Lopez: Wisdom and faith are better than knowledge, anger

“If we fill our heads with poison and junk, we make ourselves angry and dumb.”

 

Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles J. Chaput said this during a talk at the recent Napa Institute Conference on how to live in the world and also make it anew.

As he was speaking, everyone who’s been following politics like a seemingly endless televised car crash was focused on “The Mooch” of the White House and his erratic, foul interview with The New Yorker.

While I’m no Pollyanna about the words used in Washington, D.C., whatever you think of the administration and anyone in it, this atmosphere is not healthy for anyone. And that’s what Chaput was addressing: not the Trump administration in general, or Anthony Scaramucci specifically.

He was referring to the bad air we breathe these days.

“Hell has been described in a lot of ways, from a soulless bureaucracy, to a furnace of fire, to a lake of ice,” Chaput said. “But I think C.S. Lewis put it best in one of his novels when he says that hell is noise. If that’s true, and I think it is, then much of the modern life we share, we also make hellish by filling it with discord, confusion and noise. Every day, every one of our choices is a brick in the structure of the heaven or hell we’re building for ourselves in the next life. And we’ll never understand that unless we turn off the noise that cocoons us in consumer anxieties and appetites.”

“Silence,” he added, “is water in the desert of modern desire.” He continued: “We don’t see the full effects of the good we do in this life. So much of what we do seems a tangle of frustrations and failures. We don’t see — on this side of the tapestry — the pattern of meaning that our faith weaves. But one day, we’ll stand on the other side. And on that day, we’ll see the beauty that God has allowed us to add to the great story of his creation, the revelation of his love that goes from age to age no matter how good or bad the times. And this is why our lives matter.”

Earlier in his remarks, he’d set the stage for this idea: “Faith is a seed. It doesn’t flower overnight. It takes time and love and effort. Money is important, but it’s never the most important thing. The future belongs to people with children, not with things. Things rust and break. But every child is a universe of possibility that reaches into eternity, connecting our memories and our hopes in a sign of God’s love across the generations. That’s what matters. The soul of a child is forever.”

Not everyone reading this believes in God, but take a look at the beauty that exists even amidst the noise. There’s more to the world than what we often focus on, acknowledge and celebrate. And people are enslaved to things of this world.

One last thing from Chaput’s remarks: “Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom, not knowledge, is the framework of a fully human life; the architecture of interior peace. Scripture is the Word of God, and Ecclesiastes tells us that ‘the words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shouting of a ruler among fools.’ Wisdom is more powerful than might and better than the weapons of war (Eccles. 9:16-18). Wisdom is more precious than jewels, and once we have it, then knowledge becomes pleasant to the soul (Prov. 8:11; 2:10).”

We often strive to accumulate degrees and other credentials of the world. These can be important, but they do not make us wise. Titles do not make us wise. Elected office does not make us wise. Wealth does not make us wise. Having a public platform does not make us wise. Having all the information in the world on our phones, as if appendages of our very beings, definitely does not make us wise.

There’s wisdom, however, in seeing the world beyond the president’s next tweet.

To paraphrase Saint Augustine, there’s no use whining about the times, because we are the times. There’s wisdom in not wasting time scrolling, refreshing and downloading. And in avoiding angry and dumb at all costs. We were made by, and for, great love — to nurture and be nourished by all the gifts of creation, most especially our lives.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review Online and founding director of Catholic Voices USA. She can be contacted at klopez@nationalreview.com.

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