This is the third essay on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Thus far we have discussed “Fear of God” and “Fortitude”. Next up is “Wisdom.” Oh wisdom, the thing that we all strive to have with age. There are many age old expressions and quotations for wisdom. It is as though wisdom is so well understood but not understood at all. “Wisdom comes with age.” Or from Socrates “The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.” Voltaire- “The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.” And from Rumi, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”
On a basic level, wisdom is knowing right and wrong. But as with the other gifts of the Spirit, this is easy to define, but the definition is not the fulfilment of the gift. The full embodiment of wisdom is not contained in intelligence. It is not about how many facts you know or about how many Bible passages you have memorized. It is much deeper. We often associate wisdom with age, and this can in part be true as with age comes experience (as another cliché goes). If we think of the saints, many of them have gray hair and have the markings of living life. But the Wisdom given to us by the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with our biological age.
When I think of the saints, the first that stands out in my mind as the embodiment of wisdom is Saint Therese of Lisieux. Saint Therese of Lisieux is a doctor of the Church. She died when she was 24 years old from Tuberculosis. She had neither gray hair, nor wrinkles on her face. Like all the saints of the ages, Saint Therese endured myriad hardships throughout her short life. Saint Therese experienced sorrow in her life due to medical challenges and losing her mother at age 4 as well as other painful losses and experiences throughout her childhood. Saint Therese fits the expression of “bound and determined.” Nothing would stand in her way of joining the Carmelite order. Nothing would stand in her way of serving Jesus. She knew that her purpose was to serve the Lord, no matter the cost. She also knew that despite her deepest desires to serve the Lord fully, that her desires were not always the Lord’s desires.
Wisdom at its core is seeking out God in everything. No matter the trial. Or rather, lest we give ourselves credit, wisdom is allowing Jesus to lead us through all of life’s trials and sufferings. Like the other gifts, Wisdom is a grace bestowed upon us. We do not earn it. And it does not come from anything great or small that we do. But our participation in the gift is necessary for its growth in ourselves. We have to carry our crosses, and we have to follow the cross of Jesus. Wisdom is following Jesus no matter the cost. Saint Therese taught us the wisdom involves perseverance and a fierce love for God that even the trials of this life cannot conquer.
The Bible contains may passages about wisdom. In Psalm 90:2, we hear “[t]each us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” For Saint Therese, there was no tomorrow. There was only today. There was only now. She could not contain her desire to serve the Lord. If we wait until tomorrow to start living for God, if we wait until tomorrow to start praying more, if we wait until tomorrow to reach out to a sick relative, if we wait until tomorrow to change our lives, then we lack wisdom.
In Ephesians 5:15-16 we hear, “Be very careful, then, how you live, not as unwise but wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.” Every opportunity that we have in this life is an opportunity to glorify God. In our thoughts, words and actions. When we direct our eyes to God, we grow in wisdom. When we offer up our actions as prayers to glorify God, we grow in wisdom. When we offer words of love instead of hate, we grow in wisdom. How we live matters.
And finally from Colossians 4:5-6, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Our words matter. When our words are our own, we lack wisdom. Wisdom comes from God, and when we turn our hearts to him, the Holy Spirit speaks through us. So often when we attribute wisdom to age it is because the aged have myriad experiences through which they have learned about the challenges of life. We think of wisdom from the aged as advice that was surely gained through experience and so trustworthy that it would do us well to follow it. And then we find ourselves disregarding the advice and doing whatever it is that we wanted in the first place. Only to admit later that it would have been wise to listen to the advice that was given to us. Why didn’t we listen? Why did we have to learn from experience? When we lack wisdom, we act from our own selfish desires, we give into pride, we succumb to our worldly impulses.
Rumi’s words about wisdom point this out, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Wisdom does not drive us to change the world. Wisdom drives us to change ourselves. It causes our eyes to always be on the cross. And only when we are appropriately oriented to the cross can we help those around us. Only then can we truly be a change in the world. Only with our thoughts, words and actions directed by the Holy Spirit can we begin to be wise. Let us not wait for the gray hair and wrinkles to gain wisdom. If we have waited until then we have waited too long. Every day we have opportunities to partake of the grace of wisdom. Saint Therese of Lisieux, pray for us.