Tuesday of the First Week of Advent

November 29, 2016 / By: Michael Naughton

 

“Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

(T.S. Eliot)

I grew up on the south-side of Chicago in a blue collar neighborhood in a time turbulence and civil unrest during the 60s and 70s. One of the more dramatic moments of my teenage life, occurred one Saturday night when four other teenagers from a local Catholic high school jumped me and took turns taking punches and kicks upon my body.  My beating took place in front of the Church our family attended.   

The next morning, when our family went to mass at that same church, I saw one of my assailants.  Filled with self-righteous anger, I announced to my parents when I got home that I was never entering that church or any other Catholic church again with so many hypocrites in it. 

My mother, who was from Ireland, responded, as only a mother can tell her teenage son,  “Michael, there is always room for one more HYPOCRITE you know!”

Now, this was not what I wanted to hear.  I was the victim. I was the peace loving kid.  I was the person who wouldn’t hurt a fly.  But, I was, and unfortunately, still am, a hypocrite.

What my mother wanted me to see was a very important lesson in coming to “know myself”:  when we think of sin or hypocrisy, our first thought should be ourselves.  

We of course would prefer to think of other people’s failings—greedy businesspeople, pompous professors, corrupt politicians, self-righteous clergy, clicky and self-absorbed college kids.  Focusing on other people’s sins instead of our own is a comfortable place to be, since it demands little change from ourselves. It allows us to keep our sins secret, private, and unacknowledged. But as Fr. Cantamelessa, the papal household preacher, once said, hypocrisy, “is perhaps the most widespread human vice, and the least confessed.” 

When a journalist asked the pope, who is Pope Francis, his response was simple and clear “I am a sinner.” This is not an easy insight to honestly grapple with in coming to know ourselves, but we discover it, not because of how corrupt we are, but because of how good we are created to be.

As we begin this Advent, we are invited into a deeper self-knowledge of creation that we can too often forget.  In the Gospel for today Jesus prays to the Father rejoicing “for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”  

We who make our living trying to be smart and intelligent in pursuit of knowledge and information too often forget what children know best—that in their innocence, they have been created for a great adventure.  This adventure is revealed in God’s love for us, found in the sight of a child born in a stable, who calls us paradoxically to deep humility and great confidence to live this adventure both personally and institutionally.  

We can’t do this adventure by ourselves; otherwise, we fixate on metrics, margins and efficiencies that too often aim low and disorder what God is calling us to.  As Isaiah tells us in today’s first reading, we need to draw upon the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

 And so we pray Lord that you give us wisdom that goes beyond information and knowledge.  We pray most especially in this Advent season for Your wisdom, which can help us see things in relation to each other, a unity of knowledge that our university is called to pursue.

 Michael Naughton, Director, Center for Catholic Studies