Friends, in today’s Gospel, Jesus recognizes the prudence of the ten wise virgins. In the Middle Ages, prudence was called “the queen of the virtues,” because it enabled one to do the right thing in a particular situation. Prudence is a feel for the moral situation, something like the feel that a quarterback has for the playing field or a politician has for the voters in his district.
Wisdom is, like prudence, a kind of vision, but it is, unlike prudence, a sense of the big picture. It is the capacity to survey reality from the vantage point of God, appreciating the grandest perspective. Without wisdom, even the most prudent judgment will be erroneous, short-sighted, and inadequate.
The combination, therefore, of prudence and wisdom is especially powerful. Someone who is both wise and prudent will have both a sense of the big picture and a feel for the particular situation.
This is the combination possessed by the saints. This is why so many of the saints could be both ethereal and practical. Think of Mother Cabrini—a woman with a remarkably broad vision who was also capable of negotiating with bankers and real estate brokers.