Our Father Jerome died on 19 October, two years ago. Many of you found his sermons and talks both interesting and entertaining. His was indeed an inimitable style. Although our Weekly Reflection is ordinarily published anonymously, the following is the text of a sermon, preached by Fr Jerome in our church on the 30 July 2017. May he rest in peace.
Solomon prayed for wisdom, and discernment. Wisdom is not the same as knowledge: St Paul tells us that knowledge puffs up, but wisdom comes from on high. What is the difference? (It has been said that knowledge tells us that a tomato is a fruit, while wisdom tells us not to put it in a fruit salad.) Knowledge on its own is useless: only wisdom tells us how to make use of it.
This city is plagued with two universities and countless other institutions all peddling knowledge. But they do not teach wisdom.
Wisdom comes from listening to God, not studying in websites, books or lectures. Wisdom is within the reach of all: there is no need to be frightfully clever, for God speaks most clearly to the little ones; no need to have the wealth they demand for teaching knowledge, for God reveals himself to the poor. God speaks directly to every human heart, if only we have the patience to listen.
God speaks in what we call “conscience”. But when we say that, we are easily misunderstood: people use that phrase “following my conscience” to mean “doing exactly what I want”. They can convince themselves with all sorts of subtle arguments and clever “knowledge” that what they happen to want to do is their right. That’s why Newman tried to invent a new word for “conscience” — he called it the “illative sense”, but somehow that didn’t catch on. Perhaps “intuition” is a better word: what we mean is that after all the clever arguments and subtle knowledge, something cuts in and says “you know that’s all nonsense: what you want to do is something you really should not do.” Or, more often, “that is something you should not have done.” Conscience, in the true sense of the word, is that within us that tells us what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false. Listening to conscience is true wisdom, “how to discern between good and evil” as Solomon put it. False knowledge is what the devil promised, experience of good and evil. Wisdom is the instinctive feeling we have when all argument ceases, this is good, this is true, no matter what the experts say.
Wisdom comes from listening to God. All our prayer, all our worship is for listening. We may use words, but it is God who speaks through them. We may remain in silence, and it is God who speaks in silence. It is only after prayer that we can become aware of how our conscience has become more subtle, more accurate, listening to God.
And God speaks to us through others, yes, even the Catholic Church. When we discover that our feeling, our intuition, our conscience, agrees with what billions of others have felt, have heard God say, why, then we can be confident in ignoring the chattering arguments of the knowledge-peddlers.
This is not to say there cannot be good knowledge for those who have the leisure and the interest to acquire it. Part of wisdom is to discern between what is worth knowing, and what should be thrown away because it is no use. But wisdom is for everyone: wisdom is what we seek, and for that it is worth giving up everything else: that is the point of the parable of the pearl of great price.
Wisdom in the end is not a thing, not an abstraction: Wisdom is a Person, the one we love. For “God cooperates with all those who love him”, and it is the Son of God, Our Lord himself, who is the living Wisdom and the Power of God. It is the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son who breathes within us. Conscience, intuition, the illative sense, is that part of us that can hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. The more we listen to him, the more clearly we become aware of what God within us is telling us, how he is leading us into all truth.
All truth, all wisdom, comes from on high. But the Holy Spirit lives within us, so that the divine wisdom also wells up from inside us, from the heart, which speaks to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
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