Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time C 2010

I have a deep passion for philosophy which means, love of wisdom.  There are many branches of philosophy such as ethics, metaphysics (being in so far as it is being), and epistemology.  Epistemology is our theory of knowledge.  For a philosopher it is not enough to know, but how do we know what we know? 

In today’s first reading from the Book of Wisdom, we here a religious thinker struggling with the problem of knowledge.  The author recognizes that we have limited knowledge of things around us.  He or she then asks how then can we have knowledge of the true God or God’s plan for us?  If we cannot grasp what should be most apparent to us, then how could we ever know anything about God?

Throughout the centuries, many Christians had different understandings of our knowledge of God.  There are two main schools of thought; the cataphatic way and the apophatic way.  The catapatic way is most familiar to us; it uses words and images to describe what God is like.  When we were children, perhaps we asked our father or mother what God is.  If they were astute, they would tell us that is a good question and we should ask mom or dad.  Eventually, one of our parents would use images to describe God.  God is like a mighty fortress, God is like a loving mother, God is like a rock, God is like a Lebanon cedar.  We use these words and images as analogies.  Even though we cannot describe God perfectly, the things that God created bear some resemblance to their Creator. 

The other way to approach God is the apophatic way and it is found in Denis, Gregory of Nyssa, and even some readings of Thomas Aquinas.  They believe that God transcends his creation.  God is not wise because we only understand wisdom on a human level.  God is not a super-wise human but God is wisdom itself.  Our own understanding of wisdom fails to understand God’s wisdom.  The same thing is true of God’s goodness.  Our conception of goodness is not how God is good.  Since our categories are too limited, we should not apply even the good ones to God because God transcends them.

I think that is what the author of today’s first reading is trying to express.  The more we attempt to think about God, the more we recognize that God transcends our thoughts.  But we are not people left without knowledge because of God’s gift.  Where our human intellect fails us, God sends his Holy Spirit among us and gives us knowledge of himself.  We did not have to seek God out; rather, God has sought us out and given us the gift of his very being. 

Each of us has knowledge that we may not be aware of.  For instance, if I were to ask you to describe your mother you could tell me that she loves ice cream or drives a Mercedes.  Those facts, those propositions about your mother are not your mother.  Propositional knowledge is rather weak.  If I were to ask you why you chose someone as a best friend you may tell me a story about how they were there in a difficult time in your life.  This story would communicate the knowledge we derive from personal presence rather than by propositions.  Here we encounter the God who loves us in the community of faith and in the Eucharist.  We have personal experience of God and are called to share the knowledge we have of his presence with others.  At this Eucharist, we approach God with our feeble minds, our bodies, and our souls.  We give back to God everything that God has blest us with.


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