Holy indifference is an important element of the Christian life. By its practice, we are less controlled by the spirit of the world and freed to a greater extent to do the work of God.
By Derrick Huestis
15 July 2019
The problem of indifference seems to be at the core of every argument between those in a relationship. From the argument of “You don’t really care, do you?” to that of “You never listen to me,” the problem of indifference seems to explain it all. But can there ever be a time when it is good to be indifferent?
According to St. Francis de Sales, the answer is yes. In his book Treatise on the Love of God, he tells us that holy indifference is to be practiced in all things relating to the natural world. He praised the Apostles for their own indifference. As he says:
O God! what Indifference they had! Their sorrow is joyous, their poverty rich, their death life-giving, their dishonour honourable, that is, they are joyful for being sad, content to be poor, strengthened with life amid the dangers of death, and glorious in being made vile, because – such was the will of God.
For the apostles, nothing seemed to stick, and no affliction could stop them from doing the work of God. This is holy indifference.
When we care about the things of the world, we are controlled by them. When we are indifferent to these worldly things and put all our care into that which is holy and of God, then we hand ourselves over to do the work of God. The Apostles were indifferent to the sorrows they faced, subsequently feeling joyous in them. They were indifferent to the dishonors the world brought them, and by way of this received the honor of sainthood. They were indifferent to the poverty their mission brought them and received the riches of heaven instead. Truly the indifference they had for the hardships and evil the world and Satan had to throw at them is something for us as Christians to marvel at and try to imitate ourselves.
As in times past, we still live in a period where we can imitate this indifference as the world seeks to stamp out the last of the faithful. We as Christians can, for example, be afflicted for our beliefs on marriage. As another example, although in our hearts we know it is the sin of homosexuality we are against and not the sinner to whom we desire salvation, the world accuses us in order that we care about its views and change our stance. But if we are indifferent to the views of the world, we uphold the truth of God, which is what we as Christians should truly care about.
The world also seeks to pull us to care about many other lies, beyond that of distortions of marriage or homosexuality. Think about the topic of abortion. We Christians, out of love for children, new life, and God are opposed to killing children at any age and regardless of if they are still in the womb. But once again, the world accuses us, trying to make us feel guilty in order that we care about its stance. They tell us it is uncompassionate that we would want a woman who has been raped to go through with birth, or that an impoverished woman should have to carry the burden of childcare. But aren’t these perfect opportunities for that mother to show unconditional love for her child? And, as we know, a child’s right to life must be upheld. Let us once again employ holy indifference in order that the world not drag us down.
When we live our lives in accord with holy indifference, we imitate the life of our savior. Jesus didn’t care about the feeling of the money changers when he overturned their tables, but rather he cared about the truth that his Father’s house was being profaned. In Matthew 23, when he accused the Pharisees of much evil, calling them hypocrites and warning them of their impending condemnation to hell, he likewise was indifferent to how they might feel when hearing the truth of their ways. Instead, he cared about bringing their errors and lies to light.
We as Christians need to learn to do the same. If we choose to care about the things Satan tempts us to care about rather than the things God calls us to care about, it can have very detrimental effects. Think, for example, of what occurred in the last century when Catholic priests were accused of sexual abuse of minors. Rather than remove them indefinitely from active ministry, many bishops tried to correct the situation by ensuring they received psychological help. Under the guise of compassion for these priests, the bishops inevitably allowed many more children to be victimized.
This is the plot of the Devil, to trick us into caring about the things he wants us to care about so that we fail to do the work of God. We need to learn to become indifferent in a holy way so that we may not fall into these errors. Let us learn from Luke 10:40 where we encounter the story of Mary and Martha. While Jesus was in their home, Martha accused Mary for not caring about the fact that she was doing all the chores and instead choosing to listen to Jesus speak. And yet how does Jesus respond?
Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.
This is our call, be indifferent to the worries of the world and place our cares in the things eternal. We need to remember this as Catholics, especially now and in this age. Evil demands our constant attention and will use any venue possible to get it, whether it be through politics or entertainment or anything else. But what are all these things compared with the salvific work of our amazing God? Let us be like Mary and place our focus on what really matters—eternal truth.