Chapter 4 – Be Prudent in What You Do
A team of horses, that had been tied to a hitching-post before a tavern, broke loose and ran away. The wagon was broken, the harness torn, and the horses themselves were hurt. Why did they run away? And why did they cause such a damage? A man came riding along on a bicycle; and that scared them. But that little scaring they got would not have caused any further damage, if the driver had been on the wagon to take care of his horses and to manage them. Where was the driver? He had stepped into the tavern to cool himself off, and to get a lunch. So you see, the whole mishap, and the damage caused by it, came because the driver was not on the wagon to guide the horses.
Now, my child, to be a true follower of Jesus, it is necessary that you should be prudent. Do you know what prudence is? As often as you want to say or do something, and before you do it, you consider well what would be the best way of saying or doing it, that is, the way it would be the most pleasing to God, and most beneficial to yourself and to your neighbour; then you will try to say or do it that way, so as to remain in peace with yourself and with your neighbor. That is about what is meant by being prudent.
Prudence is a great virtue. It is a moral virtue, and that is, it adorns our souls and gives beauty to our lives. It is one of the cardinal virtues. Cardinal comes from the Latin word “cardo,” which means hinge. Just as the door rests on the hinges and turns on them, just so, also, must our lives and the virtues we strive to practise rest and, so to say, turn on the cardinal virtues, one of which is prudence.
You must, therefore, be prudent in all that you say, and in all that you do. Without prudence you cannot exercise any other virtue as it ought to be; you cannot lead a holy life, such as God wants you to lead. St. Bernard calls prudence “the driver of the other virtues.” Just as I told you above about those horses; they ran away, broke the wagon, tore the harness, and hurt themselves, because the driver was not there to guide them; so you will be apt to run into fatal mistakes with all the virtues you may have or may be trying to practise—you may bring yourself, your precious soul to ruin—if you have not the virtue of prudence to guide you.
Yes, indeed, my child, it is very important that you should have this virtue of prudence.
What must you do to acquire it?
First, you must pray earnestly for it. It is, partly at least, a gift that Jesus can give you. But He gives this gift, as He gives all others, only to those who are humble. He says: “I confess to Thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones.”
Secondly, you must have a true love for God and for your neighbor; and for this, certainly, you must pray always and earnestly. The more you love God, the more pains you will take to consider, before you say or do anything, what would be most pleasing to Him. And the more truly you love your neighbor, the more you will try to say or do things so that they will do him most good, and avoid what could offend him. And if, nevertheless, by anything you have said or done, your neighbor should be offended, even against your will and when you cannot help it, the humility that is in your heart will help you to bear his reproaches and hard words patiently, and by kindness to gain him and to restore the peace that has been broken between you. Truly, a heart that is humble and loves God is a prudent heart and enjoys constant peace and happiness.
Well, what would you do if you had this virtue of prudence? You would not so easily believe the bad that is spoken to you about others. You would think: “There is nobody that has so many faults as I have myself.” And therefore you would rather close your eyes against the faults of others, and only try to see the good that is in them. Much less would you play the tell-tale, that is, carry to others what you have heard or see, and you think is bad. That is imprudence, first class—and sin.
Another thing: you would not want to know everything best yourself, and think there is nobody ahead of you, and smarter than you are. You would, on the contrary, distrust yourself; you would ask the advice of others and be guided by it.
Here are a few words from The Following of Christ, well worth remembering: “The more humble one is in heart, and the more in subjection to God, so much the more prudent will he be in all things, and the more at peace.”