Some forty years ago an angry young lady attacked me with the words, “You hate women!” She’d just learnt that I belonged to a Religious Order –the Dominicans. To her my vows meant that I rejected all women. She felt personally insulted. Not that she had any designs on me –a complete stranger. But my way of life was alien and offensive to her. It seemed unnatural. In her eyes I was a fool for throwing away my life. She certainly was not alone in what she thought about us members of Religious Orders.
This incident made me realize how awful it must be for many of you, when even your family and friends think you’re out of your mind, mad -just because you’re following your deepest convictions and they can’t go along with you. It’s not because your ‘pushing religion’ on anyone. Simply, you’re different and that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Out of the goodness of their hearts they want to ‘liberate’ you from your religious hang-ups. Then you would be able to enjoy the same freedom as them –with no clergyman telling you what you should do, and, especially, should not do.
They urge you to break free and start living. With their every jibe and criticism those who should be supporting you threaten to undermine your commitment to following Christ. They have a drip, drip, drip effect which can gradually erode your confidence. If that’s the way you’re treated you will feel isolated and lonely. In dark moments you wonder, “Perhaps they are right. Perhaps you are the crazy one.”
These reflections have been brought home to me by friends telling me what an uphill battle it was, trying practise their faith. They had so much discouragement; so little support. People were so negative about their Christian way of life.
But I’m fortunate. Unlike many committed lay Christians, I do have the support of belonging to a community, with all its members sharing the same ideals. That, of course, is one of the many reasons why I joined the Dominicans. And it does strengthen our resolve when like-minded people come together to pray –say, for Sunday Mass or a pilgrimage. Then we realize many sane people are prepared to be God’s fools –and do so publically. We’re not alone!
In fact Mark’s Gospel (3. 20-21) tells us Jesus’ relatives thought He was mad. We Christians are in good –no, the best company! The incident happened when such a large crowd had gathered around Christ’s home that His relatives couldn’t get in to have a meal. That was too much for them! Thinking He was crazy, they decided to take Him in hand –to teach Him some common sense! Jesus, they thought, lacked the practical wisdom and sense they possessed. They must put Him right –before He harmed Himself and other people.
From a worldly point of view they were right. After all, Jesus had given up the carpenter’s business, which He would have inherited from Joseph. He had embarked on the life of a wandering preacher, with no visible means of support. He’d persuaded fishermen to abandon the security of their jobs and follow Him, a starry-eyed stranger -God alone knew where he would take them!
As for the company He kept, Jesus was most unwise. He dined with tax collectors and sinners. Really, He should have known better! People would talk; they were talking. They would identify Him with the kind of company He kept.
Worse still, Jesus was antagonising the religious authorities by His teaching. He had a cavalier approach to the observance of the Sabbath. He was making dangerous enemies. They would eventually plot against Him and kill Him.
Peter foresaw that danger. So he thought it prudent to give Jesus a friendly warning not to go to Jerusalem. Peter, too, thought Jesus was irresponsible; He was taking unnecessary, foolish risks. But far from welcoming Peter’s friendly advice Jesus rebuked him with the harshest words in the Gospels, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of man.” Why? Peter’s misguided concern for Christ’s safety transformed him from being the most loyal of his followers to his becoming the ‘enemy within’ –Peter was no longer a support. Now he’d become an enemy; now he threatened Christ’s resolve to save the world through His death on the cross.
God’s ways of thinking and acting are certainly very difference from ours! In his 1st Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul tells us there’s a divine wisdom, defying human common sense, which transcends our way of thinking. To us God’s way of thinking and acting seems crazy, if not mad. And that’s what Christ’s relatives thought when they tried to bring Him to His senses. That’s what Peter thought when he tried to prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem and the cross.
And we Christians must expect people to think we are mad in following Jesus, when He challenges, secular values, secular ways of thinking and acting. Then we should remember Paul’s reassuring words, ‘For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength,’ [1 Cor. 1:25].
My way of meeting God must mean my embracing the craziness of divine love. I must be prepared to be mocked as God’s fool, rather than being praised for being worldly-wise!
On 7th September Isidore will reflect on Meeting God by 'Tuning In.'