The lukewarm blindness of “I’m Christian, but I’m not…”

By now you may have seen this video produced by BuzzFeed. I saw it late last night when I read this story by Mollie Hemingway on Twitter. Then today I was sent this piece written by Matt Walsh.

I can only say that two passages from Scripture immediately came to mind as I watched the video and followed this story. The first is from Luke 18:9-14:

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The second is from Revelation 3:15-17,19-20:

“I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing; not knowing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. … Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

As I wrote to a friend of mine while we discussed the video, this world is filled with too many lukewarm Pharisees, but too few tax collectors. None of the lukewarm relish the thought of being chastened by Jesus or having to repent. That would mean having to admit to sin and we can’t have that.

In his latest book Hints of Heaven Father George Rutler writes about the parables of Jesus, including the one above from Luke. In his commentary on this parable Fr. Rutler writes:

The Pharisee went to the Temple to boast, like those who go to funerals to praise the dead and by so doing smile at death with nervous bravado. The Temple was the Pharisee’s sounding board and its arches a frame for his virtue. … The Pharisee “trusted in himself and despised others.” He thanked God that he was better than the publican. It was not gratitude. It was self-canonization, and self-canonization ends with the self, for the self has not the metaphysics to haul itself up to the holy altars.

Of the publican (tax collector) Fr. Rutler continues:

The publican dares not raise his bloodshot eyes to the blinding glory of heaven. … He is a sinner, and he knows it, sensing a splendor that the miniature mind of the puffed-up Pharisee missed. Both have souls, but only the publican knows what his soul can yet be. The Pharisee’s charade of holiness struts like Napoleon who, as Victor Hugo said, “embarrassed God.” Sins hurt the Divine Mercy, but the chief sin of pride is immeasurably worse, for it embarrasses the Divine Majesty.

I won’t go so far as others I’ve read and say that those in the video aren’t Christians, but if they are they have almost no idea what being a Christian truly means and are bringing scandal upon themselves and the rest of the Church by saying such inane things.

The martyrs did not lay down their lives for warm and fuzzy platitudes. They gave their lives for Christ because of their zeal, their knowledge of themselves as sinners, and because of the One whom none of these misguided kids could bring themselves to name in the video.

For example look no further than the saint whose feast we celebrate today, St. Peter Claver. While not a martyr, can you imagine any of those in that video (or using a trending hashtag on Twitter to pat themselves on the back) giving of themselves the way Claver did?

St. Peter Claver (1581-1654)

St. Peter Claver (1581-1654)

Along with Father Sandoval, Pedro (Peter Claver) would go down to the docks to meet the arriving slave ships, keeping an eye out for them from a watchtower. The ships came from all over West Africa, and the slaves spoke many different languages. The spectacle of what they saw being offloaded was shocking: a terrible smell, half-starved men, women and children chained in groups of six, having not seen daylight nor washed for months. It was usual for a third of the poor souls to die en route. The slaves were extremely frightened when they came ashore, convinced they were about to be sacrificed. Pedro tried to put them at ease with his retinue of interpreters, and gifts of blankets and fresh fruit. Sometimes Pedro would not wait for the ship to offload, but paddle out in a canoe.

Pedro began to show strength where other priests showed weakness. He would often kiss the open and infected wounds of the slaves, telling them that God loved them. … He would baptize the dying first, then the sick.

Brother Nicholas was his companion for many years, and recalled there were times that he could not cope with Pedro Claver’s work. Many times he went to see dying slaves, held in stinking dungeons in the slaveowner’s houses, where others could not enter due to the stench of death and sickness. … In 1633, they both went to see a slave girl dying of smallpox. Brother Nicholas took one breath of the foul air in the girl’s room, fell down, and could not continue. Pedro gave the negress his crucifix to kiss, cleaned her wounds, and prayed for her. The girl recovered.

[snip]

The last 4 years of Pedro’s life were very tragic. He was afflicted by a degenerative disease that slowly made him bedridden. He was given his own slave, Manuel, who was charged with feeding and helping him. Manuel is known to have mistreated his master, pushing him roughly when helping him get dressed. (Source)

As you would imagine, Claver was not a popular person with the slave traders or even other priests. But to this saint it was never about popularity or the accolades of this world. He would not have been interested in making videos extolling how accepting he was. Like most saints, and those to whom Christianity is not a popularity contest or something worn on their sleeve one hour a week, he was too busy getting things done.

From today’s Office of Readings, a letter written by the saint:

Yesterday, May 30, 1627, on the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, numerous blacks, brought from the rivers of Africa, disembarked from a large ship. Carrying two baskets of oranges, lemons, sweet biscuits, and I know not what else, we hurried toward them. When we approached their quarters, we thought we were entering another Guinea. We had to force our way through the crowd until we reached the sick. Large numbers of the sick were lying on wet ground or rather in puddles of mud. To prevent excessive dampness, someone had thought of building up a mound with a mixture of tiles and broken pieces of bricks. This, then, was their couch, a very uncomfortable one not only for that reason, but especially because they were naked, without any clothing to protect them.

We laid aside our cloaks, therefore, and brought from a warehouse whatever was handy to build a platform. In that way we covered a space to which we at last transferred the sick, by forcing a passage through bands of slaves. Then we divided the sick into two groups: one group my companion approached with an interpreter, while I addressed the other group. There were two blacks, nearer death than life, already cold, whose pulse could scarcely be detected. With the help of a tile we pulled some live coals together and placed them in the middle near the dying men. Into this fire we tossed aromatics. Of these we had two wallets full, and we used them all up on this occasion. Then, using our own cloaks, for they had nothing of this sort, and to ask the owners for others would have been a waste of words, we provided for them a smoke treatment, by which they seemed to recover their warmth and the breath of life. The joy in their eyes as they looked at us was something to see.

This was how we spoke to them, not with words but with our hands and our actions. And in fact, convinced as they were that they had been brought here to be eaten, any other language would have proved utterly useless. Then we sat, or rather knelt, beside them and bathed their faces and bodies with wine. We made every effort to encourage them with friendly gestures and displayed in their presence the emotions which somehow naturally tend to hearten the sick.

This is the type of example we celebrate, remember and honor with our actions…and this is just ONE DAY out of 365! The lives of the saints inspire us to give our all as they did to…I dunno…Voldemort? At least you’d think that was his name, since none of those in the video could bring themselves to utter the name of Jesus Christ.

In the Buzzfeed video one of the participants says: “A lot of people think Christianity ruins people, but to me I think it’s people that are ruining Christianity, you never really see the good that happens, you only see the hypocrites, and the people who put themselves on a higher pedestal.”

To this I reply as Matthew Henry did when in his commentary on Psalm 82 he wrote: “A gift in secret blinds their eyes. They know not because they will not understand. None so blind as those that will not see. They have baffled their own consciences, and so they walk on in darkness.”

To miss the good and the beautiful in Christianity and its adherents each and every day you truly must be willfully blind. Those who have eyes that see what God sees find ways to help the helpless and imitate Christ like St. Peter Claver. They don’t participate in naval-gazing passive-aggressive self-congratulatory exercises for BuzzFeed.

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2 thoughts on “The lukewarm blindness of “I’m Christian, but I’m not…”

  1. Pingback: A better response to “I’m Christian, but I’m not…” | Mere Observations

  2. Pingback: I’m Christian, But… | Maggie Madly Writing

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