Today is the feast of all fools.

Monday, 4/1/13

The Church pulled a dirty trick on us priests forty years ago. They changed the Mass readings for Easter Monday, depriving us of a favorite clerical joke. The reading for today had always been the story of the two disciples who fled from Jerusalem. They were on the road to Emmaus, and Jesus, in disguise, joined them.

Out clerical joke involved us all taking that Monday off for golf, and anyone phoning us was told, “Sorry, but the disciples are gone to Emmaus.”

Deprived of that joke, and not feeling inspired by the new readings the Church has given us, we might turn to the large class of people we honor on April First. Let me say three things about being fools.

First, the Old Testament contrasts foolishness with wisdom in a narrow sense. The wise person is one who develops the habit of choosing courses of action that in the long run lead to happiness. The fool is one who chooses immediate gratification even though it eventually leads to regret. As part of our preparation for every day of our lives we must measure each activity against the criterion of its eventually leading to happiness or grief. 

A second thing we might say about fools, is that we should not let people make fools of us. St. Paul, in his Second Letter to the Corinthians, cautions us against allowing others to make fool of us.

A third thing I’d like to say about fools stems from an incident involving a fine priest friend of mine. He came to see me, but then let days pass without speaking his mind. At last, he asked, “Tom, do you believe it all?”

His meaning was clear enough, but I asked, “What do you mean?”

He said, “I can take any hardship.” (And that was true.) “What I can’t stand, though, is being a fool. And if I tell people they must believe something, and it isn’t true, then I am a fool.”

His honesty was refreshing. As well, it was instructive. We should never insist on anyone believing a teaching before we have come to believe it ourselves.

The answer I gave my priest friend that day was something I read in Tolstoy. He wrote that there is no need for each of us to be convincing scholars as to all our beliefs, as though all of life was a drawn out oral examination on all Christian beliefs.

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