25th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Cathedral of Mary Our Queen
Live streamed and broadcast
September 18, 2021
Two Ways of Praying
I tend to be an early riser and, after walking and feeding my dog, I head to chapel where I spend an hour in prayer before the busyness of the day commences. I wish I could say that, as I begin my prayers each morning, my mind and heart are focused only on the Lord – but such is often not the case. Somehow, during the night, my internal computer reboots, and upon waking, worries and concerns and desired outcomes come rushing into my head. Some mornings, I begin my prayer by asking the Lord to do this or that, and to get all these things done ‘on schedule and under budget’.
Such prayer brings me little consolation, because it begins from the wrong place – that is to say, from the wrong place in my mind and my heart – that part of me that is still struggling, after all these years, to be redeemed. It’s that part of me that asks God to do what I want, to give me what I think I need, and, in general, to make my life easier and more pleasant. Whereas, when I am responsive to the grace of the Holy Spirit, I begin my prayer by offering to the Eucharistic Lord, as best I can, praise, thanksgiving, and adoration. I will glory in the privilege of coming into his presence, entering into his rest, and in being his disciple, his friend, and in listening to his heart speak to mine. When my prayer starts from the right place, what I ask for is different, and the spirit with which I ask is also different – less earthly and more spiritual, less focused on myself and more on God’s will and the needs of others, less determined to have it my way and more open to whatever it is God wants.
Two Ways of Looking at Life
You will readily understand, then, why today’s second reading resonates in my heart. In our reading from the Letter of James, the author presents two world-views, two ways of looking at life, two ways of behaving, and indeed, two ways of praying. The first worldview is a false wisdom, a deceptive wisdom, an earthly wisdom. The second is a genuine wisdom, a godly wisdom, a truly spiritual point of view. Now, you and I might wish to find a compromise between these two points of view, but James presents them to us in stark contrast, thus challenging me and you to choose one or the other. So, it behooves us to take a second look at what the Letter of James is telling us.
When James speaks about false wisdom, he is describing a very human tendency to look at life solely from ‘a this-worldly perspective’, and more specifically, solely from one’s own point of view: through the lens of self-interest, one’s opinions, financial gain, pleasure, power, ambition – all powerful drivers of human behavior. Why is this wisdom false? After all, it seems to work well for many astute people! But such wisdom is false, first, because it is shut off from God’s wisdom but also because it denies an important part of who we are as persons, limited beings who are made to desire the infinite and eternal love of God. To shut down our inward desire for God is, in effect, to declare war on ourselves – and when we are not at peace with ourselves, we are not at peace with others. Thus, worldly wisdom, a self-centered wisdom, leads to all kinds of discord in society, and to all kinds of bad decisions and behaviors which we may well live to regret. When we pray from the perspective of a false wisdom, a “me-first” kind of wisdom, then we approach God, not in humble supplication, but as masters of our own house, almost ordering God to do what we want, when we want it, and becoming angry and upset when he doesn’t deliver – almost as if God drives an Amazon delivery truck! In other words, we ask God for the wrong things and in the wrong way. If we approach God that way, he cannot answer us because he loves us too much!
By contrast, true wisdom comes from above, that is to say, from the Holy Spirit, who enables us to see our lives, as best we can, from the heights of God’s perspective, and to acquire what St. Paul calls, ‘a fresh, spiritual way of thinking’. This kind of wisdom opens our hearts to God’s truth and love, to a divine wisdom that corresponds to our inner drive for a love that is pure, infinite, and eternal. It opens our minds and hearts to the truth, beauty, and goodness that is God, and to God’s wisdom and love as reflected in creation and in other people. Once authentic wisdom overtakes us and reshapes us inwardly, then we become more like God: humble, simple, guileless, peaceful, reasonable – and these traits, however imperfectly, will be reflected in our words and deeds. If we pray in this way – ‘hallowing God’s name, asking to be a part of his Kingdom, seeking his will even when it entails suffering or persecution, asking humbly for what we need, and to be kept free of sin’ – if we pray to God in this manner, a manner that reflects his own wisdom, then our prayer is heard and answered!
Wisdom from Above Exemplified in the Savior
James’ contrast between true and false wisdom is not a mere abstraction. The author of our second reading is sharing with us not his personal philosophy. but rather, his intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ; it is his wisdom he proclaims! Thus, the contrast James draws between false and true wisdom is portrayed in the Gospel – in the contrast between the disciples and Jesus himself!
After Jesus predicted no less than two times, that he, the Messiah, would suffer and die and be raised on the third day, the disciples began to argue about which of them was the greatest. In spite of what Jesus said about the suffering he would undergo, the disciples continued to think that he would be an earthly king, with power and prestige they would share in. The pre-Pentecost version of the disciples embodied the false wisdom James spoke of. By contrast, Jesus is the very incarnation of wisdom from above, for he is the Son of God and the Son of Man, the very revelation of God’s wisdom. Jesus is the greatest because he is supremely humble, humble and ‘obedient to the point of accepting death – even death on a cross’! The whole frame of reference for Jesus’ earthly life was the Father’s will and doing the Father’s will is what absorbed every moment of his waking hours, whether he was preaching, curing people of diseases, teaching his disciples or praying. Jesus is our supreme model of what wisdom from above is all about and the way we acquire such wisdom is by participating in his life, the life of Christ by prayer, penance, the Eucharist, works of charity, humility, deference to others. Often, when we are most powerless and humble, like a little child, God’s light, beauty, innocence shines forth in us!
As we enter upon a new week, may we join together in mind and heart asking the Lord to renew in us the gift of wisdom, a precious gift of the Holy Spirit that we received in Baptism and Confirmation – for when this gift is stirred into flame, we become true disciples of the Lord who reflect wisdom from above in our relationships, our decisions, our words and deeds, and in our prayer. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!