Sunday Sermon for March 11, 2012, the Third Sunday of Lent, Year B

Readings: Ex 20:1-17, 1Cor 1:22-25; Jn 2:13-25

In the second reading today St. Paul states the obvious, but he does so in a manner that calls us to take notice. He tells us that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and that the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. This is of great importance today because human pride seems to be at a peak that it has not known for many centuries.

In its original context the words of St. Paul are addressing the weakness and the foolishness of the Cross of Jesus. It was a scandal to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but for those called, Jesus is the power and the wisdom of God. Today the Cross is generally accepted and readily ignored. By accepted I do not mean that people are generally accepting the Cross as the means to salvation, rather, it is accepted as a sign of Christianity. For this reason people do not even discuss the concept of the Cross when it comes to their own redemption. Instead, they ignore it completely as something old, irrelevant and foolish.

When we consider the standards of the day in which we live, we will find that the precepts of the Ten Commandments, listed in the first reading, are also readily ignored. Often they are ridiculed because those who do not want to live in accordance with them have to try to justify why what they are doing is acceptable. The easiest way to do this is to ridicule the truth so that we can be convinced that we do not have to accept it.

St. John’s words at the end of the Gospel today are perfect for our situation: Jesus would not trust Himself to the people because He knew them all, and did not need anyone to testify about human nature. He Himself understood it well. This is real wisdom! It really just comes down to the point St. Paul is essentially making: we think we have a better idea than God.

This is, of course, the height of foolishness, but the idea of doing what God wants seems so stupid to us. What amazes me is that over and over again society has to come back to admit that the way they had chosen, the way that was smarter than God’s way, did not work. Of course, it is rare that we will humble ourselves to admit that God’s way is best; instead we just look for another idea that will work better than the last one.

Today the topic is not the Cross, it is contraception. I praise God because of all of the topics that He could have used to make His point, He chose the one that society thinks is the most foolish. As Catholics, we have an opportunity to stand with God and with His Church. For the first time in my lifetime the Bishops of the United States are standing firm against a government that wants to tells the Church what it can believe and what it cannot. Even more astounding is the fact that many of the leaders of the Jews, the Protestants and other groups are standing with the Bishops. This is nothing short of a miracle in itself, and to think that the topic is contraception. I realize that it is a larger issue of religious freedom, but we also have to look at the particulars and realize what God is doing. It is the foolishness of the Church’s teaching that is being attacked. It is the apparent point of weakness in the Church because so many who call themselves Catholic use contraceptives or have been sterilized.

Throughout history it has always been the Bishops of the Catholic Church who have led the way in the battle. Now it is happening again. The truth appears weak and foolish in the eyes of so many wise and strong individuals who know better than God. This is nothing new. The Ten Commandments and the Cross have been thought foolish for 3500 and 2000 years respectively.

Contraception is not just a recent phenomenon; it goes back thousands of years. People get confused because they do not see contraception condemned in the Bible. It is, but under the heading of witchcraft. Witches, until recent times, made the potions that were intended to contracept or abort. From Onan in the Book of Genesis right up to our own day people have thought that the ways of God are foolish. Now is the moment for us to stand for the Lord and be thought of as weak and foolish. But we know that the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom and we know that the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Indeed, we stand with Jesus Who is the Wisdom and the Power of God.

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit