Like the teachings of an ancient Israelite Yoda, The Book of Proverbs is all about wisdom. The book's editors and compilers took wisdom wherever they could find it: the oracles of Agur and Lemuel at the end of Proverbs may very well be non-Israelite in origin, and the "thirty sayings" in the middle part of Proverbs are related to an Egyptian wisdom collection ("The Instructions of Amenemopet"). Combine that with proverbs classically attributed to King Solomon, and you have a delicious Near-Eastern fusion meal, slathered in wisdom gravy. Proverbs is a little like Confucius's Analects, which had a profound influence on the ethical, social, and moral teachings of China. Confucius doesn't spend much time getting deep into metaphysics and theological disputes—he just wants to know how to live in accordance with "the Will of Heaven," how to be a good person, while also managing to live a productive life in the world. Proverbs has the same set of concerns. It takes the existence of God for granted and has interesting poetic statements to make about the role of Wisdom in the world. Yet overwhelmingly, the advice it offers is extremely practical: it's concerned with the details of everyday life, with work and family. Like the writer Jack Miles observed, Proverbs deals with the struggles of character formation and prudence—in a way that the Torah doesn't, exactly. It's really hard to determine when the book was actually written or compiled because it takes so much material from so many sources from different time periods. One section claims to have been compiled by officials in King Hezekiah's court—so if they truly date from his reign, that would put that section at roughly the 8th century CE… though its sayings could've come down from earlier centuries. Then the final compilation of the book would've likely been a few centuries after Hezekiah's reign, give or take a century or two. As with all things Bible, you never can tell.
Why Should I Care?
If you've ever wondered if it's okay to gorge yourself on honey until you throw up, Proverbs is the book for you. (Psst—Proverbs says the answer is: "It is not.") But, um, even if you haven't wondered about that particular quandary, Proverbs still probably has something to say to you. It answers the same questions that people ask when they consult self-help books or when they (used to) write in to "Dear Abby": "How should I live?" Proverbs is basically an ancient self-help manual—yet it has plenty of advice that still holds up today. For example: "Soft words calm another's anger" and again, "Don't eat honey until you puke" (to paraphrase). To quote the RZA, explaining the name of The Wu Tang Clan: "'Wu' stands for 'Wisdom of the Universe' […] but there's a little 'tang' thrown in." That's actually a pretty good definition of The Book of Proverbs—though, we suppose it's debatable exactly how much 'tang' it has. (Well, we think it has 'tang'—more than you would probably expect, anyway. Also, we're painfully aware that quoting the RZA in this "Why Should I Care?" could make us seem like Jason Schwartzman in "Yo Teach!" from Funny People. But we reject that contention. Vigorously.)
Proverbs isn't just a collection of crotchety sayings, like "Be sure to get your daily recommended amount of fiber" (though there's, admittedly, a small element of that kind of advice). To some degree, it does represent the advice of senior citizens to young people (there's an ancient Egyptian story about an elderly man who got revenge on his nephew for trying to assassinate him by reciting proverbs to the nephew until the nephew exploded and died—presumably out of boredom). More than that, though, Proverbs aims to free you, by giving you the tools and craft you need to navigate life in the world. "Free your mind, the rest will follow"—that's a proverb (just, er, not one from Proverbs). Despite the stodgy reputation of some Biblical Wisdom Literature, its goal is to teach people the rules so that they can eventually thoroughly embody and forget them. Proverbs imagines Wisdom (or any wise person) as "rejoicing in the habitable part of the earth" or "playing all over the earth." Although it seems like a lot of advice and precepts at first, on a deeper level it's about giving people a method of targeting their energy to work in a way that helps them enjoy life. Like it says: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick / But a fulfilled desire is a tree of life." That's some "Wu" for you, but we hope you'll agree that it's also got quite a bit of "Tang," too.
NOVEMBER 16 Tuesday
Proverbs, Chapter 1, Verse 7
FEAR of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and discipline.
At his audience on June 11, Pope Francis reflected on fear of the Lord: “This is the fear of God: abandonment into the goodness of Our Father who loves us so. … This is what the Holy Spirit does in our hearts: He makes us feel like children in the arms of our Daddy … with the wonder and joy of a child who sees himself served and loved by his Father.” Therefore, this great gift of fear of the Lord allows us to have an intimate relationship with the Holy Trinity which compels us to have regular and careful examinations of conscience and the use of the sacrament of penance. A good way to cultivate our relationship with the Trinity is through daily prayer and worship at Mass. The gift of fear also prevents us from being too familiar with God. We are the victims of original sin and suffer from concupiscence; therefore, each of us struggles with a rebellious heart. A person could easily take God’s love for granted and presume forgiveness without real contrition; or forget God’s majesty by taking His holy name in vain; or make demands of God and then be angry when He does not meet them; or forget that every gift is from God and be selfish; or neglect prayer and worship because there is not enough time for Him; or disregard God’s commandments and the teachings of His church. And without fear of the Lord, such a person might say, “God loves me just the way I am, and I am going to heaven.” One has to ask, “Does such a person really love God?”
While the Lord will never spurn a humble and contrite heart, He will humble the haughty. The gift of fear brings to perfection the virtue of hope. A person respects God as God trusts in His will, and anchors his life in Him. He approaches the Lord with humility, docility and obedience. He believes in His promises of forgiveness of sin and eternal life in heaven. Also, this gift is the launchpad for the other gifts. As sacred Scripture attests, “Happy the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commands” (Ps 112:1), and “the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord” (Sir 1:12).
St. Gertrude the Great, a Cistercian nun, is one of the most lovable German saints from medieval times, and through her writings she will remain for all ages a guide to the interior life. When she was twenty-five years old (1281), Christ began to appear to her and to disclose to her the secrets of mystical union. Obeying a divine wish, she put into writing the favors of grace bestowed upon her. Her most important work, Legatus Divinae Pietatis, "The Herald of Divine Love,".
The Gift of Frequent Communion
All too few of us are blessed with the opportunity for daily Mass and Communion. Even St. Gertrude herself had trouble doing that (primarily due to her illnesses). In one of her writings, she relates a conversation with Jesus in which they talked about the graces given to daily communicants…with a surprising statement about when graces are NOT given.
Here’s an excerpt from St. Gertrude’s writings:
· Gertrude said, “How far above me in beatitude will those priests be who communicate every day to fulfill the duties of their ministry!”
o “It is true,” replied Our Lord, “that those who celebrate worthily shall shine in great glory, but the love of him who communicates with pleasure should be judged of very differently from the exterior magnificence that appears in this mystery. There will be one reward for him who has
§ approached with desire and love.
§ there will be another for him who approaches with fear and reverence.
§ and another for him who is very diligent in his preparation.
§ But those who habitually celebrate through custom only shall have no share in My gifts.”
–The Life and Revelations of St. Gertrude the Great
How many of us Catholics judge our sanctity by the numbers of Masses and Communions we experience? Holiness is not a numbers game, but a “heart game.” The most eloquent prayers–even the Mass itself–are of little value without engagement of the heart. But prayers fueled by love, devotion and confidence will move the highest mountains.
Reflection: At Communion time, we must always be aware of the awesome significance of what we are about to do. Our hearts must be in the game. It is Christ Himself, Creator of the Universe, whom we receive in the form of the Host.
Before approaching the table of the Lord, we pray to be worthy; we pray to be in the moment when God blesses us with this indescribable Eucharistic miracle. We pray to be prepared.
Tuesday: Litany of St. Michael the Archangel