Wisdom and Christian Witness

In a few months we’ll close out the Year of Faith that began under Pope Benedict and was highlighted so beautifully in Pope Francis’ first encyclical, Lumen Fidei.   In the past year – in fact, in every year now, according to the Holy See – more than 100,000 Christians are killed worldwide for reasons related to their faith.   That’s the real cost of discipleship.  That’s a measure of heroic character.

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I’ve spoken many times about the importance of religious freedom and the need for all of us to actively witness our Christian faith not only in our private lives but also in the public square.  The sacrifice of Christians in other countries, who write their Gospel witness in their own blood, places an obligation on all of us to live our faith with courage and zeal, endurance and hope, and to begin every new day by grounding our hearts and our actions in the wisdom of the Church.

Nothing is more compelling than a good man, or a good woman, in an evil time.  Wisdom is the pursuit of the true, the right and the lasting.  In the record of Scripture and the witness of the Church, all these things find their source in God, and nowhere else but God. 

Genesis tells the story of the Tower of Babel (11:1-9), and it carries a useful lesson.  The pride of men in seeking “to make a name for [themselves]” and to build a tower to heaven leads God to confuse man’s language and scatter humanity.  But I think God intervened against Babel not to punish man but to save humanity from itself.  In the Bible passage, God says, «If now, while they are one people all speaking the same language, they have started to do this, nothing will later stop them from doing whatever they presume.» 

In an age of genetics, neuroscience and nanotechnology; an age of political arrogance; an age that refuses to admit the purpose of human sexuality, or even that man himself has an inherent identity, free will or nature, those words from Scripture should make each of us pause.

In his great work, The City of God, St. Augustine created a portrait of the world divided into two cities — the City of God with its eyes set on heaven, and the City of Man rooted in pride and sin.  Life consists in choosing one or the other.  It’s a choice we can’t avoid.  And each of us faces that choice right here, today, now.  The wisdom which the Church offers the world is for the humble, not the proud, and it’s the only wisdom that counts: the path to salvation. 

But this salvation is not a philosophy or an ideology, an idea or ideals.  No one can “love” an idea, and yet the heart of real wisdom is the ability and willingness to love.   Augustine says that all of the wisdom in the Old Testament literally takes on flesh in the New Testament.  The reason is simple.  Jesus Christ is the Word of God — the Wisdom of God – God as love incarnate.  Jesus himself says, «I am the bread of life.»  He says, «I am the way, the truth, and the life.»

No one can love an idea.  But we can love and be loved by Jesus Christ.  We can meet and be met by God’s Son. The true, the right and the lasting meet in a Man.  Our task is to follow him, no matter what the cost, and to lead others to do the same.

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Charles J. Chaput

Archbishop of Philadelphia

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