This past week when I was visiting classes I noticed that the students are getting to the point in the quarter where they are beginning to take tests and quizzes. Gone are the fun days of August and handball, now it’s time to get to work. In many ways that dynamic is mirrored in Mark’s Gospel today. Last week we heard about Jesus healing and performing miracles. That’s the fun part, everybody loves a good miracle. Today, along the road, things get more difficult, Jesus gives the apostles a, “pop quiz.”
First there is the “multiple choice” part of the quiz. “Who do people say that I am? John the Baptist? Elijah? One of the Prophets? The Christ? Well it looks like Peter did a pretty good job with the multiple choice, he manages an “A” on that part of the quiz. However, on the second part of the quiz, the “short answer” part, he doesn’t do so well. But instead of writing, “F+” at the top of his paper, Jesus writes, “Get behind me Satan!”
Joking with the analogy aside, what does the story reveal to us about our relationship and knowledge with Jesus? By getting the multiple choice right, but not the short answer, he shows us that we all still have more to learn. As my favorite philosopher and theologian says, for every light of knowledge we gain into Christ, there is still an infinitely greater darkness. It’s true for all of us. We all have more to learn about Christ.
In terms of how to learn more about Christ, Jesus gives us a little clue later in the Gospel. He warns Peter that he was thinking “not as God thinks, but as human beings do.” Note, he doesn’t say “not as God memorizes, but as human beings do.” He says, “thinks.” This is why we must do more than just memorize the decades of the Rosary, the Commandments, the Sacraments, and the Beatitudes etc. We must learn to think deeper about these issues.
This is why when I taught high school I told the students, I don’t just want you to learn what the Church teaches, though I obviously want that, I really want you to learn how the Church thinks. I don’t want it to be well Fr. So-and-so said this, but Fr. So-and-So said that. I want you to be able to know what the Church says, and how the Church thinks. This is why they were so excited when I told them on the first day of class I would give them the final exam question. Every student, even me last year, wants to know what’s going to be on the exam. So they were thrilled when I told them I would give it to them up front. Then I told them, their exam would be just one question, “Connect the dots.” In other words, demonstrate how the Church thinks about these different issues and how they are connected by a common reasoning, a consistent way of thinking.
When adults heard about the class, they said they wanted to take it too. So in Columbia I launched an adult education class. I’m happy to announce that starting next month on October 15th, I’ll be launching the class here at IC in Jeff City, “The Church in the Modern World: Foundations of Faith.” This way you too can learn a little more about how to, “think as God thinks, not as humans do.” To that end, don’t worry, you’re not going to have to sit there and listen to me talk for an hour and a half.
For the first half hour or so, we will open up the floor for questions. It won’t be Q & A, but rather Q & Q. That is continuously asking more questions as we attempt to delve deeper into the issues, kind of like peeling back the layers on an onion. In the second half hour, I will present a summary of different Church texts, so you can see what the Church actually teaches about these issues, and not what someone says the Church teaches. In the last half hour, we’ll reopen the discussion to see how the first two parts work together, how it is that the Church attempts to answer some of the questions raised, how the Church thinks about these different issues.
This time around I’m doing seven weeks called, “Foundations of Faith,” with topics or issues chosen together with our parish education commission. In the Winter and Spring, I’ll open it up to everyone to help pick out the topics.
I want to conclude by way of a little bit of a preview of sorts, as the topic the first week will be “Faith and Reason.” I’ve been talking about learning to think, “not as God does, but as human beings do.” It’s important that in hearing that line we don’t create a false dichotomy where on one side there is how God thinks, and on the opposing side, how human beings think. Rather, we believe that human reason is a good. Furthermore, that it is a gift from God. So it isn’t about rejecting reason in the name of God, but rather allowing God, and faith rather to be infused with our reason. To allow them to elevate our reason to its fullest potential. In that way, while we like Peter, may not know everything, passing the multiple choice, but not the short answer, may begin start thinking as God does and not as human beings do.