What does it mean to be a fool for God?

In today’s second reading St Paul tells us:

Let no one deceive himself. If any one 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, for it is written:

“He catches the wise in their own ruses,”

and again:

The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain.

1 Corinthians 3: 18-20

I know I’ve heard the phrase “fool for God” or “fool for Christ” before, although I’m sorry to say I have no memory of where I first heard them or when I did but I’ve never really thought about it.

The Bible is chock-full of examples of “fools for God.” Noah certainly didn’t stand high in society when he built a giant ark in a time of lawless men who did not fear God. In the fiery furnace we find Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who willingly went into a fire rather than  fall down and worship a golden statue under direct order. We find Abraham who took his son, the one he had in his old age and tied him to the holocaust wood and raised his knife rather than disobey God. John the Baptist lived in the desert eating honey and locusts and baptized Jews. He told them to repent their sins, that being a Jew alone was no longer enough to ensure salvation. Job refused to curse God even when he had lost everything. The seven brothers and their mother in 2nd Maccabees who refused to eat pork in violation of Jewish law and were martyred.

In all these cases, the wisdom the world would have been to pretend, do things in private. Publicly do what society is telling you to do while quietly know in your heart you believe. But is that the right thing to do? Wise, yes. Right, no.

Christ has warned us that we will be tested for our faith. And yes, even persecuted.

When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man Comes. No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, for the slave that he become like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of this household! Therefore do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what  you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna. …Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.  Matthew 10: 19-28, 32-33

In this warning, He also gives us reassurance that when we are challenged, God will provide us with what we need to meet that challenge but also the stern (to say the least) warning that if we deny Him, He will deny us. The wisdom of the world means eternal damnation. He later classifies the only sin that cannot be forgiven:

Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven either in this age or in the age to come. Matthew 12: 31-32

And He keeps his word. When Peter denies his acknowledgment of the Jesus, he is forgiven. But denial of the Spirit is something else altogether.

This world tells us a lot of things are okay that aren’t. They just aren’t. Greed, hoarding, adultery, divorce, abortion, euthanasia, birth control to name just a few. But going along with something so as not to rock the boat when we know it is wrong because “everyone is doing it” violates our love for God. And while we, as Catholics, have readily available to us the sacrament of Reconciliation and the gift of grace found in it, our guilt can paralyze us.

When we are a fool for God, we are, quite simply, refusing to deny Christ. We are living our lives in a way that reflects Him and His love and allow the Holy Spirit to work through us to touch others. Being a fool for Christ doesn’t necessarily mean the grand gestures of walking into a furnace after publicly refusing to bow down to a statue. But it could mean a million small actions like telling the truth instead of lying about why we didn’t show up to an event or witnessing by taking care of those society finds inconvenient: the elderly, the disabled, children. It could mean finding a kind word in frustration. We are all called to be fools for God in our daily lives. And just as a small sin leads to more sin and a more dysfunctioned relationship with God and the Church, so also do small actions of professing our faith to growing healthy relationships to God and the Church.