In the action movie, Clear and Present Danger, actor Harrison Ford plays Dr. Jack Ryan, an intelligence analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency. At a critical point in the film, Dr. Ryan walks across the famous Eagle emblazoned on the marble floor at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Some years ago, I also walked across that Eagle. And as I did, I remember that my eyes were drawn to the walls of the main lobby, for upon the white and grey marble walls are gold stars that represent CIA employees who have given their lives in the service of our country. Even more impressive is the verse from St. John’s Gospel that is emblazoned in gold directly over them:
“…and You will know the Truth and the Truth will set you free.” (Jn 8:32)
A couple of years ago, that scripture hit home after reading a feature story in the Detroit News entitled, The Age of Doubt. The article noted the exponential explosion of information outlets over the past decade. In it, the author mused that some fifty years ago, we Americans primarily received our information from newspapers, magazines, television, and radio. He went on to note how different a world we live in today. Where we used to wait for the morning newspaper, we needn’t any longer. Today, a myriad of blogs and information sites permeate our reality. And with this overload of information, there is virtually no time in which to verify fact from fiction. As such, we have moved into a world of rapidly produced information that seems to continually contradict itself. Did she or didn’t she? Did it really happen or is it just another urban legend? Quoted in the story was an American Studies professor from Wayne State University who claims that our popular culture has come to reflect the anxiety of a people who have had such stories constantly fed to them. At information overload, we have become a culture whose first inclination is cynicism: Is it real or is it fake?
With a downright mistrust of the information set before us, we ask the ancient question proposed by Pontius Pilate: What is truth? In Proverbs (9:1-6), and again in St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians (5:15-20), however, we are encouraged to find the Truth through Wisdom. “For Wisdom has built her house and spread her table, and calls us to eat of her food.” The Great Pope, St. Gregory the Great, also reminds us that “wisdom does not flow from words, but from deeds.” And St. Paul warns us about the type of food we should eat when cautioning us to be careful of how we live. On one hand, the world whispers that we can have it all. If youth is our desire, then just dab a bit of cream or swallow a pill. If it is the envy of others that we seek, simply purchase and drive a certain car or other high-profile consumer good. Better yet, if we desire others to view us as “independent” minded, a run for political office may offer us a unique opportunity to compromise our Catholic faith.
In the end, the food of the world is really about what’s in it for me. Beginning and ending with ourselves, for a time, it may provide us with short-term gain; but most assuredly, it will lead us to long-term ruin. Given this, St. Paul urges us to make the most of the opportunities that God has given us. Our time is short and spinning away from us. Each and every moment of our life counts. At every turn, it is in our eternal interest that we seek God’s Holy Will for our lives. For Paul, that is the Wisdom that leads us to the Truth.
But how do we accomplish this? If the Wisdom of the world leads us toward self, then True Wisdom must lead us from ourselves to another. And in giving ourselves to another person, we find the true meaning and happiness that the world cannot offer, let alone understand. Not long ago, I entered a hospital to visit the sick and bring them Holy Communion. At the reception desk, the attendant told me of a lady who had fallen and suffered brain damage. In walking toward her room, I wondered what to expect. As it turns out, I found a woman with the brightest blue eyes who was seated at the side of her bed. She immediately told me that she had been praying that someone would come to visit and pray with her. But before I could speak a word, she began to apologize that she could no longer remember certain prayers (and that I would need to help her along). She informed me that her husband was deceased and that her son lived out of town. After we prayed and she had received Holy Communion, as I was preparing to leave, she thanked me and told me that I had not only made her day but her week. In reality, she had made mine.
And so it is with each one of us who minister to parents or grandparents, brothers or sisters, friends or strangers. In the end, it is the gift of self that makes a difference in the lives of others. In John’s Gospel, our Lord gives Himself to us as a gift and asks us to receive His very Body and Blood in order that we might become what we receive. Today and always we do well to remember where True Wisdom always leads us: to Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.