It’s been a while since my last post. Retreat followed by an absolutely crazy time in the parish left my contemplative well a little dry, admittedly. That said, these weeks haven’t been altogether fruitless. I’ve been studying a wonderful part of the Christian life, “Holy Foolishness,” something alluded to on this page, but today, I’d like to draw together a few things from DC life through this particular prism.
Holy Foolishness begins with Christ himself. The Lord’s coming down from heaven to save a Creation for which he had absolutely no need (He’s God. He doesn’t need anything.), makes not sense; it is foolish. He did it for the sake of love… Love of the Father who asked if of him… Love of his Creation… a love that is inefficient and gratuitous. This same foolishness finds textual expression in St. Paul who speaks beautifully about being a madman for Christ (I Cor 4). The fool for Christ is prefigured in David who, overcome by the gift of victory he’s received from the Lord, dances naked before the ark entering Jerusalem. David became like a little child, a fool in the eyes of many.
If holy foolishness comes from God’s example, prefigured in David, and codified in Paul… its expression flowers in the Church. The early monks in the desert, the wandering contemplatives of ancient Ireland… St. Francis stripping himself before the bishop to identify with the poor for the rest of his life… St. Philip Neri dressing like a buffoon just to experience insults and so identify with Christ’s Passion… all fools for Christ. Fools in the eyes of the world anyway. Event St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps one of the greatest intellects of all history capped his life with holy foolishness. Famously, at the end, he burned as many of his notes as he could get his hands on declaring, “It is all straw.” One of his biographers put it this way,
“The last word of St. Thomas is not communication but silence. And it is not death which takes the pen out of his hand. His tongue is stilled by the superabundance of life in the mystery of God… he is silent because he has been allowed to glimpse into the inexpressible depths of that mystery which is not reached by any human thought or speech.”
Stupified as he peered beyond reason into the depths of mystery, Thomas identified with the fool.
Here in DC, following Pope Francis’ visit to our city can we, perhaps, engage in a little foolishness? On a visit to Washington, my grandfather once commented, stunned by the beauty of Kalorama Heights, “In a city this beautiful, how can people fight with such acrimony.” When we fight, isn’t it – so often – over issues of human wisdom? Could we let ourselves be intoxicated by our surroundings convinced that great and good things are possible despite differences? Have we become so efficient that we no longer have time for truly inspiring folly? As an example: some might suggest that the space race was an act of inspiring folly. Yes there was the cold war dimension of the effort, but what really inspired people was not the idea of beating the Soviets to the moon, but rather the idea of human beings reaching to the stars… something inefficient, but inspired and beautiful.
In parish life I see the tension between the human wisdom of efficiency and the holy wisdom of being a little foolish. Taking time to sit in silence and adore the Blessed Sacrament… celebrating the mass beautifully… standing up for ancient teachings no longer in vogue… All are foolish, inefficient, in the eyes of the world. The temptation of the faithful is subtly evident in remarks like, “We need to be more relevant.” “People won’t listen to us unless…” “Isn’t that wasteful…” There is a fear of being fools for Christ… a fear of dying on the Cross humiliated with him in the eyes of the world. Can we consider following our Holy Fathers, St. John XXIII, Bl. Paul VI, St. John Paul II, Benedict and now Francis in running with reckless, foolish abandon in the ways of the Church… doing so out of love for Christ? We might just discover that it’s more fun in this life and the next to be fools for the Risen One, than wise in the estimation of very mortal men.