I recently read a meditation by Frances Fernandez from In Conversation With God on the topic of human respect which has stirred a lot of reflection and thinking over the last few days. Do we ever stop to consider how many times a day our thinking and actions are influenced by a concern for what others think of us?
Christ was the greatest example for us in how to not be concerned about the respect of others. He always taught the truth, regardless of the audience or His surroundings. His enemies recognized this aspect of Christ’s teaching in Matthew 22:16, Teacher, we know that you are true, and teach the way of God truthfully, and care for no man; for you do not regard the position of men.
As Fernandez points out, “Christ asks His disciples to imitate Him in this practice. Christians should foster and defend their well-earned professional, moral and social prestige, since it belongs to the essence of human dignity. This prestige is also an important component of our personal apostolate. Yet we should not forget that our conduct will meet with opposition from those who openly oppose Christian morality and those who practice a watered-down version of the Faith. It is possible that the Lord will ask of us the sacrifice of our good name, and even of life itself. With the help of His grace we will struggle to do His will. Everything we have belongs to the Lord.”
During the day, how many times do we have an opportunity to stand up for Jesus? Is it the conversation we avoid with a troubled co-worker? Is it our refusal to pray in public and ask the Lord to bless our meals? Is it standing up to someone who is attacking the Church? Even more relevant for today, do we speak up about the direction of our country and our continued drift towards policies and laws that are anti-life and against the teachings of our Church? It is crystal clear that Christ expects us to openly confess our faith and acknowledge Him before others if we read Matthew 10:32, Whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
Fernandez wrote that overcoming human respect is part of the virtue of fortitude. He describes the challenges a Christian may endure as “…rumors and calumnies, mockery, discrimination at work, the loss of economic opportunities or superficial friendships. In these uncomfortable circumstances it may be tempting to take the easy way out and ‘give in.’ By such means we could avoid rejection, misunderstanding and ridicule. We could become concerned at the thought of losing friends, of ‘closing doors’ which we will later be unable to re-open. This is the temptation to be influenced by human respect, hiding one’s true identity and forsaking our commitment to live as disciples of Christ.”
He goes on to write, “In such difficult circumstances the Christian ought not to wonder which path is the most opportune to follow, but rather, which path is the most faithful to Christ. Certainly, our desire for popularity is the direct consequence of self-love. Our behavior will be the proving-ground of our deepest convictions. This firmness in the Faith is often an excellent testimony to the beliefs of the Christian. In some cases it can cause people to begin their return to the House of the Father.” I would suggest that taking a stand for Christ and openly sharing our true beliefs may be the biggest obstacle for many of us in growing in our faith.
Consider this quote from St. Jean Vianney (the Cure d’Ars), “Do you know what the Devil’s first temptation is to the person who wants to serve God with dedication? It is human respect.” Fernandez observes that we all have “…an inner aversion from being put to shame before others. But this sacrifice, if we make it, will be the cause of our greatest joy-to take a stand for Jesus Christ, whenever and wherever the circumstances require it. We can be assured that we will never regret being true to our Christian beliefs.”
We can’t do this alone and we must pray for the Lord’s help and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In my own experience, this is a daily work in progress and it is never easy. But, we should all recognize that there are people looking at us to see our example. They want to learn from and be inspired by our courage, if we are only willing to take a stand for Christ. I know this is not easy, but a sacrifice on our part is required. The sacrifice is simply to love Christ more than the opinions of others and to take a stand. I am struggling with this as are many of you, but let’s pray for one another and continue to ask the Lord for courage, strength and the discernment to know and follow His will and not be concerned about the respect of others.