What is wisdom—and where does it come from?
A Homily for the Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom is not knowing facts about the world. Wisdom is knowing how to make your way through the world. Other types of knowledge can be studied. Wisdom must be learned.
We may wish it were not so, but wisdom is more often acquired in setbacks than advances. Misfortunes make you question why. They ready you to learn. At least, they ought to.
Wisdom emerges from dialogue with others because you are not trying to navigate among the world’s objects. You are searching for your place among its people, the ones who share your life.
Finally, wisdom settles into you by way of silence. In the wake of misfortune, after you have talked with others and listened to them, if you would then be wise, you should be silent for a time. You should enter a womb-like stillness so that you can re-emerge, wiser, into the world.
All of this can be illustrated in a very familiar wisdom journey, The Wizard of Oz. Wisdom is not about facts. It is not learning that some monkeys can fly, that some trees do not want their apples picked or that a brick road is yellow. These are just facts, albeit extraordinary, about the Land of Oz.
Instead, wisdom is finding out who your friends are. It is realizing that you do have a brain and a heart, and that courage lies within you. Wisdom is learning that there is no place like home.
Calamities come at you. Would that your house did not land on the wrong witch. They sometimes do; it did, and now you have made an enemy of another witch. This stuff happens in life, though a bit more prosaically outside of Oz. But remember, misfortune is wisdom knocking.
Then there is the dialogue. If wisdom has a school, this is it.
“Are you a good witch or a bad witch?” (And please, do not presume you already know the answer to that one.)
“You’ve always had the power, my dear. You just had to learn it yourself.”
“Some people without brains do an awful lot of talking, don’t they?”
“Now I know I’ve got a heart, ’cause it’s breaking.”
“I’ll go in there for Dorothy. Wicked Witch or no Wicked Witch, guards or no guards, I’ll tear them apart. I may not come out alive, but I’m going in there. There’s only one thing I want you fellas to do…talk me out of it.”
“For 23 years, I’ve been dying to tell you what I thought of you, and now…. Well, being a Christian woman, I can’t say it!”
Finally, in the silence, wisdom seeps in. Dorothy has met misfortune in Oz; her friends have not taught her facts about the strange realm; they have helped her find her way through it. But she still needs the silence of sleep before she is ready to return to Kansas, to make her way through that gray world all the wiser because she has been to Oz.
Christ’s parables impart wisdom, not facts about the world. The story of the wise and foolish virgins teaches that Christ is the bridegroom whom you await. He is, in his person, the wisdom you seek.
Christ became the most misfortunate of men so that you might encounter him in your calamities. If grace attends your setbacks, you will listen again to the one whom St. Paul called “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). But even Christ is only a notion until you sit with him in silence, until you allow him to be the bridegroom, the one your heart has always sought, even before it began to learn its way through this world.