ashamed of the son of man?

By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 16, 2007

Hearing today's gospel (Mark 8:34ff), the following hard words of Jesus hit home:

For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

For many contemporary Catholics, denying Jesus takes the form not of apostasy under duress but of "being ashamed" of him and his words -- not frequently, perhaps, but on those occasions when they are anxious not to appear uncouth or ignorant or in the grip of unfashionable moral hang-ups. Business luncheons, faculty receptions, museum benefit galas can by more subtle means accomplish what Tyburn and the Coliseum could not. When a Christian finds himself in the company of prosperous scoffers, it's hard, particularly with a manhattan or a glass of chardonnay in hand, to interrupt the flow of elegant blasphemy, and it's all too easy to feign agreement by one's silence. In such circles, mention of the Son of Man -- i.e., positive, non-sarcastic mention -- is as unlovely as a brown tooth. Yet what Christian would have the honesty to admit that he kept quiet in such circumstances because he was ashamed of Jesus? It hurts to think about.

Readers of C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters will remember the demon Wormwood's attempt to damn his patient by acquainting him with "just the sort of people we want him to know -- rich, smart, superficially intellectual, and brightly sceptical about everything in the world." The senior devil Screwtape wants to make capital out of the tactical situation:

Tell me more. Did he commit himself deeply? I don't mean in words. There is a subtle play of looks and tones and laughs by which a Mortal can imply that he is of the same party as those to whom he is speaking. That is the kind of betrayal you should specially encourage, because the man does not fully realise it himself; and by the time he does you will have made withdrawal difficult.

No doubt he must very soon realise that his own faith is in direct opposition to the assumptions on which all the conversation of his new friends is based. I don't think that matters much provided that you can persuade him to postpone any open acknowledgment of the fact, and this, with the aid of shame, pride, modesty and vanity, will be easy to do. As long as the postponement lasts he will be in a false position. He will be silent when he ought to speak and laugh when he ought to be silent. He will assume, at first only by his manner, but presently by his words, all sorts of cynical and sceptical attitudes which are not really his. But if you play him well, they may become his. All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be.

The chilling fact is that a believing, ordinarily dutiful Christian can be brought to deny the Son of Man without any of the barbarities of the torture chamber, but simply through the desire to get a laugh or avoid a sneer. I wonder how much of the headway that the counter-Christians have made among Western élites is abetted by these trivial acts of moral cowardice on the part of believers who know better (and know they know better). I confess it's not clear to me what the Son of Man's "being ashamed" will consist in -- i.e., his being ashamed, when he comes in his glory, of those who were ashamed of him. Whatever form it takes, it's pretty horrible to contemplate.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 18 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Feb. 19, 2007 11:13 PM ET USA

    When someone in a group setting is touting, say, abortion, I have a friend who -- instead of direct preaching -- asks, brows furrowed, head tilted, "When DOES the soul enter the body? Do we know?" This no-preach, ask-a-question approach is wise because they (as do we all) will resist someone else telling them "the answer," whereas if it comes into their OWN head...then it's bloomed in their own soul.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2007 7:04 PM ET USA

    Killian, Thank you for your wonderful reflection on the meaning of the photo. Now I can sleep well tonight!

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2007 3:36 PM ET USA

    I get the sense that the people are "all of us" who have ever been caught with the right people, at the right time in the right clothes and just pray that no one realizes that we don't really fit in. At those times I would most likely do (and say) anything to escape with what I precieve as my dignity still in tact.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 18, 2007 11:51 AM ET USA

    Okay Diogenes, posters to the site have been begging. Enlighten us! What's the scoop with the pic? I'll guess it has something to do with "The Film Society of Lincoln Center." Any hints? come on, be a good guy.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 17, 2007 3:40 PM ET USA

    This is a useful Lenten meditation, particularly after the recent ones about love, joy and “eros” from high up. Not only are we assailed by scoffing non-believers and Socialists on all sides, but we are facing an ecclesial institution run by many Judases. But if we are people of daily prayer and charity, the light will shine for others to see. And if people together mock our religion, we can unite with our Lord who is the one being mocked. Pray silently “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, forgive them.”

  • Posted by: - Feb. 17, 2007 8:09 AM ET USA

    If these guys are priests, they sure look way cool with tuxes and all. Come on Diogenes, are the identities of the unrecognized people pictured of some importance? I couldn't find Waldo, if he is in the picture.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 10:04 PM ET USA

    While I most certainly lack the schooling of Diogenes, I have found that, at such events, a few well placed comments referencing the pagans Plato and Aristotle gets the message across more effectively than any direct defense of Catholic doctrine. One can have no end of fun, for example, by referencing Plato's Symposium, with its male sexual undertones and then mentioning, while reaching for the shrimp fork, that Pope B16 references the Symposium in his Intro to Christianity. Check and mate.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 7:45 PM ET USA

    "When a Christian finds himself in the company of prosperous scoffers, it's hard, particularly with a manhattan or glass of chardonnay in hand, to interrupt the flow of elegant blasphemy." You've met me, Brother Di. Let all of us who have found ourselves reading your words for strength and courage pray for one another. Our Lord's cross is heavy.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 7:41 PM ET USA

    Diogenes, Amen.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 5:36 PM ET USA

    Yes, who are the people pictured? Are they supposed to be generic "prosperous scoffers" or do they have names? Are they Catholics? Or, is it bumptious of me to ask? I myself will say that if the photo is supposed to represent "prosperous scoffers," in general, it kind of falls flat for me. How am I to know for sure that the guy fourth from the left is not a saint? Because he has on an evening suit?

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 4:46 PM ET USA

    "Tell me more. Did he commit himself deeply? I don't mean in words. There is a subtle play of looks and tones and laughs by which a Mortal can imply that he is of the same party is those to whom he is speaking." I don't generally move in such circles, Diogenes... but it works both ways. To be "God's advocate" so-to- speak... without wearing a pectoral cross or even blessing one-self before a meal in sophisticated circles you can draw blood with just a well placed subtle comment. Ave...

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 4:35 PM ET USA

    Yes, please, who are theses people?

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 3:56 PM ET USA

    Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa... This is the sin of human respect, and for most of us it's the hardest thing in the world to avoid. My Asperger's son is the only person I know who has none of it - I've always been annoyed by this ("You can't go to church in a shirt covered with food stains?" "Why not?" "Because everyone will think you don't wash!" "Well, I don't mind what they think" - not said defiantly, just with calm logic), but it probably preserves him from worse sin.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 3:49 PM ET USA

    So true. So true. In addition to shame, there is also the problem that the height, the depth, the profound mystery of the Son of Man, is poorly transmitted through today's ecclesial institutions. Consider what has happened to the liturgy. St. Paul said : "In Christ dwell hidden all treasures and wisdom," (Col.2:3). If more Catholics appreciated the infinite beauty of the Son of Man perhaps they would more confidently affirm him, even in the presence of a company of scoffers.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 2:14 PM ET USA

    Not that I disagee with you, but, on occasion, being guilty of the aforementioned crime, please be merciful...we're mere mortals afterall, and can only take so many busts in the chops.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 2:06 PM ET USA

    As a child I was not afraid on a spanking or of being 'send to my room' (pre-nintendo). What drove me to obey was those occasions when a single look from my parents shouted disapproval. Such a look by Christ will burn in the soul for all times.

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 2:04 PM ET USA

    Forgive my ignorance. Who are the people who are pictured?

  • Posted by: - Feb. 16, 2007 1:54 PM ET USA

    Thank you, Diogenes, for an apt meditation on today's Gospel. Food for thought for the upcoming Lenten season, I think. Oremus pro invicem.