05 March 2018

Worldly vs. Catholic Wisdom

Third Sunday of Lent
Have you ever noticed that there is never a shortage of people who are willing to give you advice?  I suppose I might be cutting out my legs from under me, as most homilies are supposed to help people find practical way to apply the Gospel to their daily lives.  But, just think about it: how many TV shows or commercials are basically trying to give you advice on how to diet, how to learn, how to understand what’s happening in the world, in politics, in sports?  Maybe it’s “Dr. Oz,” maybe it’s “The View,” maybe it’s a commercial with your favorite celebrity on a political or social issue, maybe it’s a talk show on your preferred cable news station, or maybe it’s even the way the news is presented by individual networks.  But advice seems to be everywhere from people who want to tell you how to live your life.
This is, of course, nothing new.  Different groups have always been trying to influence the way people think, trying to get people to live their life based on a particular view of reality.  And with the advent of social media, that has only increased.  You can’t scroll Facebook or Twitter without seeing pithy quotes that are supposed to help you be a better person.  Sometimes the phrase sounds good, but in fact, isn’t really Catholic or Christian.  For example, I saw a post on Facebook the other day that said, “There is no turning your back on God.  There is only turning your back on yourself.”  Sounds profound, deep, insightful, right?  It’s rubbish!  Of course you can turn your back on God!  There are so many quotes like this that are from non-Christian or secular websites or pages that may sound amazing, but, in fact, are contrary to Scripture.  And we should be wary about giving our minds and our will to any wisdom that doesn’t come from God through the Scriptures or the Church’s teaching.  I’m not saying it’s all bad, but much of it is, and we don’t want to be poisoned by something that we think might be good.  Imagine picking mushrooms, not knowing which ones are good and which ones will kill you, and leaving behind the guidebook to which ones to consume.  That’s what it is to take wisdom from a non-Christian or secular source without running it past what God has revealed to us.
And what is the wisdom that God gives to us?  The wisdom of God is Christ crucified.  It seems like foolishness and maybe makes people stumble, but our crucified Christ is “wiser than human wisdom,” as St. Paul said in our second reading.  The life of Christ is not only a story, it is a pattern, a guide for all those who want to find happiness.  I know, it may not look like Jesus’ life had a lot of happiness: He was poor, wandered around, most of His best friends abandoned Him when He needed them the most, and He died mostly surrounded by His enemies in a most shameful way of dying.  Sign me up for that, right?
But God raised Jesus up, and, in fact, we have no evidence that Jesus ever seemed to want for anything, or lack any happiness.  He felt sorrow for those who couldn’t or wouldn’t follow Him, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that the Gospels paint Jesus as a happy Person.  He didn’t have money; He didn’t have power (in the way the world sees power); He didn’t have sex (do people really do that?!?).  But Jesus was happy; truly happy.  And He was happy because He lived by God’s Word, the words of everlasting life, as our Psalm response said this morning.  
The Ten Commandments that we heard in our first reading seem like a long list of nos that cramp our style: no idols, no taking God’s Name in vain; no work on the Sabbath; no murder, no adultery, not stealing, no lying, no coveting; the only really positive commandment is “Honor your father and your mother.”  And yet, that wisdom from God which seems so negative, opens us up to a larger ability to say yes.  By not doing menial work on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, the day of the Resurrection, we are saying yes to enjoying time with our family, maybe even with a family dinner; to serving the poor; to worshipping God and being fed by God’s word and the Body and Blood of Jesus.  And all that because we take a break from work that will always be there.  Think about the people who say yes to taking whatever they want, even if they don’t have the money to pay for it: they may get away with stealing a candy bar or maybe something more, but eventually it catches up with them, and they end up being prosecuted, maybe even going to jail.  And I don’t know many, if any people, who are happy and in jail.  So by saying no to stealing, they are saying yes to freedom, to more opportunities, and to a happier life.

Sometimes living by the wisdom of the Word of God may seem like simply a lot of nos.  But in fact, the ways that God asks us to say no actually allows us to say yes: yes to God, yes to love, yes to peace, yes to happiness.  May our Lenten observances also encourage us to say no to all the things that bring us death and slavery, to our sins, and say yes to all the things that bring us life and freedom, to God’s grace.