In Sunday’s First Reading, Solomon prays for prudence and wisdom. He expresses his gratitude for how all good things in life “together came to me in [Wisdom’s] company.”
I can’t remember the last time I prayed specifically for prudence and wisdom. Prudence is generally taken to mean cautiousness, foresight. But in classical theology, prudence is like the charioteer of the virtues. It guides and directs the other virtues in a right direction. Its function is to point out which course of action is to be taken in any concrete circumstance. For example, without prudence bravery becomes foolhardiness, mercy sinks into weakness, and temperance into fanaticism.
Wisdom does not mean knowledge. I can know all there is to know but still not be a wise person. The virtue of wisdom helps us to take what we know, and use it for the greater good. Henry David Thoreau said that “It is a characteristics of wisdom not to do desperate things.” This particular definition certainly help me to see how prudence and wisdom so often walk hand-in hand.
The young man in the Gospel had knowledge: he knew how to become wealthy and how to increase his wealth. But he lacked wisdom. Jesus told the young man that he could have heaven, he could have eternal life, but in order to get that, he had to let go of his earthly securities. God wants to lavish His joy upon us as any good father would, and yet we prefer to toil in trying to create it for ourselves, even to the point of getting angry or upset when something inconveniences us or deters us from our own plans.
The wisdom of life tells us that life is a journey of progressive poverty we will, slowly but surely, lose our youth, our health, our memory, our eyesight, our hearing, and in the end we will lose everything that we though was of great value. The wise person knows this. The prudent person uses this knowledge to built a different kind of wealth: the wealth of relationships.
The Kingdom of God is loving relationships. Relationships are the only thing we carry forward into heaven. So if we are wise and prudent, that would mean letting go of our security on things, and embracing the security of relationships.