16 September 2015

On not being a Devil's Fool

Cornelius and Cyprian
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA

If wisdom is vindicated by her children, then what injustice has wisdom suffered that needs to be avenged? Jesus accuses his generation of being fickle, attention-deficient children who can't figure out who they want him or 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 live in God's wisdom? How do we live among the Devil's fools w/o becoming fools ourselves?

Thriving among the Devil's fools in this world is 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. Another trap, 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 now wears the mask of Social Justice. 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 Godly Good just enough to hide his temptations to sin but not enough to expose his evil as evil.

So, how do we – who claim to follow Christ – live in God's wisdom among the Devil's fools w/o becoming fools ourselves? Wisdom is vindicated by all her children. We avoid becoming the Devil's fools by living as the children of Wisdom. 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 God's righteousness. Abstinence tames Gluttony's frenzy. Liberality frees Greed to be generous in thanksgiving. And Diligence takes Sloth to the spiritual gym. Christ says that wisdom is vindicated by her children, 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 good 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. Not for our personal holiness – that's just a by-product. Not for the benefit of the ones we serve – that's just a happy consequence. BUT for the greater glory of God so that His mercy may be proclaimed in word and deed. 
Without His freely given mercy, our works are empty – useless and vain. Done for His glory, our works bear witness to the Good Work of Christ.
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