the Jewish authorities established the canon of inspired Scripture around the year 96 AD at Jabneh in the Holy Land, Wisdom writings were considered one of the three major divisions of the Bible, the Law and the Prophets being the other two groups.

The beginning of fulfillment of these and many other anticipations of a surpassing wisdom is heralded in the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary.  The fruit of her womb is nothing other, as St. Paul declared to the Corinthians, than "Jesus Christ who was made for us the power and the wisdom of God."(1 Corinthians 1:24)

Foreshadowing this Wisdom incarnate in the person of Jesus, are the gifts of described in the account of the wise woman who is the subject of the first reading today.  Very fittingly is this text brought to our notice today when we celebrate the feast day of Saint Gertrude the great whose devoted insights into the mysteries of the love of Christ's Sacred Heart place her among the truly wise women of history.  The devoted, practical and truly wise woman who fears the Lord prepared the way for the coming as the light of the world of the Savior who makes it possible for Paul, as we heard in the second reading, to remind us that "all of you are children of the light and children of the day.  We are not of the night or of darkness."  For the great gift of the Lord Jesus, the eternal, true Wisdom of God, whom we receive in communion at this Sunday mass, we offer this Eucharistic sacrifice with grateful, heartfelt thanksgiving.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger