Today, let’s get philosophical! For those of you still recovering from the effects of your college philosophy class, this may be the salve to help heal the damage philosophical thought has done on your right side brain.
Plato has much to do with today’s Gospel. But first let us recall some basic premises of Plato’s philosophical system. Basically “up or higher” is symbolically better or more advanced than things that are down. Plato galvanized the human instinct of being and believing higher is better than being lower, physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Example: When we see someone sad or dejected we say things like, “cheer up” or conversely we might ask, “why are you so down?” We typically accept the idea of waking up in the morning and putting the baby down for his/her nap.
We are more prone to demonstrate our strength and might as a society by building very tall buildings, which seems much better than building low, large but sprawling buildings. This is why 911 was such a symbolic and actual disaster, since our tallest things were attacked and brought low. Our human way believes and applies Plato’s idea constantly, consciously and unconsciously.
Plato’s philosophy was the way most people thought and lived until Aristotle came along and changed it all, causing college undergrads, to suffer intense fear and loathing for centuries to come.
“But Fr. Jim, what does Plato have to do with today’s Gospel?” Well, I am glad you asked! Leave it to St. Augustin, for better or worse he took Plato’s philosophy and ran with it and in some ways we are still dealing with some of his enthusiastic application of Plato to Christianity (a topic for another bulletin article). To be frank, we are comfortable with the idea of heaven up (good) and hell down (bad). Of course it is easy to believe God is up and Satan is down. Doesn’t it make sense then that Jesus has to ASCEND into heaven to sit at God’s right hand. We would be uncomfortable with the idea of Jesus descending into heaven or moving some way horizontally to be at God’s right hand.
The idea of Jesus ascending up is fine and an easy image and concept to accept. The problem emerges when we insist that God and Jesus are up there….way up there and not here. We run the danger of God and Jesus being far away from us and in effect detached and remote from our lives on earth. If we insist on God being way up there than we can too often despair in believing God is too far and can’t hear my voice or notice my pain. If Apollo 8 did anything, it shattered the concept of heaven being up since from the vantage point of the moon, the earth was not really up at all. The earth is neither up or down, it just is. Where is heaven then? How do we relate to heaven and God?
Fear not! While our human vocabulary and concepts are limited, we do try and explain things the best we can. Understanding the limits of thought and language we realize that we can’t be a slave to our own theories and rigid beliefs about things especially when it comes to faith. Remember the words of Jesus “The kingdom of God is in your midst” Lk17.21. Jesus is here and not located in some far away place. This should be a comfort to us.
Remember in today’s reading from Acts, angels remind the disciples to stop looking for Jesus “up there” and start accepting Jesus in our midst.
Rev. James Kirby