On True and False Knowledge.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On True and False Knowledge.
Imagine yourself a spectator of the pleasing scene when the disciples whom our Lord sent out two and two to preach the Gospel returned to their Master with joy, and told Him what they had done, and how even the evil spirits were subject to them. Our Lord received their report in the kindest manner; then He spoke these words:
1st. “I confess to Thee, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them to little ones.” (St. Luke x. 21.) By the “wise and prudent” our Lord here means those who are versed in worldly wisdom, in carnal wisdom, the philosophers of the world, arrogant, self-sufficient, boastful. For them, as long as they rest in human wisdom, heavenly wisdom is and will remain hidden. For this heavenly wisdom, this infused light is none other than divine grace, and as Holy Scripture tells us, “God gives grace to the humble, and resisteth the proud, those who are wise in their own conceits.” (St. James iv. 6.) This truth is confirmed a hundred times over by the testimony of history. Who were they who accepted the heavenly wisdom in the spirit of faith? Unlearned fishermen, uncultured publicans, ignorant women; in short those only whom the world would look upon as fools. Who on the other hand opposed and rejected this heavenly wisdom? The sages of the earth, the Scribes, the Pharisees, the pagan philosophers. Unhappy those who are thus deluded! Whilst the little ones, enlightened by light from on high, learnt true wisdom, the great ones of the earth sit in darkness, and thus the words of the Apostle are fulfilled. “Let no man deceive himself; if any man amongst you seem to be wise, let him become a fool that he may be wise. For the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God. For it is written: I will catch the wise in their own craftiness. And again: The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.” (I. Cor. iii. 18-20.) Consider this truth; it will give you the key to many things that are puzzling in the past, and to much that appears singular and inexplicable in the present, and will enable you to understand why it is precisely the little ones, the unlearned, the weak, who are such great factors in the Church for the extension of revealed truth, as those who carry the light of faith to distant lands, the Founders of Orders, men who in the sight of the world are “fools.”
2d. Consider how the little ones, the humble, are to be esteemed blessed above the great ones and the wise on this account also, because they are more open to receive not only the gift of Faith, but also that of divine grace. St. Augustine acknowledged this, when he was yet learned in earthly wisdom alone, and sorrowfully exclaimed: “The unlearned rise up and lay hold on the kingdom of God, whereas we with all our erudition shall be cast into the abyss.” “For,” as the Apostle says, “knowledge puffeth up,” and as St. Thomas tells us, “learned men are generally less pious than the ignorant and simple.” Are we for this reason to despise science and learning? By no means; it is a gift of God to man, and rightly applied is of service, great service to him. But the dangers attending it ought to teach you, if you are unlettered, not to envy the learned, not to murmur because you are less gifted than they are, but to follow the counsel of our Seraphic Father: “Those who are unlearned ought not from motives of ambition to strive to become erudite. A man’s knowledge and eloquence are to be measured only by the extent to which he practises what he knows and what he says. We see many straining every nerve to attain proficiency in knowledge and science, but he is to be deemed happy who is contented only to know Jesus crucified.” Let those who are devoid of human learning mark this for their consolation.
3d. Consider how our Lord’s assertion ought not to alarm those who are truly wise and prudent. For they also can be “little ones,” if only they unite humility to their learning, if they do not neglect prayer for study, for as Albertus Magnus says, more progress is made by means of prayer and piety than by hard study. St. Thomas of Aquin used to say that he owed all his vast learning to prayer, and St. Bonaventure, the Seraphic Doctor, asserted that by casting himself at the foot of the crucifix, and imploring from our Lord a solution of his difficulties, and by assisting at holy Mass, he made greater progress in learning and obtained far more light than by poring over all manner of books. Would that this truth were better known, more closely followed; would that the dew of prayer fell more abundantly upon the labors of the wise and learned, for then their science would not be so sterile of results. In the opinion of Brother Giles the fear of God and the love of God are the perfection of knowledge, and Thomas a Kempis thus writes: “It is not deep talk that makes a man holy and pious; but a virtuous life makes him dear to God. I had rather feel compunction than know its definition. If thou didst know the whole Bible by heart and the sayings of all the philosophers, what would it all profit thee without the love of God and without grace?” (Imit. B. i. ch. 1.) Wherefore rise up, my soul, labora, work, but also ora, pray. Do not let piety suffer through your love of books; do not let science and learning oust devotion and humility from your heart; keep them, and you can read fearlessly the words of Jesus: “I confess to Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones.”
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
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