My Hand-Pocketed Wisdom

My Hand-Pocketed Wisdom

From time to time, one of the most beautiful things that occurs in my life is that of cherishing a nice piece of chocolate after a delicious meal. I know, I should not put you into temptation since Lent has now began! But, is there something wrong to celebrate what is beautiful, true and good even during a penitential time as Lent certainly is? I reckon it is not!

After my dear mom prepared for me a tasty meal every time I visited her, she would always put at my table place that famous piece of chocolate, accompanied of course, by that quotation that fills, besides the stomach, one’s mind and spirit whilst set them on the reflection mode. As this custom has been repeating itself for quite some time now I felt the Lord’s Spirit telling me to save these quotes while, and in all justice and mercy, savour those blessed pieces of chocolate that kept them company. So here they are, the seven quotes that today I would like to share with you as I have just taken them out from my habit’s pocket.

The giant Greek philosopher and polymath of Ancient Greece of the classical period, Aristotle [Ἀριστοτέλης Aristotélēs] (384-322), used to say that “love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.” Ideally, that is what true love should be! But, in order for those persons who are authentically in love, to reach this state in their relationship they should be working hard for it. Biblically speaking they need to be, as St Paul put it, of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind (Phil 2:2). Again, could this be possible? It all depends, at the end, if the dyad really wants and is ready to give up everything that can disrupt this union of hearts, minds and bodies. If that takes place I am sure that each person will say to the other: “You are completing my joy!” (see Phil 2:2).

The second quotes comes from Seneca (4 BC – AD 65), the Roman Stoic philosopher, statesman, dramatist, and satirist of the Silver Age of Latin literature. He said: “There are vices that border on virtues.” I find no other way of better explaining what Seneca is saying than by referring to what the Holy Bible says in Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians where it blatantly speaks of men that look like apostles of Christ and, in all truth, they aren’t absolutely!

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:13-14).

The third sweetie reflection comes from Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), the Irish poet and playwright. He wrote: “The only things one never regrets are one’s mistakes.” This ironic statement by Wilde reminds you and me that although we try, inasmuch as we can, to avoid mistakes, at the end of the day they are precisely these very mistakes which can make our lives worth living, and always ready to cherish, celebrate and share them joyfully and gratuitously with others. We are what we are today thanks to the mistakes we made in the past, learned from them, and kept moving on! Just think of the great conversions we find in the Bible and in the lives of the saints. They could turn totally to the light because they experienced the bitter taste of sin, thus their spiritual death, and, humbly, accepted His loving invitation.

With the English poet, critic, philosopher and theologian, Edward Young (1683-1765), I am gently reminded that “friendship is the wine of life.” Taken biblically, wine represents joy, celebration, festivity and God’s abundant blessings. Thus, true friendship comprises joy because, in a real friend, one can experience God’s endless blessings! No wonder that the book of Ben Sirach says: A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure. There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend, and no scales can measure his excellence. A faithful friend is an elixir of life; and those who fear the Lord will find him. (Sir 6:14-16).

The quote from the French poet, novelist and dramatist of the Romantic movement, Victor Hugo (1802-1885), namely that “the greatest happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved: loved for ourselves or rather loved inspite of ourselves,” cannot not throw me on my knees to pray! In reality, who is the one who really loves me for who I am? Or, inspite of who I am or what I did? Our life experience and our deepest yearnings that only our spirit can voice, incessantly show that God alone can do that. It was that strong conviction of God’s unconditional love for him which led St Paul to affirm in his letter to the Romans: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8:35-39). That is why St Augustine advises us in his fourth book of the Confessions: “Rest in Him, and you shall be at rest” (Confessions 4:12:18).

The latter quote leads to what St Augustine (354-430), the early Christian theologian, Doctor of the Church, and Neoplatonic philosopher, had to say about love: “The measure of love is to love without measure.” In what Augustine is saying how can one miss what St John writes about Jesus’ love for his disciples, that is when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (John 13:1)? Was not Jesus’ love for the ones he had chosen (Acts 1:2) from the beginning (Acts 26:4) totally imbued with the love ingredients that we find in 1 Corinthians, in other words, of a love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor 13:7)? Is this not that kind of love which is the greatest (1 Cor 13:13)?

After this rather intriguing iter I am gladly encouraged to conclude, in the company of the famous German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, poet, philologist, and scholar of Latin and Greek whose work has undoubtedly left a profound influence on modern intellectual history, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), that “in true love it is the soul that envelopes the body.” Or rather, true love comes only from God!

How wise to address to the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, this prayer, with St Augustine:

“Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit, that my thoughts may all be holy. Act in me, O Holy Spirit, that my work, too, may be holy. Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit, that I love but what is holy. Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit, to defend all that is holy. Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit, that I always may be holy. Amen.”

Can we start praying this prayer each and every time we are presented with a nice chocolate coupled with a priceless quote? Knowing the inestimable value of these quotes I decided to leave them in my habit’s pocket not because I don’t care but to have some wisdom that with you, when you happen to be at Mater Dei, I can happily share with!

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Written by
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap