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The question of blame and the reality of shame

If Christ endured the shame of the cross for the sake of His glory and our salvation, we must unite ourselves to Him in that experience.

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“You should be ashamed to call yourself a Christian,” someone recently wrote on my Facebook wall.

The reason? I had posted an article listing police casualties during recent protests across the country. “When are you going to care about the BLACK people that are systematically being murdered by police?” the accuser demanded. The indictment was absurd, given my numerous articles on racial inequality in America, and my willingness to affirm that black lives matter. It was also jarring and insulting, given the accuser barely knew me or my life story. Yet, I have to admit, that person is right about one thing. I should, in a certain way, be ashamed to call myself a Christian.

Shame is at the forefront of the Christian faith. Consider its most sacred image, Christ on the cross, which adorns (or in lieu of liturgical abuses, perhaps more accurately should adorn) every Catholic altar. There, high and unavoidably visible, uneasily rests the God we worship, naked, with nails through his hands and feet. He appears to us on the cross as dead, killed in one of the most dehumanizing, physically painful forms of execution ever conceived. Indeed, the word “excruciating,” meaning intensely painful, comes from the Latin excruciare, to crucify.

St. Paul declares, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23). Stumbling block and folly indeed — how can a man brutally murdered, with a cross of thorns placed upon his head by mocking Roman soldiers, be, as St. Paul says, a source of “power” (1 Cor 1:17)? How could this be an object of veneration? How could it be something worth “boasting” about (Galatians 6:14)?

In Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth, for which she won the Nobel Prize, a poor and illiterate Chinese farmer is given an image of Christ on the cross by a European missionary. The farmer is befuddled — is the European missionary the brother of this murdered stranger, and he is querying passerby to find the culprit? “Surely this was a very evil man to be thus hung,” the farmer’s father says. This interpretation isn’t too far off the mark for how many Jews would have interpreted Christ’s ignominious death — the Torah states that anyone condemned to death and hung on a tree is “accursed by God” (Deut 21:22-23).

The crucified Christ is not simply shameful in-and-of-itself. It elicits shame in the Christian viewer. The Christian in quiet solemnity gazes upon the cross, and perceives the damning truth of the matter. Christ stands crucified precisely because of our sins. He was “put to death for our trespasses” (Rom 4:25a). “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isa 53:5). “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24).

When I gaze upon the cross, I’m reminded of all my failures, as a Christian, as a son, as a husband, as a father, as a friend, and as a citizen. I’m reminded that my prayer, fasting, and acts of charity fall woefully short. I’m reminded of hidden (and sometimes not so hidden) arrogance, greed, envy, selfishness, pettiness, impatience, and lust. Like the tax collector described in Luke 18:9-14, I feel like I should stand far off, refrain from lifting my eyes, beat my breast and stammer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

And yet it is in that very moment of shame and regret that the Christian hears another word. Though “we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted…upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa 53:4-5). Christ’s death doesn’t only cultivate shame in us, it atones for sin, setting right what we had done wrong. Yet more glorious, death does not get the last word — He is raised to new life, “for our justification” (Rom 4:25). In baptism, we are united to Christ both in His death and resurrection, that we might “live with him by the power of God” (2 Cor 13:4).

When the Christian looks to Jesus, he sees not only the crucified man, but the “founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Christianity views shame as both redemptive and transformative. In His shame, Christ most intimately unites Himself to the human condition, and, in His subsequent resurrection, raises it to commune with Him forever in heaven. St. Athanasius asserted, “for the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” Shame — a universal human experience — becomes the means by which humanity is redeemed and glorified.

Christians can and should feel shame, not only for their own sins, but those of the larger organisms of which they are a part. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, speaking of ecclesial divisions, notes: “In subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church — for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame” (no. 817). This is not to say that Christians should feel personally responsible for other Christians’ sins, as if they themselves had committed them. But all Christians can have a sense of shame for our many divisions, especially when Christ calls us to be one (Jn 17:21).

