This homily borrows heavily from Peter Kreeft's Lecture, "Lost in the Cosmos"
On the ancient temple of Apollo at Delphi there was an inscription made famous by Socrates: it said: “Know Thyself.” This inscription presupposed two questions: first, who are you? And, second, how would you know who you are?
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In our modern world, it is a strange paradox that many people know more about the arts and sciences than they do about themselves. Some astronomers, for example, know more about the universe than they do their soul. The same can be said of any profession, really. What is interesting is that, today, many people know more about current events than they do themselves. Many can tell you all about the complicated dynamics of the Middle East, but when asked whether they have a soul, they respond: “I don’t know.”
Often, we in the modern world think we are smarter than those who came before us. Ancients, for example, made the mistake of trying to understand the cosmos by myths instead of science. They turned things (like the sea) into persons and so personalized the universe. We know better: the sea is a thing, not a person. But modern man took those conclusions too far and deduced that persons are simply things.
This deduction overlooked a very simple truth that we learned as children, that while there are similarities between things and persons, there is also a fundamental difference: a Person is a “you,” a “me”—and not simply an “it.” We are a part of nature—and there is something about us that is separate from it—something that is super-natural (literally, something above the regular order of “things”).
And so Jesus tells us: “You are the light of the world.” This is not simply a moral exhortation. It is also a statement about who we are. You are the light of the world—you are not simply another object or another thing in the world. Indeed, there is something about you that illuminates the world. Hence, you are its light.
The discovery of who you are, therefore, is predicated upon having a way to illuminate the illumination. We need more than the scientific method to tell us who we are, because that can only tell us about the natural side of things. We need a way of thinking that can know the supernatural light found in Persons. This higher way of thinking is called wisdom.
It is wisdom that helps us to know who we are. It is wisdom that tells us “You are the light of the world.” It is wisdom we are looking for when we are trying to process, understand, and judge current events. However, it is precisely wisdom that is lacking in our world. Because many lack wisdom, many see the human person and the solutions to his problems as a great unknown.
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In his fictional book, “Lost in the Cosmos,” Walker Percy weaves a tale of a post-apocalyptic world where a remnant of humanity departs Earth in a space craft towards the system Alpha-Centauri, looking for a new home. Upon reaching the system, the space craft is told to halt. The Alpha-Centaurians wish to judge the danger that the Earthlings may pose to them.
In their wisdom, Alpha-Centaurians have found that the cosmos contains three species of intelligence which they call C-1s, C-2s, and C-3s. C-1s are innocent, unfallen, and harmless. C-2s are fallen—alienated from themselves, God, each other, and nature, and prone to selfishness, competition, and violence. C-3s are simply C-2s but who have come to know themselves, become of aware of their predicament, and asked for help—C-3s realize the need for repentance, and humility—which is the beginning of wisdom.
The Alpha-Centaurians determine through some significant and probing questions that Earthlings are not C-1s. Then they ask: “Have you asked for help?” The Earthlings have no idea what that could mean. Then the Alpha-Centaurians realize that the Earthings are C-2s, not C-3s. Permission to land is denied. The last humans die in orbit.
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I tell that story not as an attempt to address the immigration issue by some kind of back door. Rather, it is an attempt to address all of our current issues: gender confusion, the definition of marriage, the determination of when life begins, the world’s tendency towards war… All of these stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of who we are precisely because it is wisdom—that supernatural help to our supernatural person—that has been rejected by modern man.
The modern-day philosopher Peter Kreeft rightly points out: the road to hell is not paved with good intentions, but with self-help—to say, “I don’t need a Savior, I don’t need anyone telling me what I need to do. I don’t need anyone telling me who I am.” And that’s a bad position to be in because another wise man, Jesus Christ, said ““I didn’t come to call the righteous, I came to call sinners.” Wisdom reminds us, therefore, that the only people that Jesus didn’t come to save are those who think they don’t need saving. Ironically, those are precisely the ones who are lost.
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When I consider, therefore, the current issues and surrounding world reaction, I turn to wisdom and she counsels me, saying: “Fear not him who is only able to destroy the body. I will tell you who to fear: fear him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.” In other words, do not fear the bombs of terrorism—for bombs only destroy the body. Rather, fear the philosophies of this world that lead to the destruction of the soul.
I mean not to take anything away from those authentic and productive conversations that are being had concerning immigration and other civic matters, but I think Americans—and really, the world—at large should be all the more concerned about its blind assimilation of philosophies and moralities that are foreign to our dignity and which extinguish our supernatural light (or, as Jesus notes: salt losing its flavor). The most destructive of which are secularism, doubt, and practical atheism. These are the bombs that are destroying souls. And these are particularly insidious because they aren’t, for the most part, carried in by terrorists or immigrants—they are carried in by high school and university professors. And sometimes, God forgive us, by priests and parents and close friends.
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You are the light of the world. This means, 1) you have a supernatural dignity that can only be revealed and known by a higher order of knowledge called wisdom. And 2) this light will point out to the world the narrow way through our current problems—and that the ways is indeed narrow and that to navigate it successfully, humanity needs supernatural light, needs wisdom, needs God. In other words, we need to ask for help. This asking is called prayer and is accompanied by the humility of repentance. You’ll notice that this approach is dramatically different than the riots, rash judgments, and emotional reactions swirling out there. Wisdom is a light shining in the darkness—and that is who you are. Wisdom for the Gentiles, light of the world.
In a particular way, I pray for our youth, that you will surround yourselves with good friends whose light of faith is bright. I pray that our Lord protects you from secularism. And I pray that He give you the fortitude of the Holy Spirit to let your light shine before all to see—and especially when the world has grown dark.