The 3rd Sunday of Lent
First Reading: Exodus 20:1-17
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 19:8-11
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 1:22-25
Gospel: According to St. John 2:13-25
The axiom beginning with the phrase, “There are two types of people in the world…” has an infinite number of variations. Gandhi said that his father told him that the two types were those who did the work and those who took the credit, and that he should try to be in the first group because “there was much less competition.”
In his first letter to the Christian community in Corinth St. Paul gives his own variant on this oft-used expression when he says, “Jews demand signs, but Greeks look for wisdom.” Here Paul lays out in a very simple fashion the seemingly eternal battle between faith and reason, religion and philosophy.
In our own day St. John Paul II spoke of this in his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio. At the time of its publication Nicholas Wolerstorff, the distinguished professor of philosophy and religious studies at Yale, noted the irony of the fact that two centuries after Voltaire mocked the Church as “the bastion of irrationality” it was the pope of that Church who is one of the few voices “to put in a good word for reason.”
This does not place the Church on the side of the Greeks, but it does indicate that the Body of Christ has one foot in their camp. Derided as irrational - from the Enlightenment revolutionaries to many in today’s “science is real” crowd, the Church has always maintained the belief that the universe is guided by logos, a Greek word that can be translated in a number of ways but is the root of the English word ‘logic’. Logic, reason, and the wisdom that arises from their uniting with experience, are all essential components of the Catholic worldview.
In light of our Catholic tradition of ratio, where does that leave fides? The Church has never sided with the fideists – those who believe in, as Notre Dame philosopher Alvin Plantinga states in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the reliance upon faith alone to the disparagement of reason. It is upon such fideism that the story “The Blue Cross” by G.K. Chesterton turns. Fr. Brown catches a thief pretending to be a priest because, as Fr. Brown tells the thief as well as the great French detective Valentin, “You attacked reason – it’s bad theology.”
And yet the Church believes in and promotes the most faith-based of all faith-based phenomena – the miraculous: millions visit Lourdes, Fatima, Guadalupe; Pope Francis attests to the Eucharistic miracle at Buenos Aires during his time as archbishop; and the Church carefully guards the greatest of all relics, the Shroud of Turin. So what gives? Is the Church the true friend of reason, or is She mired in the swamps of religious mumbo-jumbo?
As proposed by St. Paul, there is a way out for the Church, and it relies on the Man Whose image is imprinted on that sacred cloth from Turin: “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified.” Just as at the Resurrection the veil of the Temple was torn in two, so was the false dichotomy between faith and reason, signs and wisdom. The miracle of the Resurrection was a sign brought about by the God who is Logos, and thus it was revealed to the world that faith and reason derive from the same Divine Source.
At the end of this weekend’s Gospel reading from St. John, Jesus says that no one needed to tell Him about human nature and that “He Himself understood it well.” He understood that it was natural for the Jews to say to Him, “What sign can you show us?” Little did they know that His answer would, as St. Paul wrote, be a stumbling block for them. That sign, the Resurrection, may continue to be a stumbling block for many, but for others it is the ultimate reason to believe.