If it can be appropriate for us to feel a sense of shame regarding the failures of our Church, it can also be appropriate to feel shame in reference to our political institutions. As a Virginian, I feel shame for the Old Dominion, the current governor of which endorses anti-Catholic policies, even though I didn’t vote for him. As an American, I have a sense of shame for the sin of chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation, even though I personally played no part in either. This shame emanates not necessarily from guilt of my own wrongdoing but because of my deep attachments to these political bodies. My story as a citizen is indelibly wrapped up in theirs.

It can sting to be excoriated, especially publicly. The saints would tell us, “welcome to the Christian life.” Ultimately, I would suppose, that’s the point. If Christ endured the shame of the cross for the sake of His glory and our salvation, we must unite ourselves to Him in that experience. If the saints of our Church feel a deep sense of shame and unworthiness before Christ, so should we. As our Scriptures tell us, it is precisely in that process of shame and confession that we find forgiveness and restoration. I am ashamed to call myself a Christian, and am eager to repent and discover the graces to try once more. All Christians should.


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About Casey Chalk 6 Articles
Casey Chalk is a contributor for Crisis Magazine, The American Conservative, and New Oxford Review. He has degrees in history and teaching from the University of Virginia and a master's in theology from Christendom College.

17 Comments

  1. I’d like to see Christians along with everyone else use some critical thinking and not be manipulated by political interests.
    Every week there’s another crisis that becomes politicized.
    We’re in an election year and it’s going to continue.

    • Couldn’t have said it better Mrs. Firecracker. It’s so obvious…one wonders those that have eyes can’t see, ears that can’t hear…and on and on.

  2. If someone should insist that you should be ashamed to call yourself a Christian, then you have cause to REJOICE. This is proof positive that you are on the right path as a follower of Christ.

  3. Capt David Dorn (retired), a black police officer, appears to have been shot dead by one Stephen Cannon, a fellow black man. Over a TV at a pawn shop.
    .
    But…it was black on black violence, so nothing to see there I guess.

  4. A bit much of an apologia for a bit less of an insult. Wordiness does not make for wisdom. Sorry about that.

  5. If the facts are correct, regardless of who did what, then why not publish the experiences affecting police? You did an excellent job including ALL SIDES of the matter. Caring about TRUTH is more important than anything. People need to know and understand what is TRULY happening. So POLICE LIVES MATTER TOO, in FACT… ALL LIVES MATTER.

    I’m a Christian too, and frankly, I’m fed up with the CHAOS they are spreading with violence & stealing… How exactly can anyone decent respect people who victimize our innocent fellow citizens and destroy everyone else ‘s well being? Dr. Martin Luther King would shake his head at these THUG RIOTERS SCUM HURTING EVERYONE… and tell them THEY SHOULD BE ASHAMED!! The cop who killed Floyd was fired and arrested, good. So why are they continuing to be violent? What more exactly do they want? We even agree with BLM that the cop was a sick jerk…We are aware of that message… but what else are we supposed to possibly do at this point? Commit suicide if we are not black? Because for people screaming and creating chaos THEY sure seem to be the RACIST ONES as they attack and ruin everything no matter what we do for them.
    NOTHING IS EVER GOOD ENOUGH FOR THEM.

    • Thank you, Kathryn! I totally agree with you and I am so glad you spoke out! I was beginning to think I was the only one who disagreed with the masses. Doesn’t my life matter? People thinking nothing of killing unborn babies at any stage, and even after birth! All life matters.

  6. The howling and screeds of the BLM mob.To retrain or defund the police force can only happen when the BLM mob can be retrained and all government assistance to Section 8,Welfare,Food Stamps,EBT Cards,Affirmative Action,etc,etc.That will never happen.Sooooooooooo until then the “Thin Blue Line”for a sane & safe citizenry is the reality.Even with a percentage of a few rogue officers.The alternative is the unfathomable destruction of America.

