Lent V Monday

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Lent V Monday – Proverbs 14:27 – 15:4

27 The commandment of the Lord is a fountain of life; and it causes men to turn aside from the snare of death. 28 In a populous nation is the glory of a king: but in the failure of people is the ruin of a prince. 29 A man slow to wrath abounds in wisdom: but a man of impatient spirit is very foolish. 30 A meek-spirited man is a healer of the heart: but a sensual heart is a corruption of the bones. 31 He that oppresses the needy provokes his Maker: but he that honours him has pity upon the poor. 32 The ungodly shall be driven away in his wickedness: but he who is secure in his own holiness is just. 33 There is wisdom in the good heart of a man: but in the heart of fools it is not discerned. 34 Righteousness exalts a nation: but sins diminish tribes. 35 An understanding servant is acceptable to a king; and by his good behaviour he removes disgrace. 15:1 Anger slays even wise men; yet a humble answer turns away wrath: but a grievous word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise knows what is good: but the mouth of the foolish tells out evil things. 3 The eyes of the Lord behold both the evil and the good in every place. 4 The wholesome tongue is a tree of life, and he that keeps it shall be filled with understanding. 

Throughout our reading of Proverbs, we notice that the sacred author often admonishes his reader to acquire wisdom.  Therefore, it is only natural that we should ask, “How?  How does one acquire wisdom?”  Of course, we should always ask the Lord for this gift.  He wants to give us those truly good things that make for salvation, and we need to ask for them.   In addition to our prayerful request, however, we also acquire wisdom by various of our own actions, such as study of the sacred Scriptures and the lives of the Saints, by which we can observe the behavior of the truly wise men of history.  And, if we are so fortunate as to know such people, we can learn from wise men of our own acquaintance, such as wise parents, teachers, and friends.

Today, however, in chapter fourteen, verse 29, the sacred author offers another method to get wisdom, a method readily available to everyone every day:  “A man slow to wrath abounds in wisdom, but a man of impatient spirit is very foolish.” St. John Chrysostom remarks as follows:  

Do you not see the athletes, how they exercise when they have filled bags with sand?  But there is not need for you to practice this.  Life is full of things that exercise you and make you strong…For it is said, “A man slow to wrath abounds in wisdom, but a man of impatient spirit is very foolish.”   

In other words, the saint is saying, daily life presents us with countless opportunities to practice patience, and each little triumph over impatience adds wisdom.  By checking our impatience, we may forego some temporal thing or advantage we want at that moment, but in return we acquire something more important and more permanent:  a deeper understanding of others and of ourselves.  We get wisdom. 

The Greek word translated here as “impatient spirit” – oligopsychos – means literally “small of soul,” the opposite of being magnanimous, great of soul.   The great-souled man sees the big picture, and he sees the other man’s point of view.   The small-souled man has tunnel vision, seeing only the present anxious moment, and he is trapped inside his own mind with its obsessions and delusions. 

When tempted by one of the countless daily annoyances offered by his neighbor, the great-souled man says to himself, “It is not worth it to lose my peace of heart over such a small thing, and, besides, I am beset by my own limitations and passions, as likewise this poor fellow before me. Today he is behaving badly, but tomorrow perhaps I shall do the same.”  By exercising himself in the small daily temptations, he prepares his heart to endure those greater trials that lie in store for every Christian who will find salvation. 

In commenting on verse 30, “A meek man is a healer of the heart,” St. Ambrose identifies gentleness of spirit as an essential characteristic for a pastor of souls:  

While all our actions should be free from hidden malevolence, this is particularly the case in the selection of a bishop, whose life is a pattern for all his flock.  Calm and pacific judgment is called for if you are to prefer to all his fellows a man who will be elected by all and who will heal all dissensions…In the gospel the Lord declared Himself the physician of the heart when he said, “They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick. – Letter 63 

St. Ambrose, of course, does not mean that there are never times when a bishop or priest must roar like a lion rather than to be meek as a lamb.  He himself, on several occasions, courageously opposed powerful men who transgressed the law of God, at the risk of losing his office or even his life.  True meekness and true courage go hand in hand:  The good shepherd is calm at all times, whether he has to reconcile or to fight.  He is gentle to those who are suffering and desire the healing of their hearts, and he is strong to oppose those who persist in evil without repentance, especially if they are harming others. 

We all know that today the Church suffers from a dearth of good bishops and priests, and we often complain about it.  But how often do we pray the Lord to send workers to His harvest, and how often do we encourage our boys and young men to take up the cross of the clerical or monastic state?   Let us pray daily for the Lord to raise up good shepherds for His flock, who will manifest the humility of wisdom that characterizes the peacemakers whom the Lord names as sons of God, and let us encourage our young men to aspire not to only to obtain these sacred offices, but to grow in the wisdom needed to fulfill their demands.   If we desire to have loving pastors who will be patient with us, let us practice patience with one another. After all, people get the leaders they deserve. 

O Christ our Lord, Good Shepherd of Thy sheep, Who gave us the supreme example of patience and meekness in Thy suffering for our salvation, grant us the greatness of soul needed to surmount our impatience, that we may more justly merit the grace of being granted long-suffering pastors who are men after Thine own heart.  Amen. 

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