Homily for Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time A - Intellectual Pride Cuts Us Off from Christ
Jesus is speaking to a group of his followers returning from their first missionary journey, which had been wildly successful.
They are full of joy and the satisfaction of victory: in Christ's name and with his grace they had finally been able to do something worthwhile, meaningful, and wonderful.
Jesus rejoices with them.
- These disciples have believed in Christ, trusted him, and followed his teaching.
- Now they are reaping the benefits, experiencing the kind of interior peace and satisfaction that comes only to the humble, to the "childlike," the ones willing take Christ at his word.
- Those who are "wise and learned," on the other hand, arrogantly demand that God explain himself completely before they agree to trust in him.
- That's a reasonable expectation to have from a politician, but it's a diabolical attitude to take in relation to God.
The "wise and learned" are the Pharisees and Sadducees, the successful people and the intellectuals - the ones who will eventually nail Jesus to a cross instead of "taking his yoke upon them."
- They can't imagine that maybe, just maybe, God knows a little bit more than they do, and so they should accept his teaching with faith, the way children trust in their parents.
- And as a result, they cut themselves off from the joy, interior peace, and deep satisfaction that only Christ can bring.
- By refusing to take up Christ's yoke, they have refused to let him give them rest.
- They are committing a sin we don't hear much about these days, maybe because it is so widespread: the sin of intellectual pride.
Intellectual pride is diabolical because it tries to put the creature into the place of the Creator.
After all, we were the ones created to reverence and obey God, not the other way around.
One of the areas where this sin has done damage recently is in Catholic higher education.
During recent decades, some influential Catholic academics have been promoting a false brand of academic freedom.
- Real academic freedom simply means that professors and researchers should be allowed to follow the truth wherever careful analysis and evidence leads them.
- This was violated, for example, in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany.
- If professors in those regimes questioned the reigning political wisdom, they were punished - severely.
- But the ideal of academic freedom can also be abused.
- It can be raised as a banner for relativism, a worldview that says all opinions are of equal value, since no truth can be known for certain anyway.
- But if truth cannot be known, then academic freedom has no real meaning.
- Education would just be a popularity contest or a power-play in which each professor tries to impose his own personal truth on his students by force or seduction, not by rational argument.
- Like the arrogance of the Pharisees, relativism closes off the mind from God's light and wisdom.
This false academic freedom has infiltrated many institutions of higher learning, even Catholic ones.
- As a result, many Catholic families make great financial sacrifices to send their children to Catholic colleges, only to find out later that those very colleges are teaching against the truths of the Catholic faith.
- And that relativistic teaching has a ripple effect on the rest of college culture, so that students are encouraged, among other things, to experiment with immoral behavior, since moral truth, the relativists say, is as unsubstantial as academic truth.
- The results?
- Many Catholic colleges have the same rates of drug and alcohol abuse, depression, suicide, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, and sexually-transmitted diseases as the non-Catholic colleges - all because of this diabolical sin of intellectual pride.
When Pope Benedict XVI came to the United States in April , he arranged a special meeting with university presidents and other Catholic educators precisely to address this issue. He said:
"In regard to faculty members at Catholic colleges and universities, I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom. In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you. Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church's munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it.
"Teachers and administrators, whether in universities or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the Church's Magisterium, shapes all aspects of an institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual."
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to Catholic Educators, Washington, D.C., 17 April 2008.
We are all vulnerable to the sin of intellectual pride.
The best way to counteract the tendency towards intellectual pride, towards putting God's teachings on trial with our own limited and prejudiced intelligence acting as the judge, is not what we may think.
God gave us minds for a reason, and he wants us to use them.
- Other religions teach that God is so transcendent that his truth has nothing to do with the truth that we can discover through human reason.
- But that's not Christianity.
- Christ is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, but he is also the "Word of God," which is "the true light that enlightens all men."
- That's what St John writes in the very first Chapter of his Gospel.
- And it means that God is the author of all truth.
- So the truths of our faith can never contradict the truths accessible to human reason.
And so, for the Christian, the antidote to intellectual pride is neither blind, mindless obedience, nor arrogant, sterile judgmentalism.
Rather, it is childlike wonder.
- Jesus praised his Father, "... for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike."
- We welcome the gift of faith because it helps us see things that our weak human reason can't see all by itself, but it doesn't make us shut off our reason.
- As St Anselm explained 1000 years ago, Christians use their intelligence to understand the truths of their faith more thoroughly, to catch up, in a sense, with what God has revealed to them.
The next time we don't understand the reason behind some part of Church teaching, therefore, instead of closing our minds against it, like the Pharisees, we should use our minds to learn the reasons behind it.
Today, during Mass, let's thank God for the great gift of our faith, and ask him to keep always us humble and full of wonder, like true children of God.