Archdiocese of Baltimore Red Mass
Thursday, 32nd Week of Ordinary Time
St. Joseph, Cockeysville
Nov. 14, 2019
Wisdom: Human and Divine
Every year, when we gather for this Red Mass, we honor an outstanding member of the legal profession, someone who has earned the esteem of colleagues and the wider community, and tonight is no exception as the Thomas More Society bestows its annual “Man for All Seasons” award upon Professor James B. O’Hara, Esq. Having celebrated this Mass with you now for seven years, I have observed that your honorees are chosen not only for their knowledge of the law or for the skill in the courtroom, but indeed for a quality more precious and often in short supply, namely, wisdom. When, in our daily work, we rub shoulders with a person who is truly wise, we instinctively turn to that person, not for advice on routine matters, but rather when we are confronted with a seemingly insoluble problem, whether in our professional lives or in our personal lives.
Some people seem to have a sort of natural wisdom. They are keen observers of history and of human nature. They observe life, not just on its surface, but rather with a genuine insight, insight that is most often gained by lived experience. People who are humanly wise are not usually visionaries or idealists but rather practical people of sound and prudent judgment. They are people we turn to as wise counselors, as our “sages”. We often look to such people to guide us not only to material success but indeed to help us attain genuine happiness, even amid our challenges. Scripture, for example the Book of Proverbs, greatly values human wisdom, a wisdom that reflects not only the experience of Israel but indeed the wisdom of their neighbors in the Ancient Near East.
Today’s reading from the Book of Wisdom, however, sets the bar higher, for it speaks not merely of human wisdom but rather of divine wisdom, a wisdom that is not only the fruit of human experience but indeed God’s gift to us: “In wisdom [we read] is a spirit, intelligent, holy, unique, manifold, subtle, agile, clear, unstained, certain…firm, tranquil…all-seeing…” a spirit that “penetrates and pervades all things by reason of her purity.” Clearly, these qualities are not mere human attainments but rather attributes of God. D. As we read on, we see that God is all-wise and indeed the source of true wisdom: “Wisdom is an aura of the might of God and a pure effusion of the glory of the Almighty… the refulgence of eternal light, the spotless mirror of the power of God, [indeed] the image of his goodness.” Hearing this, we may think that such wisdom is beyond our reach but the sacred author goes on to say that divine wisdom “pass[es] into holy souls from age to age and produces friends of God and prophets.” That’s really what brings us together this evening. The author of the Book of Wisdom all but foretells what we believe – that the Holy Spirit is the wisdom of God who enlightens our minds and opens our hearts to Christ, the light of the world, the Spirit who makes us “truly wise” in the ways of God.
What if, this evening, in the course of this Red Mass, we humbly and sincerely asked the Holy Spirit to stir up in us the gift of wisdom? You know, we received the gift of wisdom through the Sacrament of Baptism and that gift was deepened in our hearts through the Sacrament of Confirmation. But oftentimes, when I rush from event to event and from problem to problem, I think that the gift of wisdom lies dormant in my soul, untouched and unused, when, in fact, I should be asking the Holy Spirit to stir up in my heart this gift. This would enable me to have the mind of Christ and to judge well and wisely in the matters that confront me from day to day. Let me make an educated guess that you may also need a gentle reminder to ask the Holy Spirit to stir up in your hearts, as well, the gift of wisdom, that gift that enables you and me to see, to judge, and to act as Christ would do.
The Kingdom of God
If indeed the Spirit reignites his gift of wisdom in us, what difference will that make? What will be discernably different in our relationships and our daily work? What will we hope for, strive for, give our attention to, more so than now? Let me suggest that the answer to this question can be found in the Gospel where one of the Pharisees asked Jesus when the Kingdom of God would come. When the Spirit’s gift of wisdom is alive and active in our hearts, then our lives will be directed by the prayer we utter every day: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The kingdom of God is not bound up with earthly power or wealth. Nor can it be reduced to a political philosophy or a social program. Indeed, as Jesus teaches us, even though the Kingdom of God is among us, it cannot be pinned down to any specific place or particular time. Or, as St. Paul would have it, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of food or drink [i.e., earthly pleasures], but of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). It is the Spirit who opens our hearts to Christ, to Christ the Source of all righteousness, peace, and joy. Indeed, the Kingdom of God is nothing other than the Person of Christ. To be with Christ, to live in Christ, to become like Christ – this is how the Kingdom of God dawns in our lives day after day.
As his Kingdom dawns upon us, we survey, through the wisdom of the Spirit, the talents, gifts, and resources that God in his goodness has placed at our disposal. And we ask the Spirit to guide us, from day to day, in using these blessings not for ourselves and for our own advancement or prosperity. Rather, wisdom directs that we would use these gifts for the sake of others, for the sake of building, not just a better world, but indeed a civilization of truth and love, that is to say, a civilization in which justice is tempered by mercy, a society in which every life is sacred – the lives of the unborn, the poor and destitute, the abandoned & underprivileged, the vulnerable infirm and elderly, the victims of human trafficking, and indeed the vast majority of humanity who are victimized by the excessive consumption of a few (Cf. Pp. Francis, Gaudete et Exsultate, no. 102). As Pope Francis reminds us, these concerns are intimately tied to holiness. Wisdom teaches that we cannot be holy unless we attend to those in need, even when it means aligning ourselves with causes that are not particularly popular.
The Wisdom of St. Thomas More
The patron saint of lawyers, St. Thomas More, was a man of wisdom and holiness. Just prior to his martyrdom, he famously said, “I die the King’s good servant but God’s first.” His daily life and career were set in the midst of an earthly kingdom but in the turmoil of that kingdom, unobserved but no less present, was the Kingdom of God in the very Person of Christ. At a pivotal moment, Thomas More had the wisdom to choose Christ, to choose the heavenly kingdom as the true way of serving the earthly realm. His choice cost him his life. True wisdom is costly but oh, how beautiful.
Let us beg the Holy Spirit for the wisdom to seek and indeed to find the Kingdom of God in the midst of this passing world. And may God bless us and keep us always in his love!