Year B Easter 3
In Henry VI, Shakespeare writes, “Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge is the wing
wherewith we fly to heaven.” Ignorance and the refusal to modify an opinion can, in fact, lead to a 100 year long war, at least that’s what King Henry teaches us.
In medieval theology there was a long-running debate over which was more important: knowledge or love. Of course, we know that love is the greatest of the virtues and without it we are nothing. I could be a walking, breathing encyclopedia of theology but if it’s all up here in my head only, I won’t be a saint. The debate was more subtle than that, though, it was about which we must acquire first, or which leads to the other. Does knowledge come first or does love? Must we think first, or act first? St. Bonaventure and the Franciscans argued that it was an act of the will, it is our decision to love, that was most important, but St. Thomas Aquinas and the Dominicans said otherwise. In the end, Aquinas was correct. The summary of his teaching is this – you cannot love what you do not know.
If you don’t know any better, you can go out and love all the wrong things. When I was a teenager I died my hair blond and had an eyebrow ring, and I loved how I looked. I could love all my vices and not know any better. Shakespeare subtly makes this point himself in the play Romeo and Juliet. Those two knew nothing, absolutely nothing. They were, like, 13 years old, fell madly in love, and ended up more or less ruining their lives because they had no clue what that love meant or how to positively direct their feelings.
St. Peter explains to the people in the Temple that, in their ignorance, they helped murder the Son of God. They freed a murderer instead. And they did all this thinking that they were doing good because they didn’t know any better. This is the extent to which ignorance can lead us astray.
There’s an interesting passage in the Catechism that says, “Conscience must be informed and moral judgment enlightened…the education of conscience is indispensable.” Each of us has a conscience, but we are not infallible and our own judgments can and do go astray. This means that we have a duty to ourselves to feed our minds, to keep learning, to struggle with Church teaching that seems difficult, because we want our minds to have all the material they need to make wise decisions. We want to love the right sorts of things.
St. Paul, in his letter, is desperate that we not sin! He says that helping us form our consciences is the very reason he is writing. This is the job, too, of the priest as a spiritual father, to tell you the difficult truths, not so the priest can judge you – because God knows I’m a sinner too – but for precisely the opposite reason. Your faith is yours alone, and you deserve all of the information available so you can best love God. Personally, I tend to shy away from controversy, so I probably let you down to some extent, here, but if I never talk about abortion, or marriage, or immigration, or even smaller things like eating meat on Fridays or how we receive communion, I’m failing you.
In his ministry, Our Lord speaks difficult truths. He talks about sin and the final judgment and hell. He opens up the scriptures with his disciples and helps them to gain knowledge about what is contained in them. He helps them to understand what their duty is to God and their fellow human beings.
Parents, this is also your duty to your children. To teach them what it means to live a valuable, meaningful life, to discern right from wrong, how to rise up to the challenge of life and emerge victorious and independent, unafraid to stand up against the whole world if need be to defend what is good and noble and pure. This will at times cause your children to become angry with you, because the road less traveled is challenging. Don’t worry about it. They’ll get over it. In fact, they’ll thank you for it, because within the boundaries of the knowledge and teaching you provide them, there is great freedom.
This is the scourge of our times, the idea that freedom is the same thing as choosing whatever we want with no limitations. But look at our society right now, it follows this philosophy and it’s in ruins, because if we reject knowledge in favor of unfettered choice to do whatever we want – and a species of this is to claim I have my truth and you have yours, which is just code for I’ll do whatever I want – when we reject knowledge, then the people who talk loudest and carry the biggest stick will control us. The bullies take charge, the politicians, the global corporations. When we choose sin, we seem to have made a choice that isn’t available if we follow God’s commandments, but we don’t find freedom by doing so. We actually limit ourselves and become less than what we could be, because we have given a piece of ourselves over to a vice and have closed a piece of ourselves off from the infinite. All of the sudden, what seemed so liberating is revealed to be slavery.
So, it is not limiting to acknowledge sin, and it is not limiting to try to live a life guided by a conscience that is formed by the light of Church teaching. This is freedom, because now you can make up your own mind with all possible information, now you are free to love God.
We are witnesses of these things, that ignorance is not bliss, that to know and love God is the greatest, most life-giving opportunity offered to the human soul, the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.
Lord Jesus, open the Scriptures to us that we may know you.