Tuesday, December 16, 2008


We are happy to feature Sister Phyllis Hunhoff's reflection on wisdom in Scripture and Tradition as our first personal blog entry. We invite others who wish to share their thoughts on Benedictine spirituality to post as well. Please contact Hastings Oblate Daniel Deffenbaugh if this is of interest to you. Also, we invite you to offer your comments after each posted reflection.

Wisdom in Scripture and Tradition

In the last month or so I seem to have been coming across various readings on Wisdom. Now I see that our Chapter meeting is just a few days before December 17 when we have the first of the “O” Antiphons, which is Wisdom. So for this inaugural blog reflection I would like to talk about Wisdom.

Wisdom in the Scriptures

First, we look at the Old Testament, as there is a rich tradition of wisdom literature that we find here. What it says is that there is a thirst, a desire in every person to make sense of the various experiences of daily existence and to direct one's life in the most profitable and worthwhile way. This search for wisdom is centered on faith in the Lord, the God of the Exodus, and is due to the conviction in the history of the chosen people that only in God is perfect Wisdom to be found.

After the exile there was a clearer understanding that human wisdom is a reflection of the divine Wisdom which God "has poured forth upon all his works, upon every living thing according to his bounty" (Sir 1:9-10). Wisdom appears as God's mysterious design which is at the origin of creation and of salvation. Wisdom is the light which illumines all, the word which reveals, and the power of love which joins God with creation and with his people.

In the light of this wisdom tradition we have a better understanding of the mystery of Jesus the Messiah. A prophetic text of Isaiah speaks of the Spirit of the Lord which shall rest on the King-Messiah and it describes this Spirit especially as "the spirit of wisdom and understanding," and finally as the "spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" (Is 11:2).

Various texts of the New Testament present Jesus as full of divine Wisdom. St Luke's infancy gospel suggests the important significance of Jesus' presence among the doctors in the temple, where "all who heard him were amazed at his understanding" (Lk 2:47), and Luke summarizes the hidden life at Nazareth in the words, "and Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favor with God and man" (Lk 2:52). During the years of Jesus' ministry his teaching occasioned surprise and amazement, "And many who heard him were astonished, saying, 'Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him?'" (Mk 6:2).

St. Paul says: "I do proclaim a message of wisdom to those who are spiritually mature. But it is not the wisdom that belongs to this world or to the powers that rule this world. …The wisdom I proclaim is God’s secret wisdom, which is hidden from mankind, but which he had already chosen for our glory even before the world was made (I Cor. 2:6-7).

When we look at our own spiritual lives we can say that wisdom is loving knowledge. It is a kind of knowledge which comes from our personal relationship with God. It is coming to know God as much as is humanly possible in this life. It is the experience of love where we come to know the greatness of God. This experience of God remains a mystery and it comes through faith. We do not get it through any process such as reasoning or analyzing. We receive wisdom through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Generally our minds are very cluttered, but through our grace from God we receive wisdom, although it may be subtle and elusive. We can come to realize we have received wisdom and comprehend some aspect of it after some particular event. As we have seen in lectio, divine wisdom comes from listening to God; the more loving the listening, the purer the wisdom. Then when our inner disposition is ready, the Holy Spirit grants us some particular insight or knowledge.

Wisdom in St. Benedict's Rule

When we look at the Wisdom of St. Benedict, we find him as a great teacher handing on to us, selectively, from the Rule of the Master. We see now that he chose traditional monastic wisdom that he had received from others. In those days it was important to cherish the insights of the past. The whole body of early monastic literature resembles the body of literature in the Old Testament. It is intended to be a guide to wise living in all the practical situations of our lives.

In the 1980 anniversary issue of the Rule of St. Benedict, it says that in order to gain spiritual wisdom it takes practice. It says that in order to gain, for instance, the wisdom of silence, obedience and humility, these need to be practiced. Having mentors is also helpful. The Benedictine tradition is counter-cultural.

Monasticism that is authentic must offer a way of life that provides an alternative to the values of contemporary society. Our great challenge today is to show that the wisdom of a monastic life of renunciation and self-discipline does help us to achieve spiritual peace and simplicity of heart in the midst of an increasingly complex world.

