“Household Structures of Virtue and Vice”
Part 2 of 4 “Living the Divine Life: Bringing Holiness into the Day-to-Day”
St. Vincent de Paul Parish
Nov. 24, 2013
Introduction: Good morning and welcome to the second of four sessions on “Living the Divine Life: Bringing Holiness into the Day-to-Day.” Now you need not worry if you were not at the first of these four sessions. They do not build upon each other. They do, however, stem from the same logic, that is, how the mundane or everyday aspects of our lives can become means of holiness. For if holiness is to be like God, then we are called to act in a divine way; we are called to live a divine life. How, then, do we live such a divine life?
We will try to answer this question by taking on our homes. The title of this session is “Household Structures of Virtue and Vice.” Or our beloved Sister Maria Fatima has dubbed this topic: “Catholic Fung Shway.” Needless to say there is more to it than that, but it will certainly include some aspect of furniture moving.
Scripture: As always we will begin by listening to God’s Word in the scriptures, for it is by receiving His Word and meditating on it that fruit is brought forth.
The Holy Spirit teaches us in the book of Proverbs this lesson about building a house:
By wisdom is a house built, by understanding is it made firm; And by knowledge are its rooms filled with every precious and pleasing possession (24:3-4).
Here the Holy Spirit tells us that by wisdom, understanding, and knowledge is a house built, and not just any house, but the house of a just man, a righteous man, a man who knows the will of God and acts upon it. What, then, are these three aspects by which a house is built?
“Wisdom” in some commentary traditions is always interpreted to mean one’s knowledge or understanding of God; wisdom regards the ways of God. Think here of when Jesus rebuked Peter. He said: You are not thinking as God does, but as human beings do (Mk 8:33). Jesus said this because Peter had just rejected the first prediction of the passion. Peter lacked the wisdom or an understanding of God’s ways of saving men. He was ignorant of God’s ways.
“Understanding” here means something more like prudence. In fact, the Latin translation of the Greek and Hebrew is just that, prudentia. Prudence is one of the four cardinal virtues. Indeed, it is the most important for it influences every other virtue. Often times it is called the queen of the virtues. Prudence in short applies right reason to action (Cf. Summa Theologica II-II q. 47 art. 4).
“Knowledge” following this same commentary tradition concerns the ways of men, that is, science. Indeed, the Latin root of science, sciencia, means knowledge. In comparison with wisdom, knowledge could be seen as knowledge of God’s creation, how the world works.
Moreover, a house is built by Wisdom—according to God’s ways—, by understanding—acting in accord with right reason—, and by knowledge—in accord with physics. The question up for discussion today becomes: how do we build our homes in this way by wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. In so doing we will begin to see our homes as means of holiness, as part of living a divine life?
As you will notice, we are in small groups. My hope is that after a small introduction to each one of these three aspects, we can then turn and discuss amongst each other ways of implementing them into our homes, sharing our own wisdom, understanding, and knowledge with each other. For there are many families out there that already live in such a way. We can learn from them.
By Wisdom is a house built: We said that wisdom is the knowledge of the ways of God. How can our homes be built in accord with the ways of God? While this question touches all aspects of what we will discuss today, for nothing falls outside of our relationship with God, the most clear and practical answer to this question is how our homes are conducive to prayer. The fundamental center of our lives is our relationship with God the Father through His only begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. We are sons and daughters of God. This is our core identity. There is no other identity more real or true to who we are. Therefore, prayer is an absolute. We must communicate, talk, express desire, and listen to our Father in heaven. A house built or organized according to the ways of God (who Himself prayed!) hosts a room or space for prayer. Thus, how can our homes encourage, entice, call us back to this relationship in prayer? Is there a place in our homes that is conducive to prayer? Some dedicate their night stand, praying on their knees at the foot of their bed before they sleep. Some keep small shrines to our Mother Mary with statues and flowers. Some construct small altars in memorial of a loved one who has passed. Monks all have a kneeler and crucifix in their cell (or room).
