Pope Francis earlier this week discussed a topic in one of his homilies that may have made a whole lot of people squirm had the secular media picked up on it. The Holy Father warned on Monday that some of the greatest harm to the Church today is being caused by Christians whose faith is what sacred Scripture termed as “lukewarm,” and he even restated Christ’s end-times warning about half-hearted Christianity from the Book of Revelation(3:15-16):
“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.'”
The interesting thing about the Holy Father mentioning this and talking about it Monday is that it was not one of the readings for the day on Monday, but Ephesians 4:32-5:8 was the first reading for Daily Mass this past Monday, and 5:3-8 warns us to avoid even the appearance of immorality, and it was perhaps in these words where the Holy Father felt the need to warn against lukewarm faith.
But immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is fitting among saints. Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity, which are not fitting; but instead let there be thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure man, or one who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for it is because of these things that the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not associate with them, for once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light.
Let’s face it, these are strong words from the Pauline tradition in Scripture, and words which apparently caused even the Pope to pause and warn against those who would practice a faith that is “lukewarm” while calling themselves followers of Christ. The Holy Father even went so far as to say that those who persist in this “lukewarm” state of faith while claiming to be a part of the Church are doing great harm to the Church by bringing about a “negative witness” to Christ.
This kind of message from Pope Francis is a far cry from the image that many in the secular news media are attempting to portray of him. We often hear about the Pope Francis who speaks of God’s love and mercy, and the Francis who says, rightly, “who am I to judge,” but there may be a reason we don’t hear much in the secular press about the Holy Father’s daily homilies or his messages at his weekly Wednesday General Audience, and perhaps that reason is because what we would get if we blended Pope Francis’ words that make the secular headlines with the things he preaches each morning at the Domus Sancte Marthae or his words at Wednesday Audience would be a much more complete picture of the message of Pope Francis and a fuller presentation of the Gospel message that he is being called to promote.
To preach and speak of the dangers of being lukewarm in our faith is spreading a message that not many in the world or even in the Church will be keen to hear. It is important for us to hear this message because many of us have struggled with periods of what can only be characterized as lukewarm faith in our lives. The words of St. Paul in Ephesians which led to the Pope’s reflections is a passage of Scripture that ought to give every one of us pause to think about whether what the epistle writer warns the Church of that day to avoid could apply equally in substance to us today. St. Paul warns the early Christians to whom he wrote to avoid sexual immorality, impurity, filthiness, even what the Revised Standard Version calls “silly talk” and what is rendered as “filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking” according to the English Standard Version, or, as the Douay-Rheims puts it “obscenity or foolish talking or scurrility, which is to no purpose.”
How many of us have been guilty of this kind of thing in our lives? I will admit that I have, God forgive me my weaknesses and sins. However, Pope Francis seems to be reminding us that attempting to walk with Christ while acting and doing the way the world acts and does is the very definition of what it means to be “lukewarm,” a condition that the Scripture describes as one that causes the Lord to “spew you out of my mouth.”
How many of us have gone to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, only to very purposefully go home and watch a television program or movie that is filled with filthy language, needless violence, promiscuous behavior, or all of the above? How many of us have filled our weeks with speech and action that is vulgar at the very least, and vile at worst? How many of us have wished ill upon our neighbors through the week and then enter into Mass on Sunday, singing with the rest of the People of God…”Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to his people on earth…?” In warning against lukewarm Christianity, Pope Francis is taking very direct aim at the hypocrisies that we are all guilty of in modern life, and he is saying to us that if we are going to loudly and proudly profess the faith, as we well should, we had better be prepared to live out that which we are professing.
Scandals in the Church have been caused in our own day and time, and in every time, by men and women of God who professed Christ with their lips but did not live up to that profession in their lives. In a very real way, of course, none of us live our faith perfectly at all, and the mercy of God understands this by giving us a way to be free from our sins through the power of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross by way of the sacrament of Reconciliation. While understanding, then, that none of us are perfect, and none of us are immaculately conceived as the Blessed Mother was, we need to remember that lukewarm Christianity harms the Church because the whole world is watching us. If the fruit we produce is not good, how can we effectively spread the Gospel if we ourselves do not live it? Let us recommit ourselves to living lives more fully committed to the Gospel in all that we do.