(For the audio version of this blog, please visit:http://brothersinchristcmf.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Mass-Blog-for-the-First-Sunday-of-Lent-2023.mp3)
In this hyper-connected world, it seems everybody’s a prophet. A prophet’s challenge in seeking wisdom from so many sources is, how do we find the one leading to truth? It seems that must happen as it did among the ancient prophets we revere—over time. Maybe the best we can do is model Isaiah and ask God to send us, and along the way, ask the Holy Spirit to fill us with the wisdom that helped Jesus inspire others. Our wisdom might not manifest itself until we’re old and gray, but despite what the Book of Sirach (Chapter 6:18) suggests, our lifelong cultivation of it might help feed others who are starving for it:
“My child, from your youth choose discipline; and when you have gray hair you will find wisdom. As though plowing and sowing, draw close to her; then wait for her bountiful crops. For in cultivating her you will work but little, and soon you will eat her fruit. She is rough ground to the fool! The stupid cannot abide her. She will be like a burdensome stone to them, and they will not delay in casting her aside. For discipline is like her name, she is not accessible to many.”
The advent of Lent offers the perfect opportunity to embark on a 40-day mission to renew our search for her. We begin the first Sunday of this holy season with Mass, and a collection of readings offering inspiration for our never-ending efforts. The first, from Genesis (Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7), recalls the stupid mistake Eve made in HER search. The devil fools her into believing knowledge equals wisdom—and is, therefore, the great equalizer when it comes to understanding God. But Adam & Eve’s tragic discovery resulting from their naked desire for equality with God continues to teach us, their progeny, the distinction between knowledge and wisdom.
The knowledge Adam, Eve and their children gained so painfully from that original sin was that their lifelong search for equality with God would only end with death. But Jesus’s entry into humanity’s garden turned the curse we were destined to inherit back into the gift we were intended to receive. The gift of the new life Jesus gave us lives forever in our sharing it from generation to generation. Jesus designed that human stairway to lead us away from hell’s kingdom and into God’s. As Sunday’s gospel reading reminds us (Mt 4:1-11), Christ’s construction of that masterpiece of engineering started with the devil’s invitation:
Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.”
Jesus easily recognized evil because he was naturally good—and God by nature. We were all designed to be good. So where did our evil come from? Thomas Aquinas wrote that “evil rises from a defect of what ought to be present by nature. The inability to see is counted as an evil in creatures that are meant to see. Thus, we cannot properly talk about a cause of evil; rather it is due to the defect of a cause.”
For Thomas, virtue is the perfection of a power, and evil weakens the use of a power. Thomas adds, evil cannot exist by itself, for nothing can be wholly evil; evil is only found in things that are good by nature.
Adam and Eve compromised their natural goodness by confusing knowledge with wisdom. The resulting evil started humanity on a dead-end journey. God put us back on course by modeling for us the perfection of our natural goodness. That goodness manifests itself in the wisdom of serving God by serving others.
We can’t do that if a fall paralyzes us. Life is a stairway designed not only to deliver us from evil but to advance us toward the wisdom we were made for. We just have to keep getting back up to find and show the way.