Making prudent decisions: A homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today our readings talk about the virtue of prudence. There’s a saying, “You can’t live straight if you think crooked.“ Prudence helps us think straight so we can live straight. Our first reading names the virtue of prudence and discusses it. Our gospel is about the ten virgins, five of whom were prudent and five of whom were not. Prudence is important. Because thinking and living right is important.

Prudence is about taking abstract teachings and tenets of our faith and beliefs, and applying them to real, concrete situations. We need this virtue all the time. Should I take this new job or not? Should I move there or not? Should I date this person or not? Should I go to this college or that college? Should I get married to this person or not? Should I donate my money here or there? Should I get confirmed or not? Should I take my loved one off life support? Should I go to seminary? Goodness! So many decisions. They all need the virtue of prudence.

There are three steps to making a prudent decision according to our tradition: Deliberate, Decide, Do. All start with D.

Deliberate. We consider the options on the table and we deliberate about them. We use our minds, our intellect. Many today rely heavily on feelings, almost exclusively. Some people have stopped coming to Mass—where Jesus becomes present!!!—over the years because their feelings were hurt about something. That is not a prudent decision. You shouldn’t risk eternal damnation, or be willing to walk away from God, simply because of a hurt feeling. That is not prudent. It is foolish.

When we deliberate, we consider the past, present and future. And then we consult the teachings of the Church and the wise people in our lives.

Say you have a guy named Fred. Fred likes to gamble. A lot. Fred gets his paycheck and wonders if he should go gamble it away or not. So he deliberates. He considers the past. Every time Fred has gambled, or at least many times, he has come out behind. It doesn’t work well for him. Then he considers his present situation. Fred is a husband and a father and the family needs this paycheck. It’s not like he has money to play with. He needs this money. Then he considers the future, what might happen if this or that.

Then he consults the church. The church does not forbid gambling, but we caution about it becoming an addiction or something irresponsible if carried out when it shouldn’t be. He consults his priest, his wife.

Decide. Then he makes a decision. He weighs it all and decides: i will not do it. He makes a rational decision, informed by his mind, his feelings, his conscience, his Church, and the wise people in his life.

Do. Then he carried out his decision. Once a decision is made, prudence says we keep to it. Which means when hank calls and invites Fred to the casino, he must refuse. There is often a temptation to go back on ones word, or change his mind. Prudence says, I’ve already deliberated and decided. Now I carry it out.

Prudence is a great virtue. Like all the virtues, it makes is human. An animal just does things. We have the gift of mind. The word virtue comes from the Latin word “vir,” meaning man. To be a person of virtue is to be an authentic person. An animal would simply eat a whole pizza or kill someone for looking at him the wrong way. Not a human—at least not a virtuous one.

It is time for the annual diocesan appeal. Please make a prudent gift. Deliberate, decide and do. Consider what you’ve done before, how it worked (was it enough? Or too much?), now consider your present (did you have more income this year? How is your financial situation different now?). And then consider what would happen if. Draw up a budget. Plug in the numbers. Consult the Church, who teaches at least a 10% tithe for all charitable giving. Deliberate, decide on your amount, and carry it out.

Thanks be to God we have this virtue. You can’t live straight if you think crooked.