Precondition to the Beginning of Wisdom

I was struck the following passage from Cassiodorus on Psalm 94:

‘Come, let us adore and fall down before him: let us weep before the Lord that made us.’ At the beginning of the psalm he invites the people to show jubilation; now he urges them to seek the safety of repentance—and rightly, because earlier the people he invited to exult were novices, and he did not seek to impose on them a possible source of fear when they were still apprehensive. But after the glory and power of the Lord has been recounted, he appropriately imposed tearful confession, for the spirit when instructed could not reject that most wholesome medicine.

There is an apparent paradox here. We know that fear is the beginning of wisdom. How can Cassiodorus say that the Psalmist did not seek to impose a source of fear on the people while they were beginners? But Cassiodorus’s point fits exactly with my catechetical experience.

For one year I had to prepare a group of typical young nominally Catholic Austrians for confirmation. The whole sphere of the divine was so unreal to them that it would have been idle to attempt to inspire fear of God in them. In fact the typical Austrian nominal-Catholic just switches off the interest switch whenever any apparently uncomfortable truth of religion is mentioned. One needs a certain experience of the reality of the divine before one can even begin.

And this is where a kind of superficial jubilation comes in. Much scorn has been poured on the emphasis on big Catholic youth ‘events’ as a tool of evangelization. The superficiality of the kind of jubilation experienced at such events is often pointed out, as is the lack of any effective connection between them and normal Catholic life. There is surely a lot of truth to such criticisms, but I’ve always thought that there was something the critics miss. I know several people for whom such a youth event was the beginning of true conversion. There may be much foolishness to the kind of superficial jubilation involved but it is a foolishness that for some is a precondition for the beginning of wisdom.

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