True Christians Must Be Themselves

Aug. 26 issue column

God is not interested in a uniform humanity.

This is a very hard truth, because most of us can sympathize with Dmitri Karamazov’s complaint: "Man is too broad; I would narrow him."

It’s hard to relate to people who are very different from ourselves. The problem is not merely that the heart is too constricted to look without judgment, but that there becomes a very deep fear that we will be judged.

This is the psychological wellspring of judgmentalism.

The heart goes out into the world, bearing its personality, talents, loves, and it finds itself criticized. The impetus to kick back in self-defense is very strong.

Consider, for example, how the highly intelligent child who is called names on the playground armors himself with a contemptuous disregard for the opinions of his name-callers. This disregard can develop over time into a hard shell of disdain no longer directed only at those who hurt him, but at the entire mass of humanity, who are seen as stupid and incapable of thought.

Many Catholics experience the same thing with regard to their faith. They go out bearing the gift of the Gospel and are stoned outside of the gates of the City of the World.

Suddenly ashamed of that which is truly good within their hearts, they often feel they have only two comfortable options — join in the laughter and sacrifice something beautiful within their souls or wrap up their goodness in a shell of contempt and look down their noses at the unrepentant sinners.

Judgmentalism, then, becomes a protection for virtue.

But this kind of protection suffocates the good that it is meant to protect. The intelligent man is nowhere more stupid than when he talks of the stupidity of others. The virtuous man is nowhere more evil than when he talks of others’ sin.

There is a third way: authenticity, the Way of Truth.

"For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world: to bear witness to the truth" (John 18:37).

Christ gave himself as a gift to the entire human race. He did not worry about public opinion, but did make himself into a gift that people would feel blessed to receive.

He was authentically himself, yet when people decided to crucify him, he did not cry: "Yokels! Infidels! Philistines! Sinners!" He said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).

This is the Christian calling. We must make ourselves into a sincere gift of self for the entire human race. It is tempting, however, to try to become a different kind of person to avoid risking one’s pearls in the swine pen.

Catholics may do this by adopting the superficial characteristics of a particular saint or holy stereotype. I recall a highly intelligent friend, a bookworm with a Shakespearean tongue, trying to become a holy simpleton via St. Francis. The experiment was self-evidently ridiculous, and he soon gave it up and went off to get a doctorate in theology; yet many others do the same thing in ways that slip more easily under the radar.

Think of the Catholic woman who surrenders her interests and talents to conform to a shallow stereotype of the good wife and mother. Or of Father Anonymous, who stifles his quirky personality to present a blandly pastoral persona to his parishioners.

These people are trying to be good and set a good example, but they are making themselves unhappy and their outreach sterile; few things are less appealing than a cookie-cutter saint.
If the Church wishes to breed true saints, then Christians must strive to receive the gifts of all with joy.

As God explained to St. Catherine of Siena, "I distribute the virtues quite diversely; I do not give all of them to each person. ... I shall give principally charity to one; justice to another; humility to this one; a living faith to that one. ... And so, I have given many gifts and graces, both spiritual and temporal, with such diversity that I have not given everything to one single person, so that you may be constrained to practice charity towards one another" (Catechism, 1937).

Those who have the virtue of orthodoxy, of wisdom or of obedience are called to make of this a gift.

It is not a license to look down on the confused and the dissenting. Nor is the gift of use to anyone if it is offered Jonah-like, as though to say, "I know you’re not interested, and you don’t have ears to hear. But at least I’ve done my bit. Let your blood be upon your head."

Nor will the Church be of any use to the righteous man if he doesn’t recognize himself also to be poor in other virtues, to be a pauper who must receive from the hands of those who lack his own virtues or have the virtues which he himself lacks.

Melinda Selmys is a staff writer at