The gift of "understanding"

Frank Pavone
July 27, 2014
Homily Suggestions: 17th Sunday Ordinary Time
Reproduced with Permission

1 Kgs 3:5, 7-12
Rom 8:28-30
Mt 13:44-52 or 13:44-46

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Solomon requests and receives the gift of "understanding." Solomon understands his solemn duty as king of the people, and therefore asks for this gift "to distinguish right from wrong."

The Psalmist picks up on this theme, praising the Lord's word and his commands because they "shed light, giving understanding to the simple." Jesus, furthermore, asks his disciples, "Do you understand all these things?" By his words to them, he seeks to impart that gift of understanding.

We are beneficiaries of this gift as well. If the Psalmist could praise God's commands for giving understanding, how much more can we, who have the added benefit of the Gospels and the Church. Human reason itself can distinguish right from wrong. Enlightened and strengthened by revelation in Christ, we have no reason to be ignorant of moral truth.

Yet we see all around us Solomons without wisdom, public officials who have responsibility to govern the people but who claim that what is right or wrong for the human family cannot be known with certainty. This problem has been addressed frequently by the Magisterium. In the 2002 "Doctrinal Note on some questions regarding the participation of Catholics in political life," issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the problem is described this way: "…[C]itizens claim complete autonomy with regard to their moral choices, and lawmakers maintain that they are respecting this freedom of choice by enacting laws which ignore the principles of natural ethics and yield to ephemeral cultural and moral trends, as if every possible outlook on life were of equal value."

Today's readings make it clear that no believer can make this claim. Part of the "good news" is that we can indeed know the difference between right and wrong, and have the strength to carry it out. Among the goods we need to preserve, the "pearl of great price" is life itself, the foundation and condition of every other right and good that we possess.