Natural and Supernatural Prudence: Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Prudence is wise decision-making

Central Idea: The wisest thing is to do the will of God. Doctrine: Natural and Supernatural prudence. Practical Application: Opportunities to do good.

For the Lectionary 129 readings, click here.

Reading 1 Wis 9:13-18b

Who can know God’s counsel,
or who can conceive what the LORD intends?
For the deliberations of mortals are timid,
and unsure are our plans.
For the corruptible body burdens the soul
and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns.
And scarce do we guess the things on earth,
and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty;
but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?
Or who ever knew your counsel, except you had given wisdom
and sent your holy spirit from on high?
And thus were the paths of those on earth made straight.

  • How can human beings know the mind of God unless he reveals it?
  • God the Father has fully revealed his mind in the person of his Son. Jesus Christ is the wisdom of God who has sent the Holy Spirit of God so we can know God’s will.
  • So we know what God wants: To love him and our neighbor with a sacrificial love and to live upright lives. To make this possible, he gives us the grace of the Sacraments.
  • With grace enlightening our reason with the truths of the Faith, we can know what God wants in general and can properly apply this wisdom it to the concrete circumstances of our lives.
  • We can live each day and perform each act according to the will of God.
  • Our path on earth can be straight.

Responsorial Psalm Ps 90:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 14-17

R. In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge.

You turn man back to dust,
saying, “Return, O children of men.”
For a thousand years in your sight
are as yesterday, now that it is past,
or as a watch of the night.

You make an end of them in their sleep;
the next morning they are like the changing grass,
Which at dawn springs up anew,
but by evening wilts and fades.

Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!

Fill us at daybreak with your kindness,
that we may shout for joy and gladness all our days.
And may the gracious care of the LORD our God be ours;
prosper the work of our hands for us!
Prosper the work of our hands!

  • We number our days correctly when we realize we are contingent. In other words, we exist but we don’t have to exist and one day we will die.
  • Because we are contingent we are also dependent on God, ultimately for everything.
  • This is why we ask for God’s gracious care and for him to prosper our work, without our neglecting our part in it.

Reading 2 Phmn 9-10, 12-17

I, Paul, an old man,
and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus,
urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus,
whose father I have become in my imprisonment;
I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.
I should have liked to retain him for myself,
so that he might serve me on your behalf
in my imprisonment for the gospel,
but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.
Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while,
that you might have him back forever,
no longer as a slave
but more than a slave, a brother,
beloved especially to me, but even more so to you,
as a man and in the Lord.
So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me.

  • Philemon had a slave named Onesimus, who ran away.
  • Both men became followers of Christ.
  • Paul wants to heal the division between them. He wants Philemon to accept Onesimus back as a beloved brother in Christ.
  • As an Apostle, Paul could order Philemon to do this, but he wants Philemon to act out of freedom, to make the choice by his own free will.

Alleluia Ps 119:135

Let your face shine upon your servant;
and teach me your laws.

Gospel Lk 14:25-33

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus,
and he turned and addressed them,
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,
wife and children, brothers and sisters,
and even his own life,
he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me
cannot be my disciple.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower
does not first sit down and calculate the cost
to see if there is enough for its completion?
Otherwise, after laying the foundation
and finding himself unable to finish the work
the onlookers should laugh at him and say,
‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’
Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down
and decide whether with ten thousand troops
he can successfully oppose another king
advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops?
But if not, while he is still far away,
he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms.
In the same way,
anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions
cannot be my disciple.”

  • Because Jesus Christ is the Incarnate Son of God, come down to earth to redeem us from sin and to sanctify us, he has the authority to make extraordinary demands on us.
  • Here we can see another meaning of the narrow gate (Lk 13:24) that leads to salvation. Two weeks ago we saw it as doing good. Now we can see the narrow gate is the very person of Christ. Love for him has to come before every other love or desire. This means we have to renounce anything that is in conflict with Christ’s will.
    • If there is a conflict between Christ and your possessions, you must renounce those goods.
    • If there is a conflict between Christ and your own will, you must renounce your will.
    • If there is a conflict between Christ and the will of your family, you must renounce your family’s will.
    • We must not love anything “over” God.
  • Christ does not mean we must really hate our family or anything else that is ours. He means they must be secondary and subordinated to his will.

Doctrine: Natural and supernatural prudence

  • The simplest definition of prudence is probably “sound decision-making.”
  • Aristotle’s precise definition of prudence is rendered in Latin as “recta ratio agibilium” or “right reason applied to practice.” “Right reason” means seeing things the way they really are. “Applied to practice” means acting accordingly.
  • Another way of explaining prudence is knowing the best action to take. Other synonyms for prudence are foresight or wisdom. Prudence is the wisdom to “foresee” what might come of various actions so you can choose the one that will be the most effective or do the most good. That is why when we have done something imprudent we say, “That was a stupid thing to do.”
  • According to Thomas Aquinas, there are three steps involved in any act of prudence. They are counsel, judgment, and command.
    • First, a prudent person takes counsel. That is, prudence searches for the means best suited to achieving some end. Prudence sizes up the situation by gathering as much information as is necessary and possible. It also takes into account moral questions that are relevant. For example, one can prepare for a test by cheating, but that method is unethical.
    • Second, prudence makes judgments about the various possible ways to proceed. It says one way is better than the others. It makes a choice of which action would be best.
    • Third, prudence commands action. It says to the will, “Do this.” This step seems obvious, but it is one people can find hard to take, so they do nothing. (That said, sometimes the prudent thing is to not do anything!)
  • Any human being who wants to can develop natural prudence, although it is difficult. But as followers of Christ we want to and need to have supernatural prudence. The counsel of a Christian is enlightened by the light of the Gospel. Our “right reason” takes into account God’s standards. God’s grace will show us what is best, help us to make the right judgment, and spur us on to taking the correct action.
  • Supernatural prudence is the decision to enter by the narrow gate. The work of our hands that will make us truly prosperous is to take up our cross and do what is right despite difficulties.

Practical Application: Opportunities to do good

  • Most of the time, people deal with life as it happens to them, responding as best they can. The wise person will deal with these happenings prudently; that is, he will gather information, make a judgment, and then take action. The wise Christian does all this in light of the Gospel, trying to discern the will of God, helped by grace.
  • This is the ordinary role of prudence in our lives. It is very important.
  • But another way in which prudence can operate in our life is in regard to opportunities. An opportunity is a condition or a situation which is favorable to reach some desirable goal.

(1) In the presence of God, you can ask yourself who you are and what you want and who God is and what he wants.

(2) You can continue your prayer and discernment by examining your current situation.

(3) Then you can make a list of current opportunities.

(4) Finally, you can spend time praying about what impact those opportunities could have if you took them up. Which opportunities could have the most positive impact? One way of doing this is asking yourself, “What one opportunity do I have, that if I took advantage of it, would have the most positive impact on my life and in the lives of those around me?” Another question, is, “Would God like me to try to do that?”

  • Every one of us has opportunities to do good that are real but potential. With God’s help and our own good efforts we can make them actual.

As a special feature, below is an audio podcast of this outline. It was recorded by professional voice actor Paul Rugg. I’m hoping that a Catholic publisher will be interested in featuring an audio version of Doctrinal Homily Outlines each week as another way of serving the Church. If you find this podcast helpful in your mental prayer, please leave a comment.






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