  7. The toxicity of all higher educational institutions is sadly and vividly shown forth in this circumspect self-flagellation. The author has not yet learned he cannot run with the fox and hunt with the hounds.

  8. I totally don’t agree with the concept that I am responsible for things I did not do. Lots of stuff I am guilty of but racism is not one of them. I am sick to death of people who have been given every opportunity whining about “systemic racism” which I do not believe exists. I am especially sick of black multi-millionaires like music performers and sport figures, people like actor Dwayne “the rock” Johnson complaining. Especially since their opportunities and fortune could not have happened without a large and presumably non-bigoted white fan base. Ditto electing a black President TWICE could not have happened without a considerable white vote. Yet the cries of oppression go on. Here in NY we have the spectacle of police arresting a Black Princeton educated LAWYER making molotov cocktails and tossing them at police. Yes, must be very tough to get an ivory league education and become a lawyer. I grew up white and poor.Worked very hard and made smart choices, didnt do drugs, got an education at a CITY college. The only one I owe is God. Anyone demanding I “take a knee” or admit to “white privilege” will receive a very unpleasant answer. There have thus far been 300 cops in NY injured in this nonsense. A cop in Las Vegas shot in the head.More elsewhere, some of them black. Yet, the police are the problem??? No, I dont think so.

    • I agree lJ, in a very short space of time, we have had black teachers, doctors, lawyers, President, 2 secretarys of state, political figures, surgeons (famous Ben Carlson (they should read his story!!) or read at all, I agree we do not have systemic racism. I am beginning today to not call anything racism. It is one sick person harming or killing another. I also think the media should stop saying race when reporting crime. Crime is crime, We dont say a Chinese person was hurt by a Philipino etc. We are feeding it and making it. Listen to Martin Luther King’s fine intelligent children speaking on all this. These are senseless mobs losing their souls and they dont know why. Christ crucified for us yes. Obey HIM not the mob mentality. I thank the president, military, police and all who honestly try to protect and help us. The police depts need to firmly set rules of behavior and expell those who cannot keep it true enough. But things that are going on are about mental illness of an officer and he is being dealt with. His life is over if it is any consolation. I also totally agree with the rich black people in the music and hollywood industry. Where is their organized effort to help their people and to give back in their good fortune?? Why does no one question that?? I think the mob should look there. Oprah did yeah in Africa no less. What about her country?? John 3:16 is our answer

  9. I am always somewhat confused by what Americans are ashamed of for our country’s history. We commonly cite our shame of slavery, but we never mention shame over burning women accused of being witches (on no evidence). We never express shame for the isolation of Native Americans onto reservations. Why do we discriminate these atrocities believing that the one is worse than the other? Alternatively, we never seem to be proud of anything Americans have accomplished. We are always apologizing.

    We as Catholics are very judgemental. We love to criticize our fellow Catholics based upon our feelings but few facts – just as you describe. We are quick to tear down. Slow to praise or support.

    Our faith teaches us to emulate Jesus and accept humiliation without complaint. It is very very hard to do. I admire those who are publicly criticized day after day yet keep on.

    Loved the article. Thought provoking. Thanks.

  10. “You should be ashamed to call yourself a Christian.”

    By – anonymous.

    The combination of stupidity and anonymity is now and always has been and will continue to be – lethal, and rancid.

    • In His shame, Christ most intimately unites Himself to the human condition, and, in His subsequent resurrection, raises it to commune with Him forever in heaven. St. Athanasius asserted, “for the Son of God became man so that we might become God.” Shame — a universal human experience — becomes the means by which humanity is redeemed and glorified.

      Christ never had Shame. This is theologically incorrect. Shame refers to sadness or regret cause by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.

      Mr. Chalk needs to read more of the Catechism to understand that although Christ assumed humanity to save us from our sins, He did not assume the sinful aspect of the human condition and therefore would not have suffered shame.

      Mr. Chalk should correct this false teaching!

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