Robert Mann: Aspiring to be a fool
In my dog-eared and ever-expanding notebook of quotations, one statement by St. Francis of Assisi has consistently been revisited: “For the Lord said to me, that he wanted me to be a fool and a simpleton, the like of which was never seen before.” The words of Paul in the letters to the Corinthians echo a similar line: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”
The words of St. Francis are startling to me because they serve as a reminder that God’s ordering of reality is completely different from the order I have adopted. I have little resistance to the view of faith as a respectable and positive component of a well-rounded person. However, living with faith as the very essence of life, making all other pursuits subservient, is certainly a pathway to being regarded as a fool.
The insatiable ego is always a contender for first place in my life. While its demands are cloaked in a promise of satisfaction, true joy remains just around the bend. Many times when I am angry, I do a quick self-analysis by asking, “Is the source of this anger related to pride or greed?” The answer is overwhelmingly “yes.” Occasionally I can trace my anger back to a moral imperative, but preservation of ego is the overwhelming winner.
There is a call to freedom from the weights and measures of this world in being a fool for Christ. While there are multiple accounts of St. Francis physically levitating above the ground, it was his spirit that must have been unbearably light as he moved through the physical world. As Paul also wrote to the Corinthians, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
Reflecting on cover letters, resumes and bios I’ve written, I cannot conceive of selling myself as a fool, “the like of which was never seen before.” It might generate a good round of laughs, but little more. Yet in my life resume, this is the one clear objective that is worthy of the Lord.
The cultural currents that surround our lives run wide and strong. Retaining Christ as a component of a respectable life will be met with unflinching acceptance. It can be an effortless course in the sense that even in the absence of aspirations movement through life occurs. Pursuing Christ as the sole meaning in life will generate chaos, curiosity and hatred, and require constant effort to remain in place or move forward. The way of the fool - the way of the cross - is an absurd invitation by any standard measure.