Sunday, August 16, 2009
This is Mr. Weber's address to the students of JPII on August 17, 2009.
In the readings from this Sunday, there was a single line from Proverbs that caught my attention:
Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding (Proverbs 9:6).
To “forsake foolishness” isn’t just nice alliteration; it’s one of the two most important goals at JPII, goals which are so important they are engraved into our school building as you walk up from the parking lot. “Fides et Sapientia” those words say, or translated from the Latin, “Faith and Wisdom”. A wise person is the one who “forsakes foolishness”.
Being wise doesn’t mean having the most factual knowledge. There’s too much of it. In fact, St. Albert the Great, who died in the year 1280, is believed to be the last person to know all the knowledge there was to know of his day. The world’s knowledge base is growing so fast , it doubles every 2 years in some fields like nano-technology and every 20 in others. That means if you’re getting a four year degree in a nano-technological field, by the time you graduate, most of what you've learned is already outdated. If being wise means knowing most of what there is to know, I'm afraid we’re all just a bunch of idiots.
No, wisdom is more than knowing facts. It is recognizing what is significant among the facts. Here’s a brief story:
A giant ship engine failed. The ship's owners tried one expert after another, but none of them could figure how to fix the engine.
Then they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was young. He carried a large bag of tools with him when he arrived. He immediately went to work. He inspected the engine very carefully, top to bottom.
Two of the ship's owners were there, watching this man, hoping he would know what to do. After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small hammer. He gently tapped something. Instantly, the engine lurched into life. He carefully put his hammer away. The engine was fixed!
A week later, the owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars. "What?!" the owners exclaimed. "He hardly did anything!" So they wrote the old man a note saying, "Please send us an itemized bill."
The man sent back a bill that read: Tapping with a hammer...$2.00, Knowing where to tap... $9,998.00
Knowing where to tap, knowing what’s significant, discerning truth from all the advertising, all the lies, all the opinions, all the arguments, is wisdom. In other words, wisdom really means being able to separate out what is true from what is noise. We live in a noisy world.
And here’s our problem. Because we're members of this noisy world, we are influenced by it and often not aware we are under its influence. It’s like we’re in a boat which is in the idle position, so it feels like we’re not moving, but in fact the boat is in a river with a strong current carrying us downstream. Our culture’s values, our culture’s way of thinking becomes our way of thinking. If you don’t believe that’s true, consider the fact it was once considered scandalously immodest for women to wear swim-suits in public that showed anything above their knees. Consider that in the 1980s, the sit-com “Cheers” was considered scandalous for its openly sexual jokes, but now appears on TV Land, regarded today as a children’s network. If Cheers was scandalous in the 1980’s, how far down that river have we drifted given the wild popularity of Springer,Family Guy, and South Park?
So because we’re conditioned, because we’re part of this noisy culture, it’s hard for us to even recognize what IS true. This is why, I believe, our faith is so important if we’re going to be truly wise. How do we know that we’re really moving downstream when we think we’re standing still? We look for reference points not on the river with us. We look at houses on the shore, or bridges above us. Because they remain fixed, we can detect our movement. In terms of our faith, we read the Scriptures and consider the teachings and traditions of our Churches to remind us what is right, noble and beautiful so that we can discern what is also wrong, crude and banal.
Let us then, as a community of JPII, pray this year that we forsake foolishness and grow to be people who live up to what we acclaim in our walls, people of faith and especially today, people of wisdom. Jesus makes clear the path:
“Everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. “ (Matthew 7:24-25)