A BIT OF PRUDENT ADVICE
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time ©
My dear encountered couples:
“Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” We’ve all heard that saying, haven’t we? Foolish people are often reckless, acting without first thinking. You and I never do anything like that, do we? We are all prudent people. Right? Well, maybe not all the time. Prudence is a virtue that in our instant world is often considered to be for the cowardly. Our gospel today is reminding us that prudence is a very valuable and practical trait.
“If one of you decides to build a tower,” Jesus told the people who were gathering around him, “will he not first sit down and calculate the outlay to see if he has enough money to complete the project? He will do that for fear of laying the foundation and then not being able to complete the work; at which all who saw it would then jeer at him, saying, ‘That man began to build what he could not finish.’”
I have seen many businesses started, many projects begun, many dreams pursued, which end up in failure and bankruptcy. And those who step in to buy up for a few cents on the dollar what remains unfinished often make a fortune. Like the wise vulture who sits in a tree and waits for an unthinking prey that doesn’t look where it is going when it crosses the highway, wise investors keep their eyes open for the unthinking and unpleasing people who rush into a project without really thinking it through. Though even the most prudent of people can make mistakes and discover they should never have put their feet forward when they did, people who are prudent are much more likely to achieve success than those who ignore prudence.
There are two extremes. One is to rush into something without giving it any serious thought or planning. The other is to be so afraid of failure to never do anything. Those are called the “manana” people. They put everything off until tomorrow. And, as the song goes, “And tomorrow never comes!”
Acting with prudence is neither rushing into something without thinking. According to the dictionary, the prudent person is one who “uses good judgment or common sense in practical matters.” In other words, thinks ahead and sizes up all the possibilities for both success and failure, then makes a decision to proceed or abandon the idea. I like to think of prudence as meaning: “To proceed with caution.” In other words, to make a decision and act upon it after wise thinking and planning.
“If a king is about to march on another king to do battle with him, will he not sit down first and consider whether, with ten thousand men, he can withstand an enemy coming against him with twenty thousand?” Jesus asked his listeners. “If he cannot, he will send a delegation while the enemy is still at a distance, asking for terms of peace.”
That is an example of a prudent king. He proceeds with caution. The same with our spiritual lives.
Jesus wants us to know that to be one of his followers, the practice of prudence is expected. How many of us, when we find ourselves in desperate situations, make promises to God that we do not keep? How many of us have said we are sorry for our sins and firmly resolve never to sin again, only finding ourselves soon after, even on that very day, repeating the same sins. To be Catholic and Christian requires more than drifting along singing a song.
Being Catholic and Christian requires prayer, every day, it requires getting to know Christ and our Father in heaven through reading and meditation; it requires attuning ourselves to the advice and direction of the Holy Spirit within us; it requires an awareness of our own personal weaknesses and strengths.
We must realize that following in the footsteps of Christ is not easy; we must believe and become convinced that the benefits are worth the sacrifices. “Anyone who does not take up his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Those are the words of Jesus who wants us to think seriously and prudently about what we are doing before we go rushing down the road after him.
“If anyone comes to me,” says Jesus, “without turning his back on his father and mother, his wife and his children, his brothers and sisters, indeed his very self, he cannot be my follower ... None of you can be my disciple if he does not renounce all his possessions.” Those are hard words. Christ is to be Number One in our lives before all others and all else. As important and special as people are to us, as much as God wants us to love them all and do for them, every single human being is to come after our love and devotion to Christ. Even we ourselves, our own comfort and welfare, is to come second to our consideration of Christ. Are we willing to live that way? Maybe we had better give it a good, prudent thinking over.
“Be prudent,” Jesus says. “Don’t build anything, don’t start any projects, don’t get involved in any wars, don’t even follow after me if you are not able and willing to do all that it takes. Be prudent in everything! Proceed with caution!”
Do you and I really want to be Christians? To help answer that question, maybe we should first ask ourselves another question. Have we really been trying to be one up to now?