June 14, 2019

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Pain, perseverance and the road to wisdom and maturity

David Bethuram

One of my favorite quotes from St. Francis of Assisi is “Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance. … A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love.”

The ministries of Catholic Charities strive to bring both charity and wisdom, which are the pathways we use to accompany those in need.

I had lunch recently with a gentleman who runs his own company. As we talked, the subject of wisdom kept popping up in our conversation. We were agreeing on the value of certain qualities that cannot be learned in school—things like intuition, diligence, integrity, perception, consistency, loyalty—when he, again, mentioned wisdom.

So I asked, “How does a person get wisdom? I realize we are to be people of wisdom, but few people ever talk about how it is acquired.”

His answer was quick and to the point: “Pain.”

I paused and looked deeply into his eyes. Without knowing the specifics, I knew his one-word answer was not theoretical. He and pain had gotten to know each other rather well.

As he told me of the things he has been dealing with in recent months—some professional and some personal—I told him he had spent sufficient hours in receiving wisdom. A verse from the first chapter of James then came to mind:

“Consider it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. And let perseverance be perfect, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (Jas 1:2-4).

Aren’t these great words? More importantly, they are absolutely true. By accepting life’s tests and temptations as friends, we become people of mature character. God invites us to let the process go on until endurance is fully developed, and we will find we have become mature in character and complete. There is no shortcut, no such thing as instant endurance. The pain brought on by interruptions and disappointments, by loss and failure, by accidents and disease, is the long and arduous road to maturity. There is no other road.

But where does wisdom come from? It comes through the back door of life when we lean out the window and yell “Help!” That’s what James says in the very next verse:

“But if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and he will be given it” (Jas 1:5).

As I see it, it is like a domino effect. One thing bumps up against another, which, in turn, bumps another, and in the long haul, endurance helps us mature.

Periodically, however, we will find ourselves at a loss to know what to do or how to respond. It’s then we ask for help, and God delivers more than intelligence and ideas and good old common sense. God provides abilities and insights that we have never experienced. Perhaps it might best be stated as having a small portion of the “mind of Christ.”

When we have responded as we should to life’s blows, enduring them rather than escaping them, we are given more maturity that stays with us and new measures of wisdom, which we are able to draw upon for the balance of our lives.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at dbethuram@archindy.org.)

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