Words on Wisdom

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Wisdom associated with age and earned respect is exemplified in our Africa “wisdom figure” Father Edward Hayes as well as in our retired priests and Brothers at Mission St. Teresa who are featured in this issue.

Jesus gives us his understanding of wisdom when he prays: “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things (his teachings) from the learned and the clever, you have revealed them to the childlike” (Mt. 11:25). Jesus contradicts the expectations and experiences of his hearers that wisdom only means being “clever.” He implies that children are wise in their complete dependence on a trusted “elder,” such as a parent, and he invites us to embrace our ultimate dependence on God as adult “children.”

Both children and older adults have much to teach us about “wisdom.” Join me in remembering and giving thanks for the “wisdom figures” in our lives.

Alois Mokambo is one such figure in my life. A widowed father of two sons and a social worker, Alois was my valued mentor between 2000 and 2003 as I ministered in the Kibera informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. One evening in 2001 after I had celebrated a Small Christian Community Mass in one of Kibera’s neighborhoods, he was escorting me to my vehicle. It was raining. Alois was leading the way with a flashlight and I was following carrying a flashlight, umbrella and bag. Suddenly, I lost my footing on the slippery clay soil and fell partway into a drainage ditch. Having been reassured that I wasn’t hurt, Alois reached out to me and lifted me out of the ditch, with the words: “Congratulations! You have been baptized and are now one of us.”

Alois’ wisdom in this instance translated this simple mishap into a rite of passage that more fully incorporated me into the Kibera community.

As missioners from outside, one of our most heartfelt goals is to truly identify with those to whom we have been sent. In our May/June 2014 “Good News” column I shared how much it meant for me to be welcomed “home” to Kibera when I visited there recently.

I have been sent by the members of the Kibera community back to the United States to share not only their story, but mine as well. I walked into Kibera for the first time in February 2000 as a “child.” I learned to trust and depend on the people, who taught me to ultimately depend more on God. I hopefully minister here in the United States as a “wiser elder.”

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About the author

Robert Jalbert, M.M.

Father Robert A. Jalbert served four years in the U.S. Air Force as a Russian linguist in Italy and Turkey before earning a B.A. in English Literature from Holy Apostles Seminary College in Cromwell, Connecticut. He entered the Maryknoll novitiate in Hingham, Massachusetts in 1973, and after training in Tanzania earned his M.Div. in Theology from Maryknoll School of Theology, New York, where he was ordained in 1979.