The Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time [B]
Wisdom 7:7-11 + Hebrews 4:12-13 + Mark 10:17-30
October 10, 2021
Yet all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands.
To fine tune our prayers so that they’re more effective, here’s a question for you. But be careful, because it’s a trick question: “When we pray, should we pray for a good thing?” The answer is “Yes… and No.” This Sunday’s Scripture passages explain why.
At the beginning of the First Reading, the virtue of prudence is invoked. The Old Testament scribe proclaims: “I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.” This virtue of prudence is actually the explanation for that “No” answer. If someone were to ask you, “Should you pray for a good thing?”, then you should answer “No”, and prudence is the reason. The definition of prudence shows us why we should not pray for just a good thing.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prudence enables a person to do two things. First, prudence helps one to see one’s “true good” in any given circumstances: it helps one recognize which good to aim for. Second, prudence helps one to choose the means to reach this “true good”.
But what is this “true good”? The true good is the best good out of many good choices.
When we are little, our parents teach 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 deeper than 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.
Take the example of spending money. One hundred years ago, it was easy for the average Christian to make good moral choices about spending money because the choices were largely between good and bad: survival or destitution.
Contrast that way of life with life today, when a significantly smaller percentage of a family’s income is spent on necessities. People today face far more difficult choices in regard to spending: they’re difficult because people have so many choices. Modern people drown in the number of good choices that they have.
Nonetheless, God calls modern people to choose not just any good thing, but the best good thing in any situation. Discerning that takes more time, energy, and prayer. This is why, in general, poor people are happier than rich people. This is one reason why it’s “harder for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Of all the struggles that parents face—and they face many, given that their children are surrounded by a culture opposed to Christianity—one of the harder struggles is to instill the virtue of prudence into their children. Humility, by contrast, is far easier for children to acquire because life itself has a way of teaching one humility.
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: it calls prudence the “charioteer” of all the other virtues [CCC 1806].
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. You could be the strongest football player, the most graceful ballerina, or the most agile sprinter in the world, but if that one little part of your inner ear didn’t work, you would fall flat on your face. Other virtues may be more powerful, and even more important, but without prudence, they won’t help you reach the greatest good: each day in this world, or eternally in Heaven.