The Portland Peninsula and Island Parishes
Homily for the
Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reverend Kyle L. Doustou
February 19, 2017
I’d like to share with you the interesting story of Saint Simeon Salos. He was born in the 6th century in the city of Edessa, which is found in modern-day Turkey. He lived with his mother until he was 20 years old, at which time he and his longtime friend John both entered a Syrian monastery and professed their monastic vows. From there, Simeon and John traveled to the desert region near the Dead Sea and spent the next 30 years living a life of profound asceticism and developing a deep spirituality. At the age of 50, Simeon left the desert and moved to the city of Emesa in Syria where he began living a life dedicated to the care of the poor and the salvation of souls. But the three decades that he spent as a hermit in the desert stripped Simeon of any vanity and pride, and he wanted to ensure that his new life in the city would not be an occasion for these to return. And so Simeon did something unimaginable to most of us: he presented himself as a bumbling fool. He didn’t live or behave like other people and would often be found doing the most outrageous things, quickly becoming the joke of the town. Sometimes he would pretend to have a limp and other times he’d jump around as he walked down the street. Sometimes he would trip himself and other times he’d throw himself to the ground and thrash about. On one occasion he walked into the church, extinguished the candles, and began throwing nuts at the people who were praying there. On another occasion he was found dragging a dead animal by a leash around the city. And because of this, people sneered at him, insulted him, and even subjected him to beatings. Simeon caused quite a stir in Emesa, which is how he earned the name Simeon Salos – “salos” being the Greek word for “stir.” But he endured all of this with tremendous patience, realizing that his craziness would provide him with the cover he needed to set about doing the work of God without drawing the praise of the people. In secret, while the more worldly around him were not paying attention, Simeon fed the poor, preached the Gospel to the lowly, and helped many who were in need. He even cured diseases, healed the sick by his prayers, and performed many other miracles of mercy. But because he deliberately acted like a fool, no one in the city expected him to be saint, and he was able to quietly make a huge difference in the lives Emesa’s forgotten. It was only after his death that Simeon’s secret came to light, when his old friend John shared the words Simeon had spoken to him right before he died: “I beg you, never disregard a single soul, especially when it happens to be a monk or a beggar. For you know that Christ’s place is among the beggars, especially among the blind, people made as pure as the sun through their patience and distress. Show love of your neighbor, for this virtue – above all – will help us on the Day of Judgment.” It was then that the people of Emesa learned that they had been so wrong about Simeon Salos, the “crazy monk” as they so often referred to him, and they began to venerate him as a saint and to refer to him affectionately as the Holy Fool.
“Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool, so as to become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God.” These are the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians in our second reading today. These are the words that settled firmly into the heart of Simeon Salos and defined his life. These are words that should cause us to stop dead in our tracks right now and to evaluate our lives as Christian men and women. Are we deceiving ourselves when it comes to our faith? Are we trying to have our cake and eat it too? Are we seeking to deepen our love for God while simultaneously trying to earn the respect of the world and gain the praise of the crowds? Are we fools for Christ seeking to grow in His wisdom or do we consider ourselves wise in this age? Where are our priorities? Where are our hearts? What do we value most in this life? For two-thousand years people have attempted to follow Christ without becoming fools, and really what that brought them was nothing more than a Christ-less and a Cross-less social ethic masquerading as faith. Our readings today call us to more...so much more. They call us to enter into the paradoxes revealed to us in Christ...paradoxes that the wise will shirk and the foolish will embrace. They call us into a new, radical, and heavenly way of life...into a life that will inevitably be seen as foolish by those who fashion themselves as wise.
How can we not be fools in the sight of this world when our Lord and Master was seen as the biggest fool of all? The Gospel presents us with a consistent picture: God’s plan for us, for our salvation, was and is infinitely more reckless, more absurd, and more foolish than even the bumblings of Saint Simeon Salos. From the very beginning, that God would create a world to love Him that He knew would so often not: foolish. That He would decide to enter into our midst and take on our flesh: foolish. That He would place the burden of His plan for salvation on the shoulders of a young teenage girl: foolish. That the God of the universe would make His dwelling in the womb of a Virgin, become a child born into poverty, and subject Himself to the cruelties and hardships of this world: foolish. That God-in-the-flesh would bother walking around Galilee changing water into wine, multiplying bread and fish, and spending His time with the poor, the meek, the lonely, the sick, and the forgotten: foolish. That He would tell His followers to turn the other cheek when wronged, to love their enemies, and to pray for those who persecuted them: foolish. That He would actually expect all of humanity to follow His commandments, to live lives of selflessness and sacrifice, and to love God and neighbor before themselves: foolish. That He would allow His own creation to nail Him to the wood of the Cross: foolish. That He would agonize for hours on the Cross and die one of the most embarrassing, horrific, and painful kinds of death: foolish. That He would rise from the dead, reveal Himself to a few, ascend into Heaven and then expect that people will follow Him despite the fact that they cannot see Him: foolish. That He would establish a Church that would be necessary for salvation yet filled with sinful and hypocritical people: foolish. Every bit of it, my friends, every bit of the Gospel, our Catholic Faith, and the salvation in Christ that we cling to is absolutely, totally, and completely foolish. But it is precisely because it is foolish that it has something, everything, to offer our very wise, but very dark world. It is only when we embrace the foolishness of our God, of our faith, that we’ll finally be able to see reality, to see truth, and to see that what we typically think is wise amounts to nothing more than a hill of beans in the sight of God.
I’m not suggesting that we all live like St. Simeon Salos, but I am saying that an authentically lived Christian life will result in us becoming, at least in the eyes of the world, like Holy Fools. It requires us to believe without seeing, to love without the promise that we’ll be loved in returned, to trust that life really only comes from death. Instead of trying to “normalize” ourselves in the eyes of the world, why don’t we become content being fools for Christ and try giving the world what it really needs: a good dose of crazy faith, a heaping portion of foolish hope, and a full measure of reckless love.
|St. Simeon Salos - the Holy Fool|