What Benedict wants to bring about is not simply knowledge but a total personal conversion; not intellectual wisdom but sapientiae doctrina et vitae meritum or “goodness of life and wisdom in teaching” (RB 64:2). Benedict’s school for the Lord’s service directs us to cultivate daily habits and wisdom. Scripture in the Rule and tradition are made vital through the living presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. A wide open heart is our goal, for the more we can receive from God, the more we can experience the fullness of life for which we are made.


Benedict of Nursia, RB 1980: The Rule of St. Benedict (Collegeville, MN: Litrugical Press, 1981).

Pope John Paul II, Jesus Christ: Messiah and Divine Wisdom.

Francis Kelly Nemeck and Marie Theresa Coombs, The Way of Spiritual Direction (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1993).

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Verse and Voice

The problem is that we must learn to distinguish between purpose and meaning in life. ...Purpose has something to do with being productive and setting goals and knowing what needs to be done and doing it. It is easy to have purpose. To write seven letters today, to wax the floor, to finish this legal brief, to make out those reports, to complete this degree, that's purpose. Meaning, on the other hand, depends on my asking myself who will care and who will profit and who will be touched and who will be forgotten or hurt or affected by my doing those things. Purpose determines what I will do with this part of my life. Meaning demands to know why I am doing it and with what global results (Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, p. 102).


From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:16-20).

Monday, September 1, 2008

Verse and Voice

The goal of the spiritual path is not the great ascetic, not the indefatigable faster, not the consistent person, but the meek and gentle one. ... Gentleness is for [The Desert Father] Evagrius the source of knowledge of Christ. Without gentleness, we can read the Bible as much as we like and engage in the harshest ascetical practices, but we will never understand the mystery of Christ. Thus he writes to a disciple: "But above all don't forget gentleness and calm, which purify the soul and bring us closer to the knowledge of Christ" (Anselm Gruen, Heaven Begins Within You: Wisdom from the Desert Fathers, pp. 116-17).


Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavey burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Verse and Voice

Benedict perceives God as present immediately and actively within the ordinary materials and interactions of each day. Every encounter, every incident during the day is grist for the mill of the ongoing God-human communication. No activity is too small or too unimportant to mediate the holy. Living one's faith this way results in a much deepened attentiveness to each moment, for we learn that the specific ordinariness of a thing or a person also reveals a more "dense" reality, that is, its glory. Benedict's Rule always celebrates the simple daily interactions of one person with another, and of human hand with pot and pan, all as potentially carrying a wonderful message (Norvene Vest, No Moment Too Small, p. 19).


I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present yourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this worl, but be transformed by the reewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God -- what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Verse and Voice

Lectio can certainly be a source of faith-building, enlightening the mind as much as any study and motivating the will through powerful impulses of love. But neither of these is primary in lectio. We come to lectio not so much seeking ideas, concepts, insights, or even motivating graces; we come to lectio seeking God himself, and nothing less than God. We come seeking the experience of the presence of the living God, to be with him and to allow him to be with us in whatever way he wishes. It is a time for listening... (M. Basil Pennington, Lectio Divina: Renewing the Ancient Practice of Praying the Scriptures, p. 27).


How sweet are your words to my taste,
sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding;
therefore I hate every false way.
Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.
I have sworn an oath and confirmed it,
to observe your righteous ordinances.
I am severely afflicted;
give me life, O Lord, according to your word.
Accept my offerings of praise, O Lord,
and teach me your ordinances.
I hold my life in my hand continually,
but I do not forget your law (Ps. 119:103-109).

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Verse and Voice

Your way of acting should be different from the world's way; the love of Christ must come before all else. You are not to act in anger or nurse a grudge. Rid your heart of all deceit. Never give a hollow greeting of peace or turn away when someone needs your love. Bind yourself to no oath lest it prove false, but speak the truth with heart and tongue (Rule of Saint Benedict 4:20-28).

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name (Psalm 63:1-4)