Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

09 November 2013

On the Desire for, and Acquisition of, Wisdom

There were many things that I found funny about the seminary while I was in the seminary. That's part of the charm of being in the seminary – a lot of stuff about it was pretty funny, and more so as we thought about it years later. We had to laugh at the absurdity, lest instead we cried.

A case in point (but first, some background for those who may not be familiar with the process of priestly formation):

St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia comprises two divisions of seminary formation – the undergraduate and graduate. Students in the college division were called "philosophers" and students in the theology division were called "theologians."

Do you see the absurdity? As if we were worthy of the designation "philosopher" or, stranger still, "theologian"! Philosophers and theologians of the armchair sort, perhaps. Dilettantes in all things but sin!

While at one point or another in the formation process we all wanted to be priests, most of us did not want to be philosophers or theologians, at least in the sense of earning postgraduate degrees and dealing exclusively in those academic fields. As my pastor often reminds me, we were trained to be parish priests, as much as one can be trained for such a fearsome and splendid endeavor.

But I always sensed within myself the desire to be immersed in whatever field I was pursuing at the time. And I wanted to be the best at it, as well. Now this desire was tempered to no small extent by my laziness and other character defects; but it persisted, then and now.

Early in the seminary, when I began to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in community, I encountered an antiphon for the memorial of St. Anthony of Padua. "I openly sought wisdom in my prayers, and it has blossomed like early grapes" (Sirach 51:19, Vulgate). For years I thought it was just a cool line, as so many lines of Scripture are. Think of Jules Winnfield, the character played by Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction, and his fondness for Ezekiel 25:17. 

To this day I am enamored with the idea of being a philosopher and/or theologian. Yes, there's a big part of me that wants to sound wise – but more importantly I want to be wise. And what else characterizes the wise person but a desire for wisdom?

In order to fulfill that desire, one needs to consider the Source: Divine Wisdom is mediated most clearly through the fonts of Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, alongside the relevant commentary of the Church's Magisterium. But since the Magisterium has made very few definitive comments, it behooves us to reflect and comment upon those fonts personally, relating them to the realities of life.

But I have also found that it helps to get a life: i.e., to have experiences, and to become able to reflect profitably upon those experiences. For one can amass experiences like so many collectible toys found at the bottom of cereal boxes; but of what use are those experiences if we cannot discern the worth of them? Truth: Just as one cannot be saved by faith alone, so one cannot become wise by experience alone.

I spent the years 18 through 26 collecting information more than reflecting upon information. Since then I've had oodles of catching up to do, through life experiences inside and outside of official pastoral interaction. I am most grateful that not everyone has to do it the way I did, but I'm equally grateful that I did it the way I've had to.


  1. Father,

    I happened randomly across your blog today. It was interesting that your last 2 posts have been on Divine Wisdom. There is only one Saint of whom I am aware that has written a spiritual work on the topic of Divine Wisdom. He is the Saint I venerate the most and see as a spiritual Father of sorts. Most have heard of his work "True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary". The great St. Louis Marie de Montfort wrote an amazing little book which is too little known titled "The Love of Eternal Wisdom". It is the Christocentric compliment to True Devotion that puts his true devotion in its proper perspective. It is by far my favorite spiritual writing. If you would like to order it Amazon has it here:

    If you would like me to send you a copy instead, e-mail me at

    I live up in Schuylkill County with my wife and 5 little boys. Say a prayer for us and we will also pray for your fruitful labors in the vineyard of Our Lord.


    Peter Johnson

  2. Thank you, Peter, for the promise of prayers (gladly reciprocated) and the information on the book. I've heard of that book but am more familiar with "True Devotion" and the Total Consecration Guide. I may have "The Love of Eternal Wisdom" somewhere.