Every now and then, someone will read something I’ve written and tell me that I’m ‘wise.’ It’s my least favorite complement, because it’s so obviously false. I’m not wise. Anyone who spent a day with me would be pretty clear on the depths of my folly.
So why do people call me wise? Well, some are just indulging in over the top praise. The ones who are serious are usually basing the complement on something I’ve written – they’re mistaking knowledge and rhetoric for wisdom.
Wisdom shows itself in through action. We treasure Mother Teresa’s sayings, but her example is what made people follow her- her actions showed her to be wise.
St. Peter was a wise man—he recognized Christ as the Messiah, he knew how to repent and seek forgiveness. Yet, half the time when he spoke, he sounded like a fool.
St. Joseph was one of the wisest of the saints. He lived and worked at the side of the Christ Child. Think about it—he was so wise that Christ, the Son of God, obeyed him! Yet the Gospels have not preserved a single word from St. Joseph. Wisdom is about how one lives, not how one writes or speaks.
The founders of the great religious orders were wise—many of them left marvelous writings behind, but it’s their lives, their way of living in the presence of Christ, which we seek to emulate.
Words are great, but they don’t guarantee Wisdom. According to his followers, Marcial Maciel wrote (or plagiarized) many beautiful things. He must have been a wise man, worthy of emulation, because of the way he talked. He said that he never said no to the Holy Spirit! What wisdom, what holiness!
But while words can lie, deeds don’t. Maciel lied. He stole. He raped and sodomized. He was not a wise man. He was not worthy of emulation. He cannot teach you how to follow Christ. His writing is a resounding gong, because he did not have love.
Knowledge and rhetoric are enticing, but they’re easy to come by. All you need is a stack of good books and the will to study. Wisdom has to be lived. And a foolish man (or woman) cannot teach you how to be wise.