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Sublimity-free Evangelism

Updated on September 1, 2020

“There is no greatness where there is not simplicity, goodness, and truth.” ~ Leo Tolstoy

The sublime taste of butter...

These were the words of my first boss, words he spoke whenever we would have lunch together. He would hurriedly sit down, rapaciously tear apart a piece of bread that was placed at the table (complimentary bread was always a prerequisite for any dining establishment we chose), his soon-to-be greasy digits negotiating the “pat” of butter like Pablo de Sarasate working the slender neck of a Stradivarius or Corporal Newkirk feverishly turning the tumblers of the safe he had been ordered to crack by Colonel Hogan on my favorite television program of all time, Hogan’s Heroes. It was a sight to behold, watching this otherwise cantankerous, Oscar-like grouch of a man escape right before my very eyes, melting into his own ethereal, buttery paradise. Given his passion for bread of the buttered variety coupled with my strong affinity for fish, it’s highly doubtful that there would’ve been 7 wicker baskets left over had we both been on hand when Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. (Matthew 14:13-21).

As a lover of words, “sublime” became one of my favorites at a young age and remains so to this day. It’s the kind of word that draws you in, grabs your attention. Webster defines the word sublime as “lofty, grand, or exalted in thought, expression, or manner” . . . . “tending to inspire awe usually because of elevated quality (as of beauty, nobility, or grandeur), transcendent excellence.” I provide this definition for those of you who, upon hearing the word “sublime,” immediately revert to the American ska punk band from Long Beach, California of the same name that emerged in the late 80s. A good band for sure and one that enjoyed a modicum of success, but their name ~ just so you know ~ was not chosen because they traveled from concert to concert by way of a green submarine or anything like that. In any event, I can’t say for sure if Saint Paul liked or disliked the word itself, but as he points out in today’s 1st Reading (1 Corinthians 2:1-5), it had no place in his ministry.

“When I came to you, brothers and sisters, proclaiming the mystery of God, I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul knew that Jesus was the true cornerstone of our faith (Psalm 118.22), the reason for our hope. It was his innate passion and tireless fortitude that permeated his discipleship and subsequent ministry. A straight talker at heart, it would certainly be interesting to hear Saint Paul’s response to some of the more popular lies being perpetrated in our world today. What would Paul say, for instance, to the politician who told him that abortion, after describing exactly what it is and how it is carried out, is “reproductive healthcare?” Or to a friend who were to say to him over coffee one morning that a man could become a woman if he so chooses?

Catholicism is in many respects the search for simplicity, a simplicity rooted in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is the daily, under the radar pursuit of sainthood. As Mother Angelica once said, “where most men work for degrees after their names, Catholics work for one before our names: 'St.' It's a much more difficult degree to attain. It takes a lifetime, and you don't get your diploma until you're dead.“

Like many others, I greatly admire the Doctors of our Church. I believe wholeheartedly that my faith has been enhanced and galvanized by their profound intellectual writings and other assorted works as has the faith of countless others. But at the very heart of their message, the Saint John Chrysostoms, the Saint Teresa of Avilas and the like, is a simplicity of faith, a simplicity that keeps us free from the deception of the evil one Wisdom, knowledge and understanding are indispensable gifts of the Spirit, but as Saint Padre Pio was always so quick to point out “the devil is capable of confusing the most brilliant mind.”

Martin H. Fischer once said that “knowledge is a process of piling up facts. Wisdom lies in their simplification.” As we strive to grow in our faith, may we always remember to pause to encounter the risen Jesus in the people we meet, the tasks we perform, our prayer life and by way of the Sacraments. “Everything should be made as simple as possible,” said Albert Einstein, “but not simpler.”

For thoughts on today’s Gospel (Luke 4:16-30), I invite you to please revisit the following Reflection:


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