Thursday of the Twenty-Second Week in Ordinary Time Reflections Holy Fools

The Scripture readings for today can be found here
Some of the key phrases that I find myself dwelling on
 First Reading ( Corinthians)

Let no one deceive himself.
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,

God catches the wise in their own ruses,
and again:
The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.
So let no one boast about human beings, for everything belongs to you,
Paul or Apollos or Cephas,
or the world or life or death,
or the present or the future:
all belong to you, and you to Christ, and Christ to God.

This passage spells out the counter-cultural message of Christianity and has helped spawn  many popular archetypes of Christ as the clown, jester or fool.

You can read about St Simeon a Holy Fool here 
Modern man increasingly suffers from Hubris syndrome, described as excessive self-confidence and yet we should be aware of our  flawed and incomplete knowledge...
“In seeking wisdom thou art wise;
In imagining that thou hast attained it thou art a fool” 

 Rabbi Ben-Azai 
 In 2007 Stephen Prothero, author and chairman of  Boston University's Department of Religion, wrote in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin: "I am crazy for people who are crazy for God: people nearly as inscrutable to me as divinity, who leave wives and children to become forest-dwelling monks in Thailand, who wander naked across the belly of India in search of self-realization, who speak in tongues and take up serpents in Appalachia because the Bible says they can."

The holy fool, or the fool as wise soul, is a figure in many wisdom traditions, including notably those of the Sufis of Islam, Zen Buddhism, Christianity and the inheritors of the Hasidic movement of Judaism, as well as folklore that is not specifically religious, like some of the tales collected by the brothers Grimm. 

Fools in the courts of kings in the plays of Shakespeare are typically wise men who cloak their wisdom in a mask of foolishness.

Above Holy Fool by  Michael Leunig from here
Such fools amuse, confuse, sometimes speak in simile or circuitous riddles, are often ridiculed--they are intentionally ridiculous, sometimes insulting or scatological--but can succeed by that very character in breaking through a crust of resistance or disbelief. There is an enigmatic quality to the fool's cloak of madness or nonsense that provokes attention, response, reflection, as well as laughter. The fool's inherent humility, too, may loosen the defensive, ego-inflated character of those who make too much of themselves and so lose touch with a deeper reality.

There is another sense of the holy fool, less a matter of conscious and intentional disguise, more a matter of guilelessness, transparency, embrace of wonder and mystery.

"The path of soul, writes Thomas Moore, "is also the path of the fool, the one without pretense of self-knowledge or individuation or certainly perfection. 

 If on this path we have achieved anything, it is the absolute unknowing that mystics write about, or it is the 'negative capability' of John Keats--'being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.'" (Care of the Soul )

Here are a few illustrative stories:

Stories of Nasrudin:

Mullah_nasrudinMy beloveds, I remember a time long ago when I was still a Mulla. I lived in a small town, just big enough for a real mosque, with a beautiful mosaic wall. I remember one evening, we had finished our prayers. The stars were clear and bright, and seemed to fill the sky solidly with lights. I stood at the window, gazing at the lights so far away, each one bigger than our world, and so distant from us across vast reaches of space. I thought of how we walk this earth, filled with our own importance, when we are just specks of dust. If you walk out to the cliffs outside the town, a walk of half an hour at most, you look back and you can see the town, but the people are too small to see, even at that meager distance. When I think of the immensity of the universe, I am filled with awe and reverence for power so great.

I was thinking such thoughts, looking out the window of the mosque, and I realized I had fallen to my knees. "I am nothing, nothing!" I cried, amazed and awestruck.
There was a certain well-to-do man of the town, a kind man who wished to be thought very devout. He cared more for what people thought of him than for what he actually was. He happened to walk in and he saw and heard what passed. 
My beloveds, I was a little shy at being caught in such a moment, but he rushed down, looking around in the obvious hope someone was there to see him. He knelt beside me, and with a final hopeful glance at the door through which he had just come, he cried,
"I am nothing! I am nothing!"

It appears that the man who sweeps, a poor man from the edge of the village, had entered the side door with his broom to begin his night's work.
He had seen us, and being a man of true faith and honest simplicity, his face showed that he entertained some of the same thoughts that had been laid on me by the hand of Allah (wonderful is He). He dropped his broom and fell to his knees up there in a shadowed corner, and said softly,
"I am nothing...I am nothing!"
The well-to-do man next to me nudged me with his elbow and said out of the side of his mouth, "Look who thinks he's nothing!"

