14 December 2012

How not to become a fool. . .

St John of the Cross
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

The English verb “to vindicate” comes from the Latin vindicare, meaning, “to lay claim to,” or more forthrightly, “to avenge.” A vindex is an avenger, the one who lays claim to justice when an injustice has been done. And “to be vindicated” is to receive justice after having been wronged. This little lesson in entomology etymology helps us to understand what Jesus means when he says, “Wisdom is vindicated by her works.” If wisdom is vindicated by her works, then what injustice has wisdom suffered that needs to be avenged? Jesus is accusing his generation of being fickle, attention-deficient children who can't figure out who they want him and John the Baptist to be. John comes out of the desert neither eating nor drinking and they call him demon possessed. Jesus comes out of Nazareth both eating and drinking and they call him a glutton and a drunkard, a friend to tax collectors and sinners! God's wisdom, which John preaches, is avenged by the miracles Jesus performs. And both John and Jesus—and all who follow him—will be vindicated on the Last Day. Until then, how do we—who claim to follow Christ—live in God's wisdom among the Devil's fools w/o becoming a fool ourselves? 

Thriving among the Devil's fools are a whole circus of distractions, snares, and tar pits. Some are designed to slow us down, others to kill us outright. Most, however, are created to keep us very much alive as newly minted fools. Our medieval brothers and sisters identified seven of these deadly traps. Each a snare waiting for an unwary soul. What they called Pride, the fools now call Self-esteem. Like pride, self-esteem has its proper, holy uses. The trap is snapped, however, when self-esteem becomes bloated with unearned entitlement and petulance. Lust is now Sexual Liberation. Our sexual appetites are a holy gift from God. But the fools have “liberated” sex from its divine purpose, turning God's creating gift into a recreating hobby. Envy wears the mask of Social Injustice. When you have what I want, I'm not envying you; I'm simply demanding social equality and just reparations. Wrath is no longer disordered anger but Righteous Rage. Gluttony is now Consumer Preference. Sloth is “I'm Spiritual But Not Religious.” And Greed is just Good Business Sense. The Devil gives his fools a particular talent: the ability to tweak every Good just enough to hide his temptations but not enough to expose his evil. 

So, how do we—who claim to follow Christ—live in God's wisdom among the Devil's fools w/o becoming a fool ourselves? Isaiah prophesies, “Thus says the Lord: I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is for your good, and lead you on the way you should go.” And what way should we go? Our medieval kin got this one right too. Humility sniffs out the narcissism in Pride. Chastity gives Lust a cold shower. Kindness opens Envy to true justice. Patience quiets and focuses Wrath toward righteousness. Abstinence tames Gluttony's frenzy. Liberality frees Greed to be generous. And Diligence takes Sloth to the gym. Christ says that wisdom is vindicated by her works. And so are we. Thus, our way along the path to holiness includes these works of mercy: feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the stranger; clothing the naked; visiting the sick; ministering to prisoners; and burying the dead. Since the Devil can hide his temptations among our works, we are careful to remember that all of our works of mercy are done for the greater glory of God and for no other reason than the greater glory of God. Without His mercy freely given, our works are chaff, useless and vain.

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  1. "This little lesson in entomology..." Sure hoping you meant "etymology", since entomology is the study of insects :-).

    Wow - the Seven Deadly Sins and the Corporal Works of Mercy in one short homily: Good old-fashioned Catholic teaching! This would have been even better fleshed out and made into a longer, Sunday, homily - I really just wanted more. As it is, though, it has made me think quite a bit.

    Thank you.

    1. Yeah, I saw that right before I started and just said something like "history of the word 'vindication'."

      No nap today. That's my excuse.

  2. Anonymous8:41 PM

    A welcomed reminder in this season of snares (though I could truthfully say that every day of the year). And the capstone of the homily was "and for no other reason than the greater glory of God."