The Wisdom of the World

“For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Cor. 1:18

I feel that our lives are like a ship in rough seas, and, though we hold strong to the rudder, the seas toss and turn us endlessly. Just when we feel we are in control, another wave blindsides us and we struggle to regain a sense of direction. For those of us who believe in the power of God, it is that power that maintains our lives, anchors us to something solid, and provides a rudder in stormy seas.

At Mass I often find myself reflecting on the experience of living in a world that seems in turmoil. Not only events like the wars in Ukraine, Yemen, Syria, etc, but closer to home, too, we encounter people pitted against each other in a world of confusion, clashing agendas, diverse beliefs, and incompatible virtues. Those of us who trust in transcendent realities – God – and who believe that there is something more than meets the eye (i.e. a divine, eternal love that guides, saves, and heals us to fullness) seem to live in a world that greets our view of reality and our beliefs as foolishness.

“For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” I Cor. 1:21-24

We always begin Mass with the penitential rite; a reminder that in a world of individualism, relativism, and selfishness that we are sinners: “I confess to almighty God, and to you my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned.” I, we, are broken and imperfect creations that come to the fullness of human flourishing only with the help of God and the community. “Through, my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault”: I call and reach out to God and my brothers and sisters for help, for healing, for wholeness – the wisdom of God.

In a world devoted to ideals such as rugged individualism, the quest for riches, and authoritative titles – where “he who dies with the most toys wins” are the true measures of success – a reflection on my own sinfulness is futile, self-destructive, and even wrong. That is the wisdom of the world.

“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” 1 Cor. 1:25

Later, through the words, actions, and prayers of the priest gathered in community turns ordinary bread and wine into flesh and blood, a solemn divine spirit lifts and enlivens the gathered community, transforms them into a people of strength, love, and mission. This is the power of God. 'Foolishness,' say the wise. 'Bread is bread, wine is wine, it can be no more. Believing in angels, and resurrection, and spirits is illogical and ridiculous. Believing spoken words of prayer are dry and empty as the tomb you will rot in is worthless and a waste of time says the world – all those worthless Sundays spent in church that could have been spent – sleeping, running, playing, working.' That is the wisdom of the world.

“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are…” 1 Cor. 27-28

Catholic schools, scoff the critics, are archaic and not in keeping with the times. They indoctrinate children into the Church’s and believers’ delusions of “bloody” wine and “fleshy” bread, of sin and harmful guilt, shame, and needless self-examination. Catholic schools present radical ideas like the dignity of all life from conception to natural death, that economic injustice is sinful, that we must love our enemies, relationships are sacred, and that we must care for our neighbours – not because it is “nice” but because we have a divine calling to heal the world. That is the wisdom of God.

This 'foolishness' is difficult. To be a Christian – to publicly profess faith in God – is foolish in the eyes of many and opens us up to ridicule and hate. Catholic schools and health care become lightning rods for these attacks. As a log floats along with the stream, it is easy for many people to ride the public current and its ever-changing 'wisdom'. It is hard to be different – foolish to many – and to see wisdom as revealed and objective. It is hard not to be swayed by public opinion and to swim against the contemporary thinking; to follow the Truth, even though you might rather not continue on (see Jeremiah 20:7-9), and yet you persist, because the Good News is even greater than your fear. The 'advantages' to living in a worldly way become difficult when you find a Truth bigger than you – greater than the world. 

“He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” 1 Cor. 1:30

For the secular world, Catholic schools and Catholic education are foolishness. However, we believe that the foolishness of God is greater than the wisdom of the world. And this wisdom is found incarnate in Christ Jesus. It is on this wisdom that Catholic schools persist and thrive; in showing the world another way, a view of the world with an eternal mission. While St. Paul may have been writing to the saints in Corinth close to 2000 years ago, the first chapter of his letter to the Corinthians could easily have been written to the people of Alberta, Yukon, and Northwest Territories today. I would encourage everyone to read the chapter and reflect on it in light of our contemporary struggles.

Oh, and by the way, because God is love, God wins in the end.