Father Eugene Hemrick

“The noblest pleasure is the joy of understanding.”

As daily news becomes increasingly anxiety-ridden, this quote from Leonardo da Vinci challenges us to ask, “Where do we start to create the noble joy in understanding?”

In his book “The Virtues,” theologian Father Romano Guardini directs us to the first principle of understanding, “First, there is a talent for this, a keenness of sight, a delicacy of feeling, an ability to put oneself in another’s place. … These are important qualities which establish community between individuals.”

In a parish I served, one day the pastor invited me to lunch with parishioners in their workplace.

Before this experience, whenever I celebrated Mass and preached, the parishioners were “out there” with me looking down at them from the pulpit. After the experience of being with them in their working environment, I drastically recrafted my homilies.

The result was a deeper sense of delicacy of feeling and keenness of sight of which Father Guardini speaks.

Many of our communities sometimes reflect artificiality. The saying “familiarity breeds contempt” is ever so true. It is easy to become matter-of-fact and routine, to take our family, co-workers and acquaintances for granted. Our keenness of sight and delicacy in relations with them lose their sharpness.

When playing the violin, music frequently calls for delicacy. There are days when that delicate touch is there and days when it is not there. Maintaining delicacy in speech and demeanor to understand each other requires asceticism.

Asceticism is often portrayed as leading a rigorous life devoid of fun. Its Greek meaning, however, is uplifting: the exercise in the proper directing of one’s life. It is antithetical to chaos, where disorder and misunderstanding reign. Asceticism, on the other hand, aims at producing harmony resulting from assiduous understanding.

We must wonder if the joy of understanding of which Leonardo da Vinci speaks is present today, as we live in an age of jumping to quick decisions and ignoring our contemplative abilities.

Many of us have been taught there is nothing free in life, meaning we are required to work in order to get. This is especially true of understanding and the work needed to practice it well.