06 February 2015

Fear Makes Us Foolish

St Paul Miki and Companions
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St Dominic Church, NOLA

When we fall into sin, it's usually because of pride. Herod is no exception. His degeneration into foolishness might be blamed on lust – an older man drooling over a much younger woman. But – at its core – all foolishness is pride. Salome the Dancer, and her mother, Herodias, take advantage of Herod's pride through his lust and turn his well-known generosity into cold-blooded murder. They succeed in turning Herod into a murdering tyrant b/c he is possessed by the dark spirits of anxiety and fear. Why else would a powerful king keep a holy and righteous man like John the Baptist in prison? Fear makes us foolish, and foolishness is and always will be the enemy of God's wisdom.

John preaches against Herod's adultery, warning the king again and again that his sin will taint the kingdom. Herod imprisons John, keeping him close, and preventing him from preaching against the king publicly. We can almost hear Herod's internal conflict. God's wisdom and the king's conscience draw Herod to John's preaching. Herod knows that John is right. But power, lust, and misplaced generosity prevent him from choosing wisdom over foolishness. Having consistently chosen to accomplish apparently good ends by evil means, Herod reaches a point where Salome and Herodias tip the scale and the king murders John, becoming, in this deadly choice, a Royal Fool.

Herod's fall into darkness shows us that fools are made not born. In fact, fools are self-made, constructed, if you will, out of pride, and played by men and women who once listened to wisdom. If Herod's power and pride started his decline, then fear accelerated it, and lust and hard-heartedness sealed the deal. Like all of our moral choices, vice is a habit: we choose again and again to call evil Good. Over time, we are no longer capable of recognizing the Good and come to believe that in choosing Evil we are choosing Good. Herod believes that keeping John in prison prevents political unrest – it's all about national security and John's safety. And even though he is distressed by Salome's request for John's head on a platter, Herod justifies the prophet's execution as an act of fidelity to his oath, fearing embarrassment if he breaks it. The king is motivated at every decision-point by vicious habits and these habits take him—step by step—right into moral foolishness. 

Hearing, seeing, and doing God's wisdom are all habits: choices and actions we must take one at a time, step by step. Each decision we make brings us closer to foolishness or closer to wisdom. If living in God's wisdom is your goal, then let your prayer be: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is my life’s refuge; of whom should I be afraid?” Why this prayer? B/c fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.


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