Today the Old Testament writer Sirach introduces us to the pursuit of wisdom by relating his own experience: "When I was young and innocent, I sought wisdom openly in my prayer – I prayed for her before the temple and I will seek her until the end." He goes on to say what she did for him, how he delighted in her, and how he attained her. It reminds me of an incident in my own pursuit of wisdom at an earlier time.
In the early sixties our entire province engaged in area meetings to help us change our constitutions and customs in order to enter into the age of a new world rapidly evolving. Paul Boyle, C.P., had agreed to be the main presenter at one of these meetings for our Washington-Baltimore-Southern Maryland area. After we had gotten well into the topic with Paul’s presentation and follow-up discussions, I asked Paul the following question: How can you tell if the idea you have for change is really an inspiration from the Holy Spirit and not just something from your own ego – that it comes from God and not from your own desires and wants?
In reply, Paul gave us the advice of St. John of the Cross: First, if you’re coming in on a white charger, your visor down and your lance leveled, the idea is very suspect. It doesn’t mean that the idea is necessarily not from the Holy Spirit, but it is suspect, very suspect – watch it. Secondly, have you discussed your proposal honestly with others? Not with those who like you and will support and affirm everything you come up with. Nor with those who don’t like you and will never accept or agree with anything you propose. But with people known for their knowledge and wisdom, for their clear thinking and sound judgment, respected for their integrity – who will honestly tell you what they think. If such persons agree with you, you have a good sign that the idea may well be from God.
The third sign, however, is the most important one. Does your idea or proposal help to promote the common good? Does it bring about and strengthen the unity of the community, help resolve difficulties, heal division? Does it promote the welfare not just of individuals but also of the group as a whole? Promoting the common good is the most important sign; if it doesn’t do that, you can be sure that the inspiration is not from God.
That our world and our Church is at a time of crisis is a commonplace. I find the incident with Paul Boyle and his advice from John of the Cross coming to mind often. I pray that we all may discern what to do in wisdom and truth.
Br. Peter A. Fitzpatrick, CFX, a Xaverian Brother, is a Passionist Associate at Ryken House, across the creek from the Passionist Monastery, in Louisville, Kentucky