I bring this up because the reality is that most of us do not live near the Church. More, most of us do not pass by the Church on our way to and fro. Indeed, a stop at the chapel during the day is at the very least a 20-30 minute time commitment (without the actual time praying) which is hard if not impossible to spare most days. If we begin creatively making space in our homes for individual and family prayer, we can take that 20-30 minutes and just pray.
by understanding is it made firm: “Understanding” we said refers to the virtue of prudence, that is, the application of right reason. How can our homes be made firm by organizing them according to this virtue? Part of prudence is foresight: being able to see it coming. When it comes to moral and virtuous behavior, this means avoiding occasions of sin and maintaining good influences. The phrase “the near occasion of sin” is something I think good to be mindful of. This phrase describes our proximity to sin and thus our level of temptation to act in a sinful manner. While we might be able to resist temptation in any given moment, we are bound to fall. We are not perfect. Thus, it is prudent or foresighted to remove ourselves from such situations. In our homes, this means arranging them in such a way that overbearing temptations to sin cannot be found or enter in through the various doorways and digital portals, so to speak. In other words, we can organize them in such a way that sinful behavior is not encouraged or enticed by its proximity or easy access.
More specifically, TV and computer access. Where are they located? Are they communal access, meaning cannot be watched without others being around? Or are they private access, meaning I am able to enjoy them without interruption or another set of eyes? Do we have the proper monitors in place? Proximity can simply be a click away whether it be a mouse or remote. Thinking more of family life, we all wish we spent more time together, do we not? Quality family time is hard to come by these days. Could we create an environment of talking and sharing amongst family members by making the TV less prominent? Maybe the chairs in the room could face each other and induce conversation, rather than imitate movie theaters and allow us to avoid each other. Consider how we might invite our families away from these machines by keeping computers and TV in communal, rather than private areas. It is hard enough as it is to find time to talk to our kids.
And by knowledge are its rooms filled: We said that knowledge here referred to science and understanding of the world. Hopefully it is a given that our homes were build in this way! Hopefully they are not falling down! But are they filled with it? Are they filled with learning? Study is one of the most difficult aspects of family life. Something I am sure parents all wish their children did more of. Study habits as we all know require a good environment: quiet, comfortable but not too much, uninterrupted, etc…As many of us remember from college, libraries provide the perfect place. Yet, as with the Church these are few and far between these days and the time going and coming is enough to deter any slight inclination to go. How can we fill our rooms with knowledge? How can we create good environments for our kids to study and to learn?
Consider where the kids study now: bed, kitchen bar, living room, dining room table…Why do they study there? Sure they want to watch the TV, have company around, keep food nearby, etc…But they also study there because they each have one aspect of making a good place for study: a comfortable chair, firm and large place to write, open area to lay things out and to organize. Consider combining these good aspects into one. A desk with a comfortable chair in their room could go a long way to creating a quiet comfortable conducive place of study. Could we keep more books around and in visible places? How many times do we grab the remote and turn on the TV because it is there? Could a book have the same effect? Artwork on the walls, and it need not be expensive, can help as well invite our kids to think deeper thoughts. In this way, we can fill our rooms with every precious and pleasing possession, for knowledge and learning are our truest and most beautiful possessions. We are made in the image of God by the gift of the mind, the intellect. Teaching our kids to engage their minds on a daily basis invites them to a true life of virtue and holiness filling our rooms with beauty and splendor.
In conclusion, I mention all of this as I said in the beginning so as to create a home which is conducive to living a divine life. Prayer, recreation, and study as well as the innumerable other aspects of life at home are integral parts of a life of holiness. As the Psalmist says: “unless the LORD build the house, in vain do the builders labor. Unless the LORD guard the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil” (Ps 127:1). We all want to build up a family, a household of virtue and holiness. The LORD must, then, be a part of this or we do so in vain. We must begin ordering our lives, even the furniture, in accord with this goal, the one true goal in life: eternal happiness with our Father in heaven.