What is wisdom? Who is a wise person? Two historical people known for their wise answers asked these very same questions. Solomon in Ecclesiastes asked, “Who is like the wise man and who knows the explanation of things?” And Socrates is the other who asked these two questions. Socrates spent his whole life on a quest for wisdom. His quest looked a lot like Solomon’s, but unlike Solomon, Socrates died without finding it. At the end of Ecclesiastes, Solomon finds true wisdom and he finds it in the only place it can be found, in the Word of God. For us that word is Jesus himself and everything he said, fulfilled, and represented.
Socrates never acknowledged the word of God, and so he never found true Wisdom, Himself. But that didn’t stop people from coming to him looking for wisdom. There is a story of a young wisdom seeking man who came to Socrates. Socrates took him to a pond and led him chest-deep into the water. And there he asked him, “What do you want?” the young man said, “Wisdom, oh wise Socrates.” So, Socrates proceeded to push him under the water. After about 30 seconds, he let the boy up and asked him again, “What do you want?” Again the young man sputtered, “Wisdom oh great and wise Socrates.” So Socrates pushed him under the water again. 30 seconds passed, 35, 40. Then he let him up. “What do you want?” This time the boy was gasping and choking. But between breaths, he managed to get out, “Wisdom, oh great and…” This time he didn’t even finish his sentence before Socrates dunked him under again. 30, 40, 50, 55, one full minute later, Socrates finally let him up. “What do you want?” This time the boy said, “Air! I need air!” And that was the lesson.
Socrates told him, “When you desire wisdom as much as you just desired air, then you will have it.” Air is something we don’t pay a whole lot of attention to until we don’t have it. And when we don’t have it, it’s the only thing we can think about. Think about that time you got the wind knocked out of you. As Christians we want the kind of wisdom that passes the test of faith. We want the wisdom of the words that will not pass away. And we want the Word himself, made flesh, who will not pass away. So let us pursue this wisdom as if our life depended on it, and it does, our eternal life.
A few weeks ago at Mass we heard of the rich young man who had a lot of possessions, but he wanted something more. His question to Jesus was, “Good Teacher, what must I do to share everlasting life?” That rich young man had health, wealth, youth, and life. But he knew that an illness, or a thief, could change that in a moment. And even if he could avoid such sudden loss, he knew that even at best all that he treasured was temporary. The unrelenting tick of the clock would slowly rob his youth, erode his wealth, and eventually take his life. And then what?
Perhaps the young man had been in the crowd on a mountain some months earlier when Jesus said, “Do not store for yourselves treasures on earth where moths and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal” (Mt 6:19). Or maybe he had been in the synagogue of Capernaum when Jesus said, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (Jn 6:22). At any rate he wanted what every one of us wants, peace and security, life and happiness that lasts, happiness that never ends, we want that heavenly wisdom that never passes. And all of this is within our reach right now.
A theology lesson. As we know, God exists outside of time. But when Jesus entered into time, time freaked out, because time cannot contain Jesus or any of the events in his life. So Jesus is not limited to those 33 years of life on earth two millennia ago. Jesus is both true man and true God and because he is true God his life cannot remain in the past, his life transcends time. And here, is the beautiful and awesome thing about being a Christian. When we were baptized we were filled with the very life of God, his sanctifying grace, and as the water was being poured over us, our souls received the Divine virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity. And it’s these virtues that allow us to transcend time, and be with Jesus at all the important events of his life. Amazing!
Example, whenever our heart is moved with faith and charity at remembrance of some event of our Lord’s life, maybe the crucifixion, for example, then we are mystically transported to that event of our Lord’s life, we are there to love him and console him. And in a very real way we are more present to Jesus than one of the soldiers who was there physically but had no faith or charity. The wisdom of Jesus, the words of Jesus, the Word made Flesh himself, cannot remain in the past, He transcends time. Our faith, our hope, our charity keeps us very connected to the eternal word.
Theologians tell us the Mass is the most perfect prayer we can offer to God the Father. It makes present to us all the life-saving events of Jesus. A priest once said that we should think of prayer, any prayer, but Mass especially as sitting before God and that with every breath we take in we are breathing in God, we are breathing in the breath of God. He resuscitates us and fills us with the air of Divine Wisdom right here and now. It’s the air that Socrates could never give to the young man he almost drowned. This is the air we want to breathe, the air of peace, the air of security, the air of life and the air of happiness that lasts. The Mass is where we take in the wisdom of the words that will not pass away and we take in the Word himself, made flesh, who will not pass away.
Pax et Bonum,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley