Be an (April) fool for Christ

Aaron Lambert

The Denver Catholic would like to announce it will not be partaking in April Fool’s Day. In other news, the Pope has decreed Denver Catholic the greatest Catholic publication in the history of the world.

Ok, you got us.

Everybody loves April Fool’s Day. It’s a free pass to play pranks and openly engage in tomfoolery, and who doesn’t love a good prank — or tomfoolery?

The truth is, if you’ve ever pulled a gag or caused mischief on April Fool’s Day, you have the Catholic Church to thank, according to some historical accounts.

It was Pope Gregory XIII who, in 1582, would unknowingly give rise to the world’s silliest holiday. He issued a decree ordering that all Christian nations adopt a standardized calendar, called the Gregorian calendar. This moved the new year from the end of March to the first of January, causing a great deal of confusion for some. Those poor saps who were ignorant to this new tradition or simply didn’t want to observe it were mocked as “fools.”

And thus a day practical jokes – most done in good fun, and some admittedly not – was born, one that endures to this day.

In many stories, the literary archetype of the “fool” is often portrayed as a bumbling, clueless jokester who lives up to his namesake. Being a fool is not an admirable thing to strive to be; quite the contrary, in fact. Why would anybody desire to make a fool of themselves? It’s a perplexing thought.

As it were though, the entire Christian faith is founded on the life of one man who was thought by many to be just that: a fool.

The Christian life, it could be argued, is a call to foolishness. As Elvis Presley once sang, “If I’m a fool for loving you, then that’s just what I want to be.” If anyone can lay claim to be a fool (and justifiably so) for loving a particular person (or in our case, group of people), it’s Jesus Christ. His teachings were radical – foolish, some might say – but as the human embodiment of God the Father, loving like a fool is what he came to teach.

When was the last time you loved like a fool?

Perhaps we’ve been thinking about April Fool’s Day all wrong. Instead of being a fool to someone, why not be a, as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Corinthians, a fool for someone; namely, Christ. Don’t put a “kick me” sign on your wife’s back; put a “kiss me” sign on your forehead. Yes, April Fool’s Day is done in good fun and is not bad in and of itself, but as with any other day, let it be an opportunity for conversion, that our hearts might be more conformed to that of “Christ the Fool.”

COMING UP: Pilgrimage: A journey through Church history

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“Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” Paul proclaims these words the end of the book of Acts, capping off the biblical narrative of the work of the Apostles. The story of salvation history doesn’t end with the death of the Apostles, however, but continues in the life of the Church, fulfilling the words of Paul. The Gentiles have accepted the Gospel and have built up the Kingdom of God on earth. This is our story and we continue it.

If you want to know how the story continues after Acts, I’ll be teaching a class through the Denver Catholic Catechetical School this year, called “Pilgrimage: A Journey through Church History.” It begins with the early Church and follows the story to today. The class explores the Church Fathers, the fall of Rome, the building of Christendom, the High Middles ages, the Reformation (perfect for the 500th anniversary this year), the expansion of the missions around the globe, the modern revolutions, and the Second Vatican Council. We’ll be looking at and discussing the most important historical sources and exploring the art of the various time periods. We’ll be entering into the Church’s story by allowing the key figures and events to guide us.

We see one turning point in the story in the year 430. St. Augustine lay dying in Hippo as the Vandals prepared to sack and conquer the city. Augustine lived at the end of an age as the Roman Empire slowly crumbled, but also at the beginning of a new Christian one, an age he helped forge. The great doctor of the Church thought through the implications of the rise of Christianity in an age of political decline and saw right into the heart of history. History, unlike the focus of our textbooks, finds its true course not in politics or economics, but through love.

Augustine posited that all mankind belonged to one of two cities: the City of God and the City of Man. One city took its shape by loving God before all else and the other in a love turned inward on oneself. Augustine taught us that we live as citizens of our true homeland above even within the midst of this passing world: “The glorious city of God is my theme in this work. . . . I have undertaken its defense against those who prefer their own gods to the Founder of this city—a city surpassingly glorious.” Augustine’s teaching laid the foundation for a new Christian civilization, Christendom, which sprang up amidst the ruins of Rome in Europe.

One young man unexpectedly began building the foundations for this new civilization. He was studying within the ruins of the decadent city of Rome in about the year 500 and fled the temptations of town to live as a hermit in the wilderness. Eventually, others flocked to him and he laid the foundations for monasticism throughout Western Europe. The monasteries provided the foundation upon which a new society was built. St. Benedict, for this work, has been recognized as a patron of Europe and a true father of Christendom. His Rule does not seek to build up the earthly city, but looking to the City of God to “hasten to do now what will profit us for eternity.” And this is the key to Catholic culture and history: seeking the lasting the city helps us to live better in this life, with wisdom, courage, and hope.

We are all pilgrims, living in exile in the city of this world, and journeying toward the heavenly Jerusalem: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come” (Heb 13:14). And yet we have to build a city on earth and looking to the past provides inspiration for this great project. This is why we should study Church history, especially as our culture goes through a period of upheaval, not unlike St. Augustine’s time. We need the witness and the legacy of the saints and doctors to guide our pilgrimage as we continue the story of the Church. Looking to the past helps us to plot out our own path on our journey to eternal life.

Class details

“Pilgrimage: A Journey Through Church History,” John Paul II Center, Denver. Tuesdays, 9:00 AM. Information Sessions: Aug 1 and Sept 5, 9:00 AM. Classes begin Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Register at: https://www.regonline.com/builder/site/Default.aspx?EventID=1968327