Counter-Cultural Wisdom


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On September 4, the Church will officially add to the canon of saints the name of a tiny Albanian nun who lived a radically counter-cultural life, embracing poverty and caring for the most down-trodden in society.  Why would anyone do such a thing?

The wisdom of the world would say this is foolishness. The world says that we should pursue fame and fortune, or at least a good job, a nice house, a couple of cars in the garage and a vacation every year.  These are the hallmarks of success.  Then again, Mother Teresa (soon to be St. Teresa of Calcutta) once said, “God did not call me to be successful; He called me to be faithful.”

Sometimes that’s hard, especially when the faith runs counter to prevailing cultural wisdom.  Jesus says some very counter-cultural things in this Sunday’s gospel (Lk 14:25-33).  He says to hate your father and mother, renounce all your possessions, and to take up your cross–the instrument of your own torture and execution. Who would choose to do any of that?

The wisdom of God can sound like foolishness to our ears.  But why would we expect otherwise? Our first reading from the book of Wisdom (Wis 9:13-18) basically says, we have a hard enough time understanding worldly things, and we live in this world.  So what makes us think we can ever understand heavenly things?  We can’t. We have to trust God to show us the path to holiness.

Christianity has for several generations now been in decline in the western world. The silver lining to this is that we get to be counter-cultural again.  In the early days of the Church, to be a Christian was to be a rebel.  It was to thumb your nose at what the world said you should consider important so that you could pursue a holy life, often at great personal risk.   Today once more, to be a practicing Christian is to be a rebel.

I had a conversation with a young woman who was about to be married, and who knew the Church’s teaching about contraception. We had talked often about it.  But her mother offered a different wisdom.  You should be on the pill.  If you don’t use contraception, you will never finish grad school.  If you don’t use contraception, you’ll never get a good job.  You need to use contraception.  It would be foolish not to.  Don’t listen to the Church.

How often does the world tell us that if we follow Christian teaching, we won’t really be happy?  The world tries to tell us that the Church doesn’t really know what it’s talking about.  It’s outdated, or unrealistic, or impractical.  Following the Church’s teaching is foolish.  But Jesus calls us to be faithful fools. He smiles and says, “Just trust me.”

Jesus called a little Albanian girl to enter religious life and renounce all her possessions.  He called her to start her own order, dedicated to serving the poorest of the poor.  She had no idea how she would do it.  Jesus called her to be faithful.  He said, “Just trust me.”  So she did.

Jesus does the same thing for you and I any time the teachings of the Church seem to run counter to the wisdom of the world.  He calls us to be faithful.  He says, “Just trust me.”

God loves you more than you will ever know.  He created you. He knows the best way to call you to Him.  Often that call will run counter to the call of the world.  Sometimes His ways may seem foolish.  It’s OK.  Be a fool.  Be a rebel.  Be counter-cultural.  But be faithful.  Trust in Him.