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Posted January 24, 2005

Romano Guardini on Wisdom

What then is wisdom? It concerns how life can attain its proper meaning, how it can participate in that which endures. Wisdom ensures that at the end of life we do not stand with empty hands. It relies on the gift of being able to distinguish between what is worthwhile and what is valueless, between what last forever and what passes away, what is genuine and what is phoney. According to Psalm 90, the distinction which is the basis of all other distinctions is this: God alone is God, eternally existing, holy and living, and human beings are only human, created and passing. Yet human beings are capable of acknowledging the truth and experiencing what has true value. They are obligated to pursue the good and to be responsible to God for how they use their lives . . .

When we ask, “What should I do? Wisdom, advise me!” Wisdom answers: “You must learn to distinguish. You must bring into your life that which God values — not that which is seemingly impressive or exciting, but that which is authentic.”

And what is authentic? Wisdom answers: “The good!” When I have fulfilled an obligation, although it was unpleasant for me., the situation changes, the issue no longer exists, but something remains: the good that was done. This good is what God values.

Or when I act with love toward someone whom I do not like, seeking to understand and to help the person, I fulfill a divine commandment and something comes about which lasts. Surrounding this act are many things that fall away: the encounter itself is over, the stimulus ceases, the individuals die. But at this moment I conveyed love, and this love is what remains since this is what God values.

Or I may have a friend who, like every human being, possesses good personal traits and also unattractive ones. Much about the person brings me delight, but some things turn me off. It is easy to say to myself, I will accept my friend’s delightful qualities but not the unattractive ones. However, wisdom says: “You cannot do that! You cannot be selective about a person’s traits for all of them belong to this individual. Your friend’s best qualities are connected with his or her deepest weaknesses. If I do not accept everything, then you lose this person.” Acceptance of another person requires patience. God values patience. God is patient with me and with every person. You too must be so, and permanence will come to your friendship. You may seek to influence your friend, trying to encourage some qualities and to lessen others. But first you must say yes to the whole person.

That which is most beautiful in the world is brought about when one person loves another. I do not mean passion, although this has its good aspects. Rather, I mean the wonderful phenomenon in which one human being, who by nature is self-oriented, opens to another person, and welcomes the beloved into his or her heart. When we love in this way, we make the beloved as important to us as we are to ourselves, and perhaps even more important. As a result, the one person feels secure in the other.

Wisdom says, however, that it is foolish to try to force one person to respond to another’s love. It is foolish to demand that this love should exist. To insist that this love should last forever. To get demanding when the other withdraws. To want to somehow buy love with special deeds and favors . . .All of these efforts would be foolish because love can exist only in freedom. It must be a gift and must always be given anew. If love has been given over ten long years, it does not mean that it will necessarily be given during an eleventh year. To be sure, love has the desire to persist because it possesses an eternal character. But love unfolds not out of necessity but always anew out of freedom. For this reason, love dies when it is not honored with freedom; it dies when one person senses that the other person is taking the love for granted and is no longer working at loving well. While one person cannot compel another to reciprocate in love, a person can nourish love and nurture it with attentiveness and courtesy. Then love can flourish. When someone understands all of this, the person has attained wisdom.