Trying is Succeeding to Find the Pearl

Young Solomon prayed, “Lord, you have made me the king, but I do not know how to act… Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart, so that I can judge right from wrong.”

St. Paul declared: “All things work for the good of those who love God.” Romans 8:28.

oysterThe treasure buried in the field, the pearl of great price: Wisdom. Sharing the divine mind. Understanding life. Knowing what to do and what not to do. Standing firm in the truth. The peace that passes all understanding. Union with God.

The wise person prays. The wise person begs God for help all the time. As Socrates had it, to be wise is to know that I don’t know anything. Compared to God, I don’t know much. I don’t understand much at all, compared to God. So let me pray like a madman.

By the same token: The praying person demonstrates great wisdom already, because to believe in God is the wisest act of the human mind. No thought, no knowledge, no Sherlock-Holmesian deduction can touch a more solid, a more sublime truth than the Truth we touch by simple faith.

And this all-encompassing Truth which we touch by faith: He became man to show us how good, and how kind, and how loving He is.

We could have known just by watching the sun rise and set, just by watching the constellations of stars move, that God has infinite power, that He alone orders all things and unfolds them in accord with His design.

But what we could not have known by observing the evident facts of the cosmos is this: It all serves a sublimely sweet purpose. God has conceived His purpose with the gentlest and more merciful love. The mighty summer sun moves and warms the earth for a reason that God’s infinite mind has conceived: Our welfare, our happiness, our fulfillment. He exerts His infinite power over everything because He loves everything infinitely; He loves us infinitely with His infinite power. He showed us this on the Cross.

So, by faith in Christ, we can see things with our humble share of divine wisdom. Everything moves in favor of our good, the good of those who love God.

Now, this does not mean that we surf along without a care and without a thought. The fact that all things work for the good of those who love God actually demands that we love Him back with everything we have. We must strive to act out of love for God in everything we do. We must make it our business to be among those things that, when they move, move for the good.

memento-moriIn other words, the wisdom that Solomon sought, the divine wisdom that is the treasure of our minds, the pearl of our souls: It involves constant moral vigilance. It involves constant discernment of right and wrong, and unflagging courage in pursuing the right. It means digging. It means searching. High and low. Far and wide. For the path of uprightness. The wise, provident Lord always offers a good way forward to those who search for it, no matter how difficult and complicated things may get. We always have a choice that harmonizes with the principles of Christian living. Provided we are prepared to seek that choice with unwavering determination.

Did the merchant just luck into finding the oyster with the precious pearl, on a fluke? We can hardly imagine so. He searched the world, traversed the seas, honed his skills in recognizing oysters of the proper age and caliber. He knew that finding something truly beautiful takes a lifetime of effort.

Finding and keeping the pearl of divine wisdom takes a lifetime of effort, too. Effort spent on reflecting before I act, or omit to act. Trying always to please God, rather than myself.

Again, trying means succeeding: The one who strives to know what pleases God, the one who prays for light and guidance: this is the one who will know what to do, and who will have the courage to do it. Because, when we put God first, other things fall into their rightful, secondary places.

A couple weeks ago, we talked about purifying our hearts of desires for money, or pleasure, or power, or prestige. At Holy Mass this Sunday, we hear the Lord congratulate Solomon for praying for wisdom, rather than for any of these other things. We can imagine that God hears a lot of vain prayers, aimed at comfort, pleasure, and worldly success. But wisdom entails preferring God to all this. Wisdom means preferring God even to our mortal lives. Wisdom means making friends with death.

I was hiking by myself the other day. I caught a glimpse of a large, predatory mammal, less than fifteen feet away from my feeble, defenseless body. I did the sensible thing. I started clapping and singing a Tom Petty song as loudly as I could.

The creature sped off the other direction. Didn’t like my singing voice, or maybe just doesn’t like Tom Petty. But: Instead of seeing this weblog continue, you might have read a headline, “Southwest-Virginia Priest Eaten by Mountain Lion.”

Now, wisdom would see the divine kindness even if I hadn’t come back alive from that little hike. If the lion ate me, either I would have wound up in hell, which is what I deserve for all my sins, and we could glorify God for His absolutely truthful justice. Or, by His infinitely glorious mercy, I would have been saved for heaven by the Precious Blood of Christ, to the glory of His eternal love.

Moral of the story: Given the prevalence of mountain lions and other dangers to our frail bodies, the wise person, above all, has the habit of going to Confession at least once a month.

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