Pastoral Message – October 23, 2022
From my silliness you’d never know that I had to study philosophy for my first couple of years in the Seminary. I don’t think the seminary folks (and the Bishops of the world) considered a college degree in playing the oboe to have much intellectual value. So study philosophy I did. So much so that I ended up with another degree after a couple of years.
But as I was reading Plato and Aristotle, Origen, Augustine and Boethius, Avicenna, Averroes and Maimonides, the Peters – Abelard and Lombard, all those monastics and scholastics, Albert the Great and the great Thomas Aquinas, William of Ockham and Dun Scotus, not forgetting my personal favorite Pseudo-Dionysius (so far the list has only gotten us up to the early 14th Century – I could keep name-dropping for another 800 years- but I’ll hold back), I thought to myself “so what?”. Really, for the first year of my philosophy studies, I just didn’t understand the point of why all the navel gazing and thinking about thinking. It was only when I had to write a paper on a fragment of a lost work by Aristotle that I began to understand the whole point. The work was called “Protrepticus”. The title is the root of a little-used English word, “protreptic”. (Philosophers live to use little-used words). Even though protreptic is an uncommon word, the meaning is something we know well as Christians. In referring to rhetoric, the word means, “to turn or convert someone to a specific end”. In common Christian language, we’d more likely say “to chat with somebody to convert them”. When he first wrote his now lost work, dear old Aristotle was trying to convert young people to more thinking about thinking. That’s really what all philosophy intends – to get people to philosophize or think about existence/being, morality, justice, the world and science, and the mind in relationship to everything. (Now, that’s not the way a real philosopher would explain the specific end of philosophy, but I’ve only got a B.A. A real philosopher would be much more esoteric. Please know, I’m sorta paraphrasing.)
Humor me now. Put on your own philosophical thinking cap. My theory is that we’re all fairly rational. That means we can all be philosophers of a sort. But really, as Christians, and Catholic Christians specifically, philosophy is in our very D.N.A. Every time we open up the Word of God, which is a beautifully complex work of philosophy and theology, we have a protreptic experience. (Every time we come to Mass we celebrate a phenomenon which is also a miracle that transcends philosophy. Wrap your head around that!!!)
So, on this 30th Sunday in Ordinary time, the wisdom book of Sirach presents God to the reader. By this reading we are turned to think of a relational God who is just, attentive to all, and who hears and responds within a prayerful relationship.
St. Paul uses his own life’s experience as an example to emulate and follow in the second epistle to Timothy. His exhortation has a specific end, encouraging perseverance and faithfulness, even if under persecution, trial and seeming abandonment.
And Jesus, once again, uses a parable to take on the proud, the arrogant, the haughty, and the hypocritical. Jesus is challenging his audience, which includes all of us, to have contrite hearts, to be quick to confess our sins and then take up humility. That’s a constant point of conversion for all of us.
Now you know you’re a thinker, and you don’t need a degree to be protreptically swayed, let’s wisely take our Christian philosophy to heart. Let’s make God’s Word ever more our own. And while we can think of Eucharist philosophically; truly faith, hope and love is the best and most humble way to approach the miracle of Jesus Christ nourishing us. God bless you this week!