Posted April 05, 2012:
Fools for Christ

by Catherine Doherty.

From my day of prayer and fasting in poustinia (a Russian word meaning "desert," or "place set apart"), I bring you an unusual word: urodivoi, a Russian word meaning "holy foolishness"—being a fool for Christ.

In my heart all day long were the words of St. Francis, "The Lord told me to be a fool and simpleton, the like of which was never seen before."

This is Eastertime, and it occurred to me that this idea blends well with the themes of Holy Week and Easter, for Christ exhibited a greater holy foolishness than did St. Francis.

Can you imagine anything more foolish than voluntarily dying on a cross? I had been thinking of other possible ways in which God could have saved us, if he had so chosen. But then those ways vanished, and I understood something of the depth of sin.

As I contemplated these thoughts, I realized that the words, "holy foolishness" and "wisdom" are interchangeable. Nevertheless, throughout the day I kept asking myself what, exactly, this foolishness meant, for something eluded me.

Toward evening I began to understand that to be a fool for Christ’s sake means first of all to love him passionately, above all else, and to be recognized as one in his service, as one of his companions.

It also means to have immense courage. I have a favorite prayer which seems to fit here: "Lord, give me the heart of a child and the awesome courage to live it out as an adult."

It seems to fit, because only a child, that is, an adult person with a childlike heart, can become a fool for Christ’s sake—only someone who really trusts God.

Being a fool for Christ means facing ridicule, being singular in a manner of speaking, being a non-conformist. Each one of these things is, until one absorbs it slowly and lovingly, like a sword in one’s heart; and for a long time they are the essence of our struggle with God.

But, frankly, there is more to being a fool. We must tell the truth, as court jesters of old "foolishly" told kings the sometimes unpleasant truth about themselves. This was dangerous, but because of their humility, they could get by with "correcting" the king, so to speak.

We must tell the truth to all we meet. The manner of telling the truth will be varied according to the persons and situations. At times the truth will frighten us, for speaking it will demand a courage that may lead us almost to death.

But Christ said, Go and preach the Good News to the world. This is the truth we must give to others.

Yes, foolishness for Christ’s sake. He wants us, like St. Francis, to be fools the like of which the world has not yet seen. He gives us St. Francis to show us the way, to help us risk exposing ourselves to ridicule.

We are asked to imitate Jesus Christ. Is anything more foolish than spending years as a carpenter when you are God? Is anything more foolish than spending your time talking with ordinary people, when the whole world is yours, for you created it?

Can you imagine anything more foolish than hanging on a cross? What God said to St. Francis was, "Be like me."

Anything and everything we do must be approached with the foolishness of God. We must approach everything with prayer and a sort of identification with Christ.

We must always ask him, "What would you do in this situation or that, which is facing us today?"

Lord, you always seem to ask more from us. We must be fools about money; we must give away whatever we don’t really need. We must be detached from it and rely on you.

Lord, you want us to be foolish like St. Francis. In other words, you offer us your wisdom. Give us the grace to accept your wisdom, because we are so afraid of it.

Your wisdom is based on the darkness of faith, this stygian darkness of faith. Give us courage to walk in that darkness. Give it now, Lord. Give us the courage to walk into that darkness of faith, and let our foolishness be our light.

It is not easy to make out of foolishness a lantern to light our path and that of our neighbor. But we love you and your voice is heard in our hearts. You are calling us to the impossible, which with you is always possible.

In our daily, nitty-gritty lives, there are a thousand possibilities a day to be fools for Christ. Forgiving others, for example. Or overcoming our fear of pain and rejection, of being hurt—remembering how Christ has been so terribly hurt for us.

There are two civilizations: one man’s and one God’s. We are called to the civilization of God. This involves the folly of the cross, being defenseless, as Christ was before Pilate.

Sometimes what we are asked to live or to do will seem stark stupidity not only to others, but to ourselves.

Always, we have to depend entirely on God, who says, "Without me you can do nothing." After a while if we let go and trust him, an incredible freedom breaks through.

We are asked to expect everything from God, to live in a dimension where miracles are going to take place, on a faith level, so that the absurdity of the Gospel really becomes part of us.

We can’t be afraid of failing. We must be free to fail.

We have to march to God’s tune, and be willing to be out of step with everybody else.

This can be a kind of martyrdom, in a sense. But we are all called to be out of step with modern secularism, with a society that has turned its back on God. Through our very lives we have to stand up and speak and live the truth.

Excerpted and adapted from Urodivoi, (2001), pp. 11-16, available from MH Publications.



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