04 September 2014

Baiting the hook

22nd Week OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

I taught literature in the late 80's and early 90's. And because my students tended to rely heavily on their classmates for vital information about my classes, I put on all of my syllabi a line from the New Order song, “Bizzare Love Triangle.” The line goes: “The wisdom of a fool won't set you free.” I'm delighted to report this morning that St. Paul agrees with one of the 80's premiere English bands: “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God. . .” If you consider yourself wise in this age, how do you become a fool for God?

Consider this: a carpenter teaches a fisherman to fish. “Put out into deep water,” the carpenter commands, “and lower your nets for a catch.” The fisherman, suspecting foolishness but at the same time confessing his own earlier failure to catch a single fish, replies obediently, “Master. . .at your command I will lower the nets.” When the great haul of fish breaks the surface of the lake, the size of the catch tears at the nets, and the weight of their gift threatens to sink the fisherman's boats. Awe-struck, nearly dumbfounded by the abundance given in a single cast of his nets, the fisherman does the only thing a wise man would – he falls to his knees and confesses his unworthiness to the man whom he suspected of being a fool: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Sin makes us stupid. Sin also makes us foolish. But St. Thomas wants to know whether or not folly itself is a sin. He writes that folly is “a dullness of judgment” and this dullness can be contracted when a man “by plunging his sense into earthly things, [such that] his sense is rendered incapable of perceiving Divine things. . .even as sweet things have no [flavor] for a man whose taste is infected. . .such like folly is a sin” (ST II-II.46.2). IOW, If we stunt our taste for the Divine by over indulging in the crude flavors of the world, our ability to judge what is Good and what is Evil becomes dull and twisted. Folly is our judgment led astray by the baited wisdom of this world. 

So, if you are wise in this age, how do you become a fool for God? Following Peter the Fisherman's example, you obey (you listen) to those you sent to teach you and you reap the harvest of obedience, confessing your own sinful folly. You confess – with all humility and genuine gratitude – the depths of your ignorance and a deep desire for knowing the wisdom of God. When the Apparent Fool says to you, “Put out into the deep,” you put out into the deep, trusting that the deep obscures a divine abundance, and that it is only your feckless fear and lack of persistence that binds you in giftless folly. And after you obey the Apparent Fool and haul in your gifts, you fall to your knees awe-struck and nearly dumbfounded with gratitude and pray, “. . . everything belongs to you. . .[O Lord]. . .all belong to you!”

Peter may have suspected our Lord of being a fool. Even for just half a second. But he overcomes his doubt and fear with one word – “Master.” He calls Jesus “Master,” teacher. And places himself at Christ's feet to learn. Peter's docility – his eager willingness to be taught – reaps for him and his friends two gifts: boats nearly sinking from the weight of their catch and a proclamation from the Lord – “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” As heirs to these fishers of men, we best catch souls for God when he put out into the deep at His command and fish with humility, docility, penitence, and – always, always – praise and thanksgiving.

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