The other day, I had the uncanny feeling that St. Paul was talking directly to me. I was reading in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Has not God turned to foolishness the ‘wisdom of this world?’” (1 Cor. 1:20). Since I had recently given birth to my eighth child, these words led me to reflect on how the “wisdom” of the world would have advised me to act differently in my vocation as a mother—to have fewer children so we could save more money and not have to deal with the discomforts of frequent pregnancies and the demands of a large family. But, as I read on, I found, “For the Jews ask for signs, and the Greeks look for ‘wisdom’; but we, for our part, preach a crucified Christ” (1 Cor. 1: 22-23). Yes, I thought, the wisdom of the world preaches pleasure while Christianity preaches the cross, which means sacrificing our own comfort, as in my case, in many pregnancies and births.
Of course, I realized that St. Paul’s words have a broader application than my own particular situation, so I was startled to read, “For consider your own call, brethren” (1 Cor. 1:26). I found it eerily coincidental that St. Paul was telling me to apply his words to my own vocation at the very moment when I had been doing just that. For a second I felt as if he had written his letter specifically for me!
Unfortunately, this passage from St. Paul’s letter applies to many people today; in modern society, Christians often must ignore the “wisdom” of this world and embrace the cross for our society no longer upholds Christian values. Not only Christian parents who remain open to new life, but pharmacists who refuse to sell contraceptives, nurses who won’t assist at abortions, businessmen who won’t participate in dishonest practices, teachers who explain the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, young women who research to find mail-order companies that sell modest clothing, parents who do not allow their children access to objectionable music, TV shows, or video games, and even children who face ridicule for not laughing at impure jokes told in the schoolyard – all of us, as Catholics, are called to reject the wisdom of the world and embrace the cross – even if it means losing money, our jobs, our comfort, or our friends.
St. Paul does not pretend that embracing the cross is easy. With surprising candor, he tells us that he preached “in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Cor. 2:3). When we are suffering – whether from morning sickness, unemployment, social alienation, or financial distress – our weakness, our fears and our trembling may threaten to overwhelm us. How comforting to remember at those times that, isolated as we may feel in modern society, we are not alone. As Catholics, we believe in the communion of saints; we know that we have brothers and sisters in Christ in Heaven, in Purgatory and on earth who have faced and are facing similar circumstances. They, like us, have struggled to choose the cross over worldly wisdom and have felt their own weakness, fears, and trembling.
The world has not changed so terribly much. Yes, technology has grown by leaps and bounds, but the world itself is still on the same mission, using all its power to influence Christians to compromise their faith and choose worldly advantages and comfort over truth and goodness. Each of us, as Catholics, can read this letter from St. Paul as if it was personally written to us, considering our own vocation and calling in life. For who among us will not stick out like a sore thumb if we are true to our beliefs and reject the “wisdom” of the world? But, reading this letter from our big brother St. Paul, we know that what we face has been faced before by centuries of faithful Catholics who wrestled against the wisdom of the world and triumphed in the cross.