What is it to become a Holy Fool? It is to act according to the eternal truths uttered by Jesus Christ and to despise the wisdom of the world; it is to seek what the world condemns and condemn what it esteems; it is to follow not the movements of nature but the invitations of grace. To become holy we must become fools; fools for the sake of Jesus Christ. There is no other way to mortify our pride, vanity or ambition or of subjugating our reason to the divine light of faith. Jesus gave us the example: he was counted as a fool. Are the disciples greater than their Master? “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent.” (1 Cor 1:19/Is 29:14)
Each step of advancement in the spiritual life we shall find will be the result of a more complete detachment from the things of the world and a greater disregard for all human respect. Oh, the wisdom of the folly of the saints! The folly of the saints was a divine intoxication. Without this folly certain saints would never have fulfilled the designs of God in regard to them. In order to become holy, we must suffer contempt or persecution and sometimes both. For without this how shall our esteem of men and love of their approbation be purified? And the ordinary customs of life and its rules of action must be broken through and set aside to do any great good to society when it has become false and forgotten God’s eternal truths.
He who would conceal a valuable treasure from being discovered and stolen must make use of a chest so much the less costly as his treasure is valuable. This is the secret of the folly of the saints.
RESPONSE: FR. RENE CONSTANZA, CSP
What is it to become a holy fool? Father Hecker suggests that to fulfill God’s will entails being vulnerable; letting go of the things that give us a false notion of stability, certainty and identity: “pride, vanity, and ambition.” To follow the “invitations of grace,” we not only break down the barrier that deters us from full participation in the divine life but we also become more open to the movement of the Spirit in our lives. For Hecker, “subjugating our reason to faith,” is a vulnerability that may lead us to suffer “contempt or persecution and sometimes both.” In other words, in following the One who leads us to the Father, one is confronted by and called to embrace the cross, which is foolishness to many but is the manifestation of the power of God. The liberation and empowerment that God offers is symbolized above all in the person of the crucified and risen Christ.
It is no wonder for me, that God has been more present in my times of great vulnerability: times of sorrow, loss and anxiety. During those times, I also am acutely aware of the love of Christ through friends, relatives and fellow Paulists. During my ministry, the most vivid memories of how Christ is visible in our world are the encounters with the marginalized, poor and those considered “nobodies.” I have had some grace-filled encounters and engagements during these past six years in formation. The families from the Food Pantry during my diaconal ministry; the poverty stricken families that invited myself and some of our Grand Valley State University students into their homes in the remote mountains of the Dominican Republic; and the brave men and women who opened their wounds of alienation and isolation, have all evangelized me by confronting me with the wounds of Christ in our world. It is not by chance that the resurrected Christ showed his wounds to his disciples. The irony is that in the painful engagement of our fellow brothers and sisters as subjects and not objects, we discover a new sense of life…a life to be celebrated with much thanksgiving and joy. This has been the engine in my ministry. St. Philip Neri, who was considered a fool and a clown in his time, succinctly puts it, “cheerfulness strengthens the heart and makes us persevere in life.”
Rev. Rene Constanza, CSP was ordained a Paulist priest on May 19, 2012 at Saint Paul the Apostle, the Mother Church in New York City where Father Hecker is buried. Fr. Constanza currently serves as Associate Pastor at St. Austin's Parish, Austin, TX.