Saint Gregory the Great Reflects on the Interior Witness

Whoever is mocked by his friend, as I am, shall call upon God, and he shall hear him. A weak-minded person is frequently diverted toward pursuing exterior happiness when the breath of popular favor accompanies his good actions, So he gives up his own personal choices, preferring to remain at the mercy of whatever he hears from others. Thus, he rejoices not so much to become but to be called blessed. Eager for praise, he gives up what he had begun to be; and so he is severed from God by the very means by which he appeared to be commendable in God.

But sometimes a soul firmly strives for righteousness and yet is beset by men’s ridicule. He does what is admirable but he gets only mockery. He might have gone out of himself because of man’s praise; he returns to himself when repelled by their abuse. Finding no resting-place without, he cleaves more intensely to God within. All his hope is fixed on his Creator, and amid all the ridicule and abuse he invokes his interior witness alone. One who is afflicted in this way grows closer to God the more he turns away from human popularity. He straightway pours himself out in prayer, and, pressured from without, he is refined with a more perfect purity to penetrate what is within.

In this context, the words apply: Whoever is mocked by his friend, as I am, shall call upon God, and he shall hear him. For while the wicked reproach the just, they show them whom they should look to as the witness of their actions. Thus afflicted, the soul strengthens itself by prayer; it is united within to one who listens from on high precisely because it is cut off externally from the praise of men. Again, we should note how appropriately the words are inserted, as I am. There are some people who are both oppressed by human mockery and are yet deprived of God’s favorable hearing. For when the mockery is done to a man’s own sin, it obviously does not produce the merit that is due to virtue.

The simplicity of the just man is laughed to scorn. It is the wisdom of this world to conceal the heart with stratagems, to veil one’s thoughts with words, to make what is false appear true and what is true appear false. On the other hand it is the wisdom of the just never to pretend anything for show, always to use words to express one’s thoughts, to love the truth as it is and to avoid what is false, to do what is right without reward and to be more willing to put up with evil than to perpetrate it, not to seek revenge for wrong, and to consider as gain any insult for truth’s sake. But this guilelessness is laughed to scorn, for the virtue of innocence is held as foolishness by the wise of this world. Anything that is done out of innocence, they doubtless consider to be stupidity, and whatever truth approves of, in practice is called folly by their worldly wisdom.

—Moral Reflections on Job by Saint Gregory the Great, pope, Lib 10, 47-48

In reading this I couldn’t help but reflect on what is happening to Christians today who are confronted fiercely by wokery. Take, for example, the sad case of Anthony Bass, who pitches for the Toronto Blue Jays. He had the audacity to post support for those who are boycotting Bud Light and Target for their bowing the knee to Baal. When confronted about this, Mr Bass, repented of his Christianity and bowed to the fierce criticism that enveloped him. I do not say this in judgment of him. He has already brought judgment on himself and we all have failed morally and disastrously on occasion; it ain’t pretty. Rather, I say it in sadness because it is tough being a Christian these days and even tougher to stand up publicly for the Truth and one’s faith. As our Lord himself told us, those who deny him now will discover to their horror that he denies them in the world to come (Matthew 10.32-33). Whatever that looks like, it can’t and won’t be pretty.

No, echoing the words of his Lord Jesus, Gregory reminds us above that as difficult as scorn and ridicule are, there are benefits to be derived from our faithfulness. God can and does use our trials to help us grow closer to him in our relationship with him and to overcome the evil of this world (and make no mistake; when wokery or anything else tries to silence the Truth, it is evil). The key paragraph above is the last one in which Gregory acknowledges none of this is a recent phenomenon. The world hates Christ and his followers, always has and always will until he returns again in glory to finish his saving work. In the meantime, we Christians must realize we are at war with the spiritual powers and principalities who use human agency to try to destroy us. What should we do in response? Stay the course, speak the truth in love, boldly and faithfully with all humility, and let God use our enemies’ hatred to help bring us closer to him.

Gregory also has wise advice for those on either side of the political spectrum. Be firm but gentle in our response to our enemies. Conservatives should pay special heed to this advice because when we get in the ditch with the pigs we get as muddy as those who sling mud at us, and this doesn’t bring honor to our Lord or those who profess to love him. Instead we should remind ourselves daily about Saint Paul’s musing on God’s interaction with his people:

18 Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. 19 For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are.20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay.22 For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children,including the new bodies he has promised us. 24 We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope for it. 25 But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.)

26And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

Romans 8.18-29