A tale is told set in nineteenth century France of two men, strangers to one another, traveling on a train from Lille to Paris. The first man, a university student, had seated himself beside a peasant of seemingly good means. The peasant was leaning his head against the window of the carriage — his eyes slightly opened. In the peasant’s open hands ran a set of rosary beads — his lips softly murmuring prayers as each bead was turned over. In the mind of the university student, an atheist, here was evidently a peasant petitioning a non-existent Being for a better harvest than the previous year.
- Works without Faith (cf. Matthew 25: 31 – 46)
- The Fullness of God (cf. Ephesians 3: 14 – 21)
- The Path Way to the Soul
Not able to keep his thoughts to himself about the absurdity of the peasant’s actions, the university student — tapped the peasant on the shoulder, and queried him with a slight smirk: “Monsieur, you cannot still believe in such childish things?” Opening his eyes, the peasant replied that he indeed did believe; but to the student’s surprise, a question was thrown back to him: “Do you not?”
Recovering from the shock of what the student believed to be an impertinent reply from evidently an uneducated rustic — the student burst out in mocking laughter, then told the peasant: “You would do much better if you took my advice and threw those beads out the window, and then go and learn what science has to say!”
With a glint of tears in his eyes, the peasant, again replied with a question to the student: “Science? Please explain this Science to me, for I do not understand what you say?”
Realizing that the peasant was deeply hurt by the course the conversation was taking, the student decided not to push his argument further, but asked the peasant for his address so that he could provide him with some material that would open his eyes to the world of Science. The peasant placed his hand in one coat pocket and then not finding what he was looking for reached into the other. Not wishing to embarrass the illiterate man, the university student was about to begin writing the peasant’s address on a piece of paper, when into his hand a small card was placed. The student smiling looked at the card, and then his face began to flush, and his smile faded. On the card in bold black-lettering was printed: Professor Louis Pasteur, Director of Scientific Studies of the École Normale Supérieure, Paris.
Caught up in their own self-importance and ‘wisdom’ such men and women begin to see with the eyes of the world, rather then guided in humility by the Light of Heaven, narrowing their field of view by placing people into categorized boxes, labeling, generalizing; hearing what they want to hear, seeing what they wish to see.
In his autobiography, Jean Cocteau (1889-1963), notes that he also was quick to judge people in his youth, in Cocteau’s case, not on appearance, but according to social status. Heralded, wined, dined and toasted, Cocteau was to write: “Long, long afterwards, I was to learn about the lamp which burned every night behind a corner window. It was the lamp of Auguste Rodin’s secretary, Monsieur Rilke. I believed I knew a great many things in those days, and I lived in the filthy ignorance of my pretentious youth. Success put me on the wrong track, and I did not know there exists a kind of success worse than failure, a kind of failure worth all the success in the world”. (Cocteau, 1970, p. 58) Rodin’s struggling secretary, who Cocteau had often bypassed and ignored was indeed, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926), a man who was to become arguably the greatest poet of the German language in the 20th Century.
Blinded by pride, arrogance, and even education…
Christ teaches us in the Gospel of St. Matthew, how a person’s heart may become blinded by pride, arrogance, and even education. We read of Christ praying to his Father in Heaven in this Gospel: “At that time Jesus declared, ‘I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him'”. (Matthew 11: 25 — 27, RSV)
Modern society seems to prioritise education and image-making. With regard the former, far too frequently we search to know, not for the sake of self-betterment, or wisdom, or so as to come to love more the mind of God
Caught up in their own self-importance and ‘wisdom’ such men and women begin to see with the eyes of the world, rather then guided in humility by the Light of Heaven, narrowing their field of view by placing people into categorized boxes, labeling, generalizing; hearing what they want to hear, seeing what they wish to see. The Prophet Isaiah, in describing the expected Messiah, points out how the Christ would eventually be made an outcast by his own people — how even God’s Divinity would not be seen because of the hardness of the hearts of the learned: “Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. ?He was despised and rejected by men; ?a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;?and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:1-3 RSV)
Modern society seems to prioritise education and image-making. With regard the former, far too frequently we search to know, not for the sake of self-betterment, or wisdom, or so as to come to love more the mind of God, as St. Albert the Great (1193-1280), was once motivated, but so as to excel socially and professionally; we compete, we ride rough-shod, we will even cheat our neighbour in order to gain some achievement or award in the field of education — we become in essence a parody of the Peter Principle — people educated to their highest level of ignorance; people educated so as to be blind to the face of God.
Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
We are so educated that indeed we know now how to read the Sacred Scriptures in their original form, but do we in truth understand St. Paul the better by doing so when the Apostle to the Gentiles writes: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.” (1 Corinthians 13: 1- 10, RSV) Does an extra degree in Divinity add to our saintliness — or does it make us more bitter or impatient in our dealings with our neighbours?
To the latter, that of image-making, Simone Weil (1909-1943) in the mid-20th Century warned, in The Need for Roots: “This phenomenon shows no signs of disappearing, and however disastrous the consequences have been so far, it may still have some very unpleasant surprises in store for us; for the art, so well known in Hollywood, of manufacturing stars out of any sort of human material, gives any sort of person the opportunity of presenting himself for the adoration of the masses”. (Weil, 1952, p. 114) How prophetic were the words of Weil, who wrote these words before the dawn of the media revolution that gave people who have nothing worthwhile, spiritually edifying or thought-enhancing to say the medium by which to say it.
To be a slave or free is not ours to determine. Nor is it within our power to be tall or short, to be old, or to be perfect in body, or any other thing of this sort. But to be mild, or good, or similarly virtuous does lie within the power of our will. And God asks us only for the things of which we are masters
How vastly different is this image-making and the modern quest for knowledge from what we are called by Christ to be. St. John Chrysostom teaches us in his Twelfth Baptismal Instruction: “even if a man be lame, or his eyes have been torn out, or he be disabled in body, or has fallen into the most extreme weakness, none of these things prevents grace from coming into the soul. For grace seeks out only the soul which is eager to receive it, and ignores all these external things … To be a slave or free is not ours to determine. Nor is it within our power to be tall or short, to be old, or to be perfect in body, or any other thing of this sort. But to be mild, or good, or similarly virtuous does lie within the power of our will. And God asks us only for the things of which we are masters”. (Chrysostom, 1963, pp. 181 — 182)
God does not ask us to formulate new theorems…
God does not ask us to formulate new theorems, invent new cures, engineer faster machines; nor inject ourselves with botox, or wear the latest fashions — all he requires is that we open our eyes to the meaning of living, come to the fullest self-realization, and not attempt to catch the wind in our hands. For such a reason, even the learned Pasteur, one of the greatest scientists of the modern era wrote: “I have the faith of a Breton peasant, and by the time I die I hope to have the faith of a Breton peasant’s wife.”
The work of A-D. Sertillanges, perhaps will prevent future young scientists and intellects from falling into a similar form of blindness as did the young man that day on his journey with Pasteur: “However, be very specially on the watch when you have the good fortune to talk with someone who knows and who thinks … There is a treasure there, and the onlookers play with the key but do not open the lock. People smile sometimes at their awkwardness, at their little absent-minded oddities, and there is no harm in that; what is stupid is to assume an attitude of superiority which forgets the greatness of the man. Men of worth are few enough not to be left this unused … but if we know what we are doing, we can get wisdom and a stimulus from theirs which may decide the whole course of a life. Many saints, great captains, explorers, scholars, artists, became what they were for having met an outstanding personality and heard the ring of a soul.” (Sertillanges, 1946, p. 61)
Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper, July 2017.