Last night I was watching a show about the technology created during and for World War One which enabled mankind to kill each other in the greatest acts of butchery mankind had ever known up till then. As I was watching this documentary I couldn’t help but think of our first reading today and realized that there are two paths mankind can take in regards to enlightenment: intelligence or wisdom – or put another way: mind or heart.
Mankind, with the inception of the ‘so-called ‘Age of Enlightenment’ has seen great scientific and other advances that amaze and impress us with our intellectual greatness; and in doing so has moved us further away from God, from wisdom. This success lead mankind to rely on themselves, on their intelligence, as the answer to everything. Humanity’s great hope of holding in their own hands the answers to everything and the control of their own destiny has proved time and time again a false hope. Pope Benedict XVI, during a meeting with the Diocesan Clergy of Aosta, said: ‘there is growing evidence that a closed rationalism, which thinks that human beings can rebuild the world better on their own, is not true. On the contrary, without the restraint of the true God, human beings destroy themselves.’ Mankind’s intellectual abilities has brought about enormous advances and, as the documentary the other night showed, horrendous abominations. Because a society built on the mind, the intellect, alone has no appreciation for anything other than advancement for advancement’s sake – it lacks a moral compass. The twentieth century is the ultimate example of what happens when mankind decides on mind over heart.
King Solomon, on the other hand, shows humanity what is truly important. ‘Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.’ His request points to two great attributes of leadership and, for that matter, any position.
- Humility – Solomon asks God that he be able to understand God’s people. Solomon holds no false idea of his greatness – He knows that God is ruler of all and that He is just a servant to both God and God’s people.
- Heart over mind – In Old Testament times the heart was viewed as more than an organ; it was the very center of the soul – where the Holy Spirit dwells and where God meets man and where man can be whole and entire. This is where wisdom resides since wisdom is God’s ability to see and judge things as they really are. Solomon wants understanding/wisdom more than intelligence – to understand those God loves is how he can best serve them. He isn’t impressed by his capabilities to be the best, the smartest – he just wants to be a good and wise steward.
It is this wisdom that affects mankind’s intellectual ability. With wisdom – mankind’s intellect is capable of God inspired goodness. The sciences and technology are servants of the people. Without wisdom (understanding) man’s intellect is capable of God condemned atrocities. Again, intelligence alone has no moral compass. The reason that wisdom does have a moral compass is because wisdom, as Catholics see it, comes from, as Pope Francis reflected on, ‘intimacy with God, from the intimate relationship we have with God…And when we have this relationship, the Holy Spirit endows us with this gift…and the Holy Spirit transfigures our heart and enables it to perceive’ as God does.
This decision is more far-reaching that just our personal decisions about ourselves. Do we choose those as friends, as elected officials, as role models that espouse mind or heart, intellect or wisdom? If careful choices were made at the turn of twentieth century maybe there wouldn’t have been that documentary I just watched. If careful decisions were made throughout history think what could have been. Well eternity starts now, history starts afresh right now – let’s make history.