Happy the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding! For her profit is better than profit in silver, and better than gold is her revenue; She is more precious that corals, and none of your choice possessions can compare with her. (Pv 3:13-15)
Prayer, penance, and alms giving. If you grew up Catholic as I did, you’ve been hearing those three words in reference to Lent since you were a kid.
They’re the three traditional disciplines of the season and are our response to our Lord’s instruction to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mk 12:30) We pray so that we can draw closer to God and grow more deeply in love for him. We do penance as a means of purifying our souls and making them worthy. Give give alms (and fast) to become more resistant to the things of this world.
All the giving-up and not-giving-in of Lent are intended to effect an inner transformation that, God willing, will cause us to more closely resemble and follow Jesus.
I think there’s an added dimension that we might consider this Lent. We could, in addition to praying, doing penance, and giving alms, strive to become wiser. How? By delving into the Wisdom Books of the Bible. We hear readings from them from time to time during Mass and we see folks quote them on social media, but do we really know what’s in them and why they matter?
“Wisdom Books” is a collective term used to refer to the Books of Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (Qoheleth), Wisdom, and Sirach (Ecclesiasticus). Two other books are often associated with them: Psalms and the Song of Songs. In general, they all focus on daily human experience, the problems of everyday life, and character formation. They instruct, inspire and answer the questions: how is life to be lived and what is the wisest path to follow?
While having a mostly-same goal, the Wisdom Books are distinctive.
Proverbs consists of long poems dealing with moral conduct.
Job is a narrative that explores the problem of the suffering of the innocent and god-fearing.
Psalms is a book of prayer derived from different origins and contains personal cries of agony, but also praise and thanksgiving within an overlay of wisdom.
Ecclesiastes examines the hard questions of life. You’re probably familiar with its most famous phrase, “vanity of vanities.”
Song of Songs is a collection of poems that give meaning to human and divine love.
Sirach was written circa 200 BC by Ben Sira – the only author who identifies himself. In his book, Sira provides a compendium of Jewish wisdom and creation theology.
Wisdom has been attributed to Solomon, but that is incorrect. It’s believed that the book was written by sages – fathers and mothers of ordinary families, and scribes at court. It reflects on human immortality in a continuing relationship with God.
What a wealth of resource! Any one of these books would be enough to ponder during Lent. Combined, they offer a wide array of instruction and guidance that gets right down to the nitty-gritty of life. What I like most about the Wisdom Books is that they aren’t volumes of lofty prose and poetry that are merely aesthetic. Their verses are filled with practical, down-to-earth wisdom from authors who know – and live – the human condition. Can you imagine what spending even 15 minutes a day with these treasures could do to change your life?
In our humanness, we certainly need to observe the three primary disciplines of Lent – prayer, penance, and alms giving – but it would do us a great deal of good to allow the Wisdom Books to help us become wiser.
Image: Wikimedia Commons