By Canon Gerry Conroy
Every now and again in the course of life, you come across someone who is extremely intelligent, but has no common sense; they haven’t managed to put all of their knowledge to any practical use that makes their life any better. I suppose we might say they were intelligent but lacking in wisdom. There is a distinction to be made between knowledge and wisdom; wisdom allows us to make use of what we know to make life better. The writer of that first reading on Sunday just past captures that idea when, because of wisdom, he speaks of all good things coming to him and riches not to be numbered – and by riches the word doesn’t just mean money, it means the fulness of life we are looking for.
The search for this Wisdom presumes that there is an order to life, a purpose in life, an ultimate meaning that is graspable by us, even attainable by us. And the Wisdom that the Bible speaks of finds this meaning and purpose open to us in creation and revelation. I think the man who came to Christ was searching for this wisdom, but there is a problem for him, despite observing the commands he didn’t feel he had found it in the law, as his reading of the Bible had told him he should.
That is a problem for many people, a problem our modern world has widely answered by saying there is no purpose or meaning in life other than what we give to it by our choices. There is a confrontation going on in our world between two understandings: One understanding says our choices should be in accord with the purpose and meaning of life which is established by God the creator and redeemer. The other says we are free to make whatever choice we want in order to bring purpose and meaning to our life, in order to be myself.
When I look at the world, I see people, individuals adrift in a sea of isolation because they have opted to search for meaning and purpose in their own choices. They think their authenticity depends upon a freedom from any outside influence in order to be free to make their own choice. One philosopher of the modern period even wrote a book entitled ‘The Stranger’ where he took this idea to its logical conclusion and the hero of the story was executed for murder desiring to be hated by all so that he might know complete freedom.
The other view says to us that if we are to find our purpose, if our life is to be meaningful, if our freedom is to benefit us, we need to give ourselves to something. And it is not simply in the act of the giving of ourselves that we find peace. We must give ourselves to what is appropriate for us. Look at the number of people who give themselves to something only to find that ultimately it does not satisfy them. Therefore it is not in the act of giving alone, but also in what we give ourselves to. The Gospel today is telling us I think, that nothing will satisfy that need in the way that God does. But giving ourselves to God is not simply giving
ourselves to some idea, or ideal, it must be practical and concrete, so we have the command to love God and love our neighbour. Our giving is both individual and infinite. The alternative is to remain fixed on ourselves. There, we will always know the frustration of life: knowing the need to give ourselves and unable to find the answer as happened to the man who ran to Christ in search of answers. We will find the wisdom that opens us to the peace that comes with a purpose and meaning in our life by listening to Christ and acting on his words, even when they are difficult.
Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s, Dumbarton