We are not born knowing how to live. We do not have a built-in “philosophy of life.” In order to learn how to think, how to judge situations, and how to make decisions, we listen to what other people say, and we try to find some kind of wisdom.
These days we can watch talkshows, or read newspaper columns, or surf the world-wide web in search of wisdom. But in ancient times, people sought wisdom by listening to wandering teachers who went from town to town, speaking in public squares to anyone who would listen. These teachers presented themselves as philosophers, and curious people came out to listen to what they had to say and to ask questions.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul tries to explain the difference between the teachers of the Church and these philosophers. The Apostles have not come to the city of Corinth to teach a “philosophy of life.” They are not offering advice, tips to increase self-esteem, or dietary hints.
The Apostles have come, St. Paul insists, to bear witness to something that has happened, something that affects everyone on earth. God has become man, and He has done what needs to be done for all sins to be forgiven. The Son of God died on the Cross for us, and then He rose again from the dead. This happened. The Apostles came to tell everyone that this happened, and for no other reason.
This section of I Corinthians is very illuminating and encouraging for us, because we are up against the same problem. We are surrounded by the suggestion that Catholicism is one “philosophy of life” among many; it is a “tradition” that is good for a lot of people, but not for everybody. Christianity is one of mankind’s “great religions.” The preachers and teachers of the Church must fit in; we must take our clerical place alongside all the preachers and teachers of all other religions, and Oprah, the Dalai Lama, Richard Simmons, and the yoga instructors of the world.
To this, St. Paul replies: We do not offer yoga instruction, or self-help classes of any kind. St. Paul insists: I am not a philosopher; I have nothing whatsoever of my own to teach you. I am not an expert of core-muscle toning or low-carb desserts.
I came to tell you that your Creator, the Almighty One Who made you out of nothing, died on the Cross for you, so that you can go to heaven.