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The first reading at Mass this past Sunday (23rd Sunday of the Year C) speaks to our limitations and need for humility.
Who can know God’s counsel,
or who can conceive what the LORD intends?
For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.
For the corruptible body burdens the soul
and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.
And scarce do we guess the things on earth,
and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty;
but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?
Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from on high?
And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight (Wisdom 9:13-18).
Let’s ponder three reasons for humility and then a prescription for the humble.
1. Our Perceptions – The text says, Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends? … and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty; but when things are in heaven, who can search them out? Or who ever knew your counsel, …?
Living in a scientific age and having explained many things that were once mysterious to us, we tend to have an exaggerated idea of what we know. Teenagers often protest to their parents: “I know a few things, too!” Yes indeed, they (and we) do know a few things—a very few things. This is especially true when it comes to the hidden knowledge and counsel of God.
God sees things comprehensively. He lives in the “eternal now”: past, present, and future are all together. Nothing escapes His grasp, and He is able to draw good even out of the great evil we hurl at Him.
The paradox of the cross stands in stark contrast to the thinking of the world. As St. Paul says, the cross is foolishness to the Gentiles and a stumbling block to the Jews, but to us who believe, it is the wisdom and the power of God (see 1 Cor 1:23-24).
Though at times we are puzzled, none of us can rightfully rebuke God saying, “What are you doing?” God’s ways are often mysterious to us, but He can make a way out of no way and do anything but fail.
We must make frequent acts of humility, especially when things don’t make sense to us. Yes, we must be very humble before God.
2. Our Plans – The text says, For the deliberations of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans.
Here, too, there is a tendency for us in the modern age to think that our scientific theories are certain, but over the years many things that were once considered “settled science” have given way in the face of new evidence.
Our plans are often disrupted by external events. The control we crave is ultimately an illusion. So many things we think are under our control are affected by things we cannot control, such as other people or even the next beat of our heart.
Therefore, we must be humble about our plans and deliberations. The Book of James says,
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business, and make a profit.” You do not even know what will happen tomorrow! What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:13-14).
3. Our Passions – The text says, For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.
The body can preoccupy us with lesser things. Under the influence of our passions, we are inclined to approve what is pleasing but sinful. We often seek to be affirmed in our errors and predispositions in order to indulge our passions; we deceive ourselves and permit others to do so as well. In humility, we must be willing to be corrected by the Lord through His Word and the teachings of the Church.
Our Plea – Given this threefold basis for humility, the text from Wisdom sets forth our plea, our request for God’s help. Admitting our weakness, we ask for His assistance.
The text says, Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom and sent your holy spirit from on high? And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.
While it is possible to know many things without special graces from God (for we are naturally endowed with an intellect), we are limited and often get things wrong. Hence, we seek God’s grace through His Holy Spirit.
Note that four of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit pertain to the intellect: wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and counsel. The other three pertain to the will or heart: piety, fortitude, and fear of the Lord. If we receive these gifts, the text assures us that our paths will be made straight. It does not say that we will become omniscient or even come close to the glory of God’s knowing, but we are assured that we will not utterly lose our way if we are docile to the teaching and promptings of the Holy Spirit.
Humility, humility, humility!