The 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Wis 9:13-18 + Philm 9-10,12-17 + Lk 14:25-33
September 8, 2019
And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.
Asking God for things is a tricky business. We might even say that of all the types of Christian prayer, the prayer of petition demands the most deliberation. Today’s First Reading addresses this challenge indirectly, asking rhetorically: “Who can know God’s counsel, or who can conceive what the Lord intends? For the deliberation of mortals are timid, and unsure are our plans.” We might paraphrase these verses by asking, “When I pray, how can I get my human free will to align with God’s divine and providential will?”
So to “fine tune” our prayers in order to make them more effective, here’s a question for you. But be careful, because it’s a trick question: “When we petition God in prayer, should we pray for a good thing?” The answer is “Yes… and No.” Today’s Scripture passages explain why by giving us examples of, and by describing, the virtue of prudence.
If someone were to ask you, “Should you pray for a good thing?”, then you should answer “No!” The definition of prudence shows us why we should not pray just for a good thing. Notice in this definition the two tasks that prudence enables us to carry out.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines prudence as “the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance, and to choose the right means of achieving it” [CCC 1806]. Prudence empowers us to do two things: first, to see our “true good” in a given circumstance; and second, to choose the means to reach this “true good”. So prudence guides both our intellect (in seeing the “true good”), and our will (in choosing the “true good”). Prudence is really the most practical of all the virtues, because it guides the marriage of our intellect and will in daily life.
Nonetheless, as insightful as this definition is, it begs an important question. What is this “true good”?
Our Scripture passages today show us how this “true good” is not just the good as opposed to the bad. The true good is the best good, out of many good choices.
When we were little, our parents taught us to make moral choices by recognizing right from wrong; good from bad; what is holy from what is evil. This is the first stage of moral wisdom. This is the foundation of making moral choices. It’s essential that we understand that difference. In fact, to put it bluntly, this difference is the difference between Heaven and hell. But as a Christian, you have to build upon that foundation.
The foundation of Christian morality is about good versus bad. We build on that by hearing God call us beyond only choosing what is good. God wants us to do far more: He wants us to choose what is best over and above what is merely good. It’s in this sense that God does not want you to choose a good thing: God wants you to choose the best thing. “Good” is not good enough. Only “the best” is good enough for God, and for you and your vocation.
To illustrate all this, consider a particular setting in which many Christians must make tough moral choices: parenting. Of all the struggles that parents face—and they face many, given that their children are surrounded today by a corrupt culture—one of the harder struggles is to instill the virtue of prudence into the lives of their children.
Humility, by contrast, is far easier for children to acquire, because life itself has a way of teaching everyone humility. All of us who are adults have learned many lessons about humility over the years: some people call it the “school of hard knocks”. However, the virtue of prudence doesn’t force its way into your life as humility does.
Here’s another difference between humility and prudence for parents to keep in mind. After humility, prudence is the second-most foundational virtue. Where humility is the mother of all the other virtues, the Catechism uses a striking image to describe prudence: the Catechism calls prudence the “charioteer” of all the other virtues.
In other words, you can think of prudence as being the “inner ear” of the Body of Christ. As your inner ear controls your body’s sense of balance, so prudence controls the balance of your soul, including the balance of your moral choices. You could be the strongest football player, the most poised ballerina, or the most agile sprinter in the world. But if that one little part of your inner ear didn’t work, then you and your strength, poise and agility would fall flat on your face.
Everyone needs a sense of balance: not only physical balance, but even more so moral balance. Other virtues may be more powerful and even more important, but without prudence, they won’t allow you to reach for the greatest good in life.
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click HERE to watch Jeff Cavins’ reflection for this liturgical Sunday (5:15)
click HERE to read the homily of Monsignor Charles Pope for this Sunday
click HERE to read the homily for this Sunday from Pluscarden Abbey in Scotland
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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2013 Angelus address for this Sunday
click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2007 homily for this Sunday
click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s 2004 homily for this Sunday