In my years as a theology student, an older missionary used to repeat with some frequency this adage: “Missus, missus, non intromissus“. With it, he was trying to get rid of a defect that abounds like thorns: unhealthy curiosity. He was trying to impress upon us that a missionary is an envoy (missus), but must never be an intruder. We must not go where we are not called, we must not answer what we are not asked, we must not talk about what we do not know… at the risk of jeopardising the good relationship we must build with others. This principle of wisdom should be applied to every human group. It was made her own by St Teresa herself, that woman of strong character, clear mind and often sharp pen. Hers is this lucid prayer:
“Lord, you know better than I do that I am beginning to be old and that one day I will truly be old. Deliver me from the disastrous habit of thinking that I have something to say on every subject and in every situation. Deliver me from the desire to want to settle someone else’s affairs. Make me prudent and not melancholy. Make me compassionate and not meddlesome. Teach me the magnificent science of recognising that I can sometimes be wrong. Make me kind, at least in a reasonable way“.
The slow passing of the years ages the body and the intelligence and we take it for granted that we have “experience of life”. Just at that moment we are beset by the danger of presumptuous judgement of others or the rejection and contempt of what is new. This is a vice that is not exclusive to the elderly or to women at all, and which gives shape to the figure of the “busybody” or snoop.
There is a busybody inside each one of us who is always on the prowl, ready to pry indiscreetly, to judge, to criticise, to take a report on other people’s affairs. The snoop is a figure combated in vain by the much proclaimed right to privacy and the protection of personal data. The genre of gossip is becoming more and more aggressive nowadays, and the success of indecent magazines and television programmes is being maintained.
Let us be careful how we look at it. It is a double-edged sword to be wielded with exquisite care in order to know exactly when to stoke it and when to curb it. Even knowing that there is a healthy curiosity that is the mother of science, in fact, St. Thomas Aquinas opposes studium, which focuses and is a virtue, to curiositas, which disperses and is a vice. The former makes wisdom possible; the latter impedes it.
Let us meditate on St. Teresa’s exhortation with her invitation to be kind, respectful, discreet and self-critical, to “judge not lest we be judged” as Jesus tells us in the Gospel, and – why not say it too – even to know how to grow old with grace and affability.
Juan Carlos cmf
(PHOTO: Josh Mills)