Tuesday, November 15, 2011

St Albert the Great, Bishop and Doctor of the Church

Sirach 6:18-21, 33-37 / Matthew 25:14-23

Many of us know how hard it can be to learn a new language. After the initial novelty has worn off, learning a language can become a daily chore with no meaningful signs of daily improvement. We can, in our fear and frustration, be tempted not to speak to any native speaker, worried of the mistakes we will make. We may find ourselves avoiding the company of those whose language we are trying to learn, for fear that we will be asked to say something and find ourselves speechless.

Yet, when we stop thinking about ourselves and turn our attention instead to the daily discipline of study, when we seek out rather than avoid the company of others, when we take interest not in our own language acquisition but rather in other people and what they have to say — then, without our even noticing, our language skill improves, and in time, we may find ourselves to be fluent.

As it is with languages, so it is with acquiring wisdom. We might at first be tempted to hide and bury the small portion of wisdom we have been given by God. However, it is not in focusing on what we think the inadequacy of our share that we come to be wise. Rather, it is in seeking out ways to be fruitful, in taking real interest in the godly discourse of those we know to be wise, in being more willing to learn from others than in asserting what we think we know better, and most of all in the daily discipline of silence and devotion that, without noticing it, we find we have over time become wise. We discover that we have become fluent in the language of God that he speaks in the glorious diversity of the creation and in the more glorious splendor of revelation.

This is what St Albert the Great has to teach us. He is not a model of precocious youthful piety as were some saints, not of a passionate conversion from the world, nor even a splendid martyrdom. Albert's was a life of daily study, daily discipline, and daily prayer. His was a willingness to learn all he could from anyone and everything, taking passionate interest in the loftiest stars and in the lowliest toads and worms, in rocks, trees, and animals. He learned as happily from pagan philosophers, distant Christian mystics, and even from his own students. Above it all, Albert tells us that he learned more from prayer and devotion than from study.

Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, this is the path to wisdom, a path found not in spectacular drama, but in a mind eager and ready to learn, in eyes and ears open to receive, and in a heart made quiet by the discipline of silence and prayer. Do this, and the Lord himself assures us that he will enlighten your mind, and the wisdom you desire he will grant.

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