The call to discipleship  is to be willing to be foolish according to the conventional wisdom of the day. If you’re anything like me, there have been times when you felt you should do something because of your faith, but you didn’t because you didn’t want to look foolish. So what is it that you feel God calling you to do, but that you find yourself unwilling to do because someone might think you foolish?

God calls me to believe, to have faith, despite my inability to prove the matters of faith. God calls me to offer forgiveness to those that the world say we have no need to forgive.

I pray that God will give me the confidence  to risk looking foolish in the eyes of the
world as a result of my faith. May I always have the courage to choose God’s "foolish wisdom" over the wisdom of the world.

Saint Francis shows us something completely different, something that looks more like perseverance in the face of uncertainty. Saint Francis teaches us  that faithfulness is more valuable than being right; that humility and unknowing are a more appropriate response to God than certainty and knowledge. 
Abandoning the pride of self may be the way to begin to understand God. In the words of Saint Francis' famous prayer,  it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

So often, I think, I have a tendency to view the saints as persons who were superheroes; who were capable of gritting their teeth and doing the right thing .
In this Global Village we live in today, we are assaulted by conflicting values and oppositional demands. The necessity of doing the right thing is constantly upon us, even in the simple demands of day to day living:but throughout the course of St Francis'  life he steadfastly refused to join the ranks of the wise and learned--of those, who were certain of the right thing. He remained a fool for God, and was always open to rethinking the Holy Spirit's inspiration.  

Bishop Willimon says “It’s when the absurd starts to sound reasonable that we
should begin to worry. ‘Blessed are the meek. . . .’ ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ ‘Love your
enemies.’ ‘Go, sell all you have and give to the poor.’ Be honest now. 

Blessed are the meek? Try being meek tomorrow at work and see how far you get. Meekness is fine for church, but in the real world the meek get to go home early with a pink slip and a pat on the back. Blessed are those who are peacemakers? They shall get done to them what they don’t want to do to others. Blessed are the merciful? They shall get it done to them a second time. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake? They shall be called fanatics.”

He concludes, “As Paul says, when you hear the gospel not with Sunday-morning ears
but with Monday-morning ears, it can sound foolish indeed -- tragically foolish or
comically foolish, depending upon one’s point of view.”
 From Psalm 24 and Responsorial Psalm

To the Lord belongs the earth and all that fills it.
Who can ascend the mountain of the LORD?
or who may stand in his holy place?
He whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires not what is vain.
Joan Chittister has this to say : " I feel myself  full of provocative questions about important issues like women's ordination, the place of gays in the church, global justice, and obedience to the institutional church. But critical questions are just what the church often suppresses, obscures, or responds to with superficial and ideological answers. 
We can acquiesce to this, too, out of fear of being wrong or even punished. 
But Chittister does not want to live the Christian life asking other people's questions or accepting their answers, so she keeps asking, seeking, and knocking: how does the Christian relate questions of personal conscience and intellectual integrity to churchly fidelity?

Personal failure and struggle are also prominent themes for Chittister. The problem, it would seem, is to foolishly accept perfection as our standard or goal. 
But that goal is an oppressive one, and a set up for failure, for no Christian this side of heaven will ever reach it: "The problem, of course, is that we fail. We know ourselves to be weak. We stumble along, being less than we can be, never living up to our own standards, let alone anyone else's. We eat too much between meals, we work too little to get ahead, we drink more than we should at the office party. We're all addicted to something. Those addictions not only cripple us, they convince us that we are worthless and incapable of being worthwhile. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy of the worst order because it traps us inside our own sense of inadequacy, of futility, of failure" . Instead, we ought to view failure as "among the best friends of the soul"  Rather than subscribe to the unattainable, we should come to appropriate the "sanctifying nature of mistakes and calculations"

Chittister begins her book with a well known story of the seeker who asked the monk just what they did in the monastery: "Oh, we fall and we get up, and we fall and we get up, and we fall and we get up again." 

Angela Ashwin says in her book Faith in The Fool:
"The wise and  and holy fool encourages us to free up a little and enjoy life more; reminds us that we do not have to be productive or important in order to be valuable; helps us to face our limitations and failings; sits alongside us when we are broken.
You can read more of this book extract from here.
Beyond the institutional frustrations, the stymied but important questions, and the realization of but limited progress, she encourages us to hear God's voice to keep going, to "find the me in me"  and to cultivate a sense of being at home with yourself because of the extravagant love and grace of God. 

From The Gospel (Luke)

After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
"Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch."
Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men."
When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.

Some Interesting Reflections From Here

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