Why and Wherefore of Good Advice

When the Lord asked the Apostles, “Who do you say that I am?” He certainly was not confused about His own identity. But the Son of God set an important precedent here: He approached the leaders of the Church with a question.

Christ did not need advice. But we do, we human beings.

Why did Padre Pio become so popular? Because he received the stigmata? Because he prayed so much? Yes. But I think it all started with something humbler: Padre Pio gave excellent advice, clear advice, based on the soundest principles.

The teaching of Scripture and the Church provides the foundation for good advice. With these principles and a disciplined mind, we can deal pretty easily with 99% of life’s difficulties. At least, we can know what the right thing to do is. Then we need help from above and support from each other actually to do it.

Don’t you think that these days we face a crisis of good advice? To be honest with you, I know that, when I was young, I did not receive the kind of good advice I probably should have gotten from some teachers and counselors. Thank God I had my parents.

I don’t mean to aggravate anyone. But how is anyone supposed to get good advice in any setting where people think a man can marry a man? Or that a mother can have her unborn baby killed? Or that it doesn’t matter whether you go to church or not? Or whether you have a child in a marriage or outside of one?

Good advice proceeds from people who perceive the most fundamental facts. The two most fundamental facts of all are: heaven and hell.

I don’t need a saintly priest to tell me how to keep my car running. But if I need advice about an important decision, or about the basic habits of life that we all need to have—I want someone smart whose primary concern is helping me get to heaven so that I can be with Jesus Christ and His saints.

May God help me to offer such advice as a priest. May the government not make it illegal for us priests to offer such advice. And may all of us have the humility to seek the advice we need from the people who will give it to us.

Exercise and St. Thomas on the Blue Ridge

Greetings from Shenandoah National Park. My dear mom and I have repaired here for 36 hours to take in the wholesome air. Also, I have undertaken to put the finishing touches on my training for the Army Ten-Miler this Sunday. My last-minute-training theory is: If you can run up and down the hills on Skyline Drive, you can do anything.

Actually, biking up and down the Skyline-Drive hills is even more impressive. A few intrepid athletes were out trying to conquer the hills on two wheels (with no motor). I saw a lovely couple on a tandem bike working their way up a dizzyingly steep half-mile incline. Quite a show of force. Excellent teamwork.

I have a class presentation to give on the virtue of docility. In contemporary English, to be called “docile” is not necessarily a compliment. It can imply that you are easily led by the nose, obedient to a fault. Even without this pejorative connotation, “docile” tends to suggest a lack of proper assertiveness or a weak personality. When we hear ‘docile,’ we think either of a trained animal or a Stepford wife.

In the classical terminology of the great philosophers, however, “docility” is a good quality. In St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, docile simply means “teachable.” According to St. Thomas, docility is one of the eight parts of the virtue of prudence. The teachable person is ready to learn from someone who knows more. In other words, the docile person takes counsel, listens to good advice.

Docility makes someone prudent by making him moderate in making decisions and taking action. Someone could be ingenious, knowledgeable, and shrewd, but he runs the risk of acting imprudently if he does not take advice, because no one can know everything about everything. Also, someone could be brave, quick, and thoroughly reasonable, but, again, he will act imprudently out of rashness if he is not willing to listen.

The virtue of docility is the great moderator of minds: Teachableness makes smart people smarter; it makes courageous people patient; it makes slow minds knowledgeable; it makes creative geniuses humble; it makes smooth operators wise.

Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive
Doing right requires knowing the truth. We learn more of the truth when we are humble enough to admit what we don’t know, and when we are meek enough to listen even to people we don’t like. The readier we are to learn from others, the better we will be at making good decisions and doing the right thing.

Don’t get me wrong here: Docility is not the only virtue. It is only one of eight parts of prudence, and prudence is one of four cardinal virtues. Everyone needs to be their own person; everyone needs to follow their own lights. It is not good to be led around by the nose, to be passive or submit to bad advice. But it IS good to be teachable. An all-around excellent person listens to good advice, then makes up his own mind.