Lack of Indifference, Making Our Lives More Difficult
The Ash Wednesday Confession of Sin enables us to tell the truth about ourselves. One of the acknowledgements, "Our indifference to injustice and cruelty," has stayed with me since then. I am an avid reader of the news and often find that my indifference is a defense mechanism against so much bad/sad news. It can also be an antidote for compassion fatigue. One of the hazards and illusions of living in the United States is that it seems that we are far from the worst of what is happening in the world. The greater the distance the less I need to care about it. Sometimes ignorance is bliss but indifference is indeed deadly. It is a catalyst for numbness and self-absorption. Indifference might be as bad as or worse than the injustice and cruelty about which we are indifferent. Caring takes work, engages the heart and the mind, enlivens the soul, and changes the world near and far.
Today happens to be the saint day of Martin Luther. Saints' days are their death days and Luther had to call it quits 470 years ago. Thirty years before he died he found himself increasingly troubled and even distressed about the state of his church. It seemed oblivious to almost everything we confess on Ash Wednesday: unfaithfulness, pride, hypocrisy, apathy, self-indulgence, indifference, exploitation, negligence, not to mention how many of these sins crystallized in the sale of indulgences. Luther would name them all as he began his protest and the Protestant Reformation. He ushered in a world of trouble and made the lives of those around him exceedingly difficult. He compared the Word of God to a surgeon's scalpel. There is no healing without hurting.
Three hundred years later Søren Kierkegaard would go after the comfortable but corrupt Danish Church with his protests. He often noted that many smart people in his day had blessed others by inventing many labor-saving devices. Kierkegaard felt called to a different path, the way of the cross: he declared himself a preacher devoted to making everyone's life more difficult.
Pope Francis is on to something big when he calls the church to fast from indifference. In his annual Lenten message, the pope writes, “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.” His message is well worth reading! He often quotes the early Christian mystic John Chrysostom who said: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.” In a world where so much time and effort is spent on enriching ourselves, Francis names one of the greatest issues of our time: the globalization of indifference.
In this season of lent, I pray for much less indifference and more of a troubled spirit so that I might suffer for the sake of others, and raise a voice in protest.