There are some ways that Jesus makes us feel really good, but there can be other ways He really challenges us and makes things difficult. Today might be one of those days for us, because in this Gospel, as we look into the mirror that his words are, Jesus shows us how imperfect we are precisely in the obvious ways we fall short. It’s not like he brings up things to us that we didn’t know beforehand. It’s something that is burned into our hearts, our conscience convicts us of them so clearly. We can say Based off this pure and simple wisdom, without a doubt that we don’t measure up again and again, and that isn’t fun to face. But hey, ultimately it’s worth facing. Because I’d rather live in reality than fantasy, wouldn’t you?
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.
This “common sense” phrase of G. K. Chesterton helps us to come to grips with the fact that the message of the Gospel doesn’t always comfort us, but sometimes convicts us, and it helps us to live up to that calling.
In the second reading today, Saint Paul speaks of a wisdom today that is beyond “the wisdom of this age” but that does not mean it is not accessible to us thanks to the Spirit. God’s wisdom is given to us. This is a great gift, a great treasure. But at the same time, it is also a great responsibility. This wisdom must be nurtured and cultivated. We can foster it through the things we read, watch, or listen to, and how we reflect on them. This is what the writer of Sirach has done over his lifetime, and what G. K. Chesterton did through his, and what we ourselves are called to do.
If we aren’t careful to nurture the wisdom God has given us, we will fill our minds with what Paul calls the “Wisdom of this age.” It is a false wisdom that, in a new way or an old-fashioned way, allows us to be comfortable with our distance from God. It is rationalizing. “Open your mind,” the world’s wisdom says. But Chesterton, in his common sense way of thinking, reminds us: The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.
The wisdom of the world says, “we don’t need the laws of old to guide us. They are holding us down. Etc.”
Chesterton’s wise reply: In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.
The Spirit convicts us and teaches us and guides us. Conscience is the voice of the Holy Spirit. Let us not kill this voice of the spirit that convicts us, or we will also kill the only voice that can guide us along the path that saves us from ourselves. For if we kill the voice of God, then there are only two other options to listen to: ourselves or the voice of the enemies of God.
Let us never give up, brothers and sisters, on the way God has for us, for the two options before us are fire and water, death and life, and every moment of our lives, we choose one or the other. Come Holy Spirit, and help us to foster the wisdom of God, that we may choose water over fire, life over death, even when it is most difficult.