Dear St. Martin’s Parishioners,
In this Sunday’s first reading, King Solomon asks God for the virtue of prudence—“Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.” Prudence is known as the charioteer of the virtues, meaning that one cannot be virtuous in any other respect unless one is also prudent. We know that we have good, Godinspired goals, and prudence is that virtue that allows us to choose the best way to achieve them. For example, the greatest good is eternal life, and prudence is the virtue by which I discern the best way to attain it. Am I to become a priest, be married, choose this career or another one?
Prudence is a difficult virtue because it presupposes a knowledge of that which is good. Our conscience is that which is the final judge of what is good in a particular circumstance, but our conscience needs constant retuning. It must always be checked against that which has been revealed by Christ through his Church. We should be people who study, listen, learn, and are open to correction. We must interiorize more and more the truths of the faith so they become natural to our thinking and acting. Many people are unable to be prudent because they are led by social conventions, sentimentality, or opinions rather than by that which is truly good.
St. Thomas Aquinas said that it is impossible to be prudent and covetous. If we have an inordinate desire for any created good, be it a person or possession, we are unable to be prudent. So prudence requires a certain detachment from material goods, which allows us to love in an ordered way. We must strive to love God above all things and others for the sake of God. King Solomon, whom God had granted wisdom and prudence, was eventually undone by covetousness. If this was a danger for him, it is a danger for any of us.
Prudence is also a difficult virtue to practice, because it is focused on decisions in the here and now. I don’t know the future or the consequence of my decisions, so I must make them with faith. When we live trying to conform ourselves with God’s will, “his plan is revealed moment by moment only through a narrow cleft and tiny gap” ( Joseph Pieper). We would like to live with certainty, “but we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7)