The three rejections of our age

Denial of our Lord today takes the form of very particular de facto rejections, which are framed not as denials at all but as affirmations of putatively neglected or undervalued aspects of the Gospel.

"Denial of Saint Peter" (1610) by Caravaggio (Image:

The one whom the Apocalypse calls “Faithful and True” (Revelation 19:11)1 solemnly tells his disciples, “[E]very one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32–33). In his final testament to Timothy, Paul echoes his Master: “if we deny him, he also will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:12b–13).

The question has never been of the Lord’s fidelity but of ours—and that latter question has, as we all know, become especially acute and neuralgic in novissimis diebus. “[W]hen the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Of course, no one in the Church is likely to reject faith in the Son of Man in so many words. Instead, denial of our Lord takes the form of more particular de facto rejections, which are framed not as denials at all but as affirmations of putatively neglected or undervalued aspects of the Gospel.

I want to propose a diagnosis of three such rejections that especially afflict the Church today.

1. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2): The rejection of the primacy of the eternal

The primacy of the eternal is virtually a New Testament refrain, to be found in the teaching of Peter (e.g., 1 Pet 1:3–9) and Paul (e.g., Phil 3:17–21), of John (e.g., 1 Jn 2:16–17) and James (e.g., Jas 1:9–12), and of our Lord himself. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

The early Church got the message. The preaching of the Church Fathers bespeaks a pastoral prioritization of the primacy of the eternal, which furnishes the orientation of all other doctrinal teaching and moral exhortation. Open up a collection of the homilies of Origen or Cyprian, Augustine or Chrysostom, Basil or Leo, and you’ll find it impossible to miss. Too often today, the tendency is reversed. Catholic preaching frequently sidelines the Last Things in favor of a temporal agenda.

These temporal aims are frequently dressed up in the language of a realized—and often somewhat banal—eschatology, unaccompanied by a single word about sin, repentance, judgment, heaven or hell. God appears, finally, as not much more than the guarantor of a well-balanced, contented life on earth, for individuals and for society.

The point is not, of course, that Christians should neglect temporal matters—far from it! But our posture toward them should always be calibrated in the light of eternity. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt 6:19–20). Without an eternal perspective, our estimation of temporal things will be distorted. We should remember St John Paul II’s ominous echo of Gaudium et spes in Evangelium vitae: “when the sense of God is lost, the sense of man is also threatened and poisoned.”2

Faithful Christians need to cultivate a lively sense of the primacy of God and of eternal life.

2. “Shake off the dust from your feet” (Matt. 10:14): The rejection of rejection

The Lord told his disciples to expect resistance and rejection. Nonetheless, many Christians today, “conservative” and “liberal,” “orthodox” and “progressive” alike, seem to assume that if only we articulate our message with sufficient winsomeness and little enough hypocrisy, the intrinsic appeal of the Gospel will overwhelm every heart and mind. Accordingly, evangelical failure is always our fault. If the world does not accept the Gospel, it’s because we haven’t been good enough, haven’t tried hard enough, haven’t been welcoming enough, haven’t catechized well enough, and so forth. We can and must acknowledge that we often haven’t done those things, but the supposed irresistibility of the Gospel rightly presented finds little support in the Bible. Indeed, it is full of counterindications. Our Lord invites us not only to anticipate rejection but to respond to it with rejoicing and gladness (Matt 5:11–12).3

When we don’t receive this message, one temptation is to hold to the supernatural claims of the Gospel but to become reluctant to preach them clearly and boldly, instead endlessly deferring the announcement of the kerygma, and the rejection that may well follow, by way of political, cultural, or philosophical throat-clearing that few find persuasive—or even, frankly, very interesting.

Another temptation is, of course, to become ear-ticklers (cf. 2 Timothy 4:3), truncating and reshaping the Gospel to suit the world’s tastes. Too often those who bemoan the poor marks given the Church by the world fail to interrogate the standards by which those outside the faith might evaluate what they observe. At times one almost gains the impression that baptism and the theological virtue of faith are obstacles to understanding the Gospel clearly, so that it is incumbent on the Church to consult the sensus infidelium. The basic message of the Gospel, as preached by some prominent Catholics, seems to be its own universality and appeal. The Gospel is recast as a word of unconditional acceptance, without a call to conversion, transformation, and union with the all-holy God.

Faithful Christians need to announce, lovingly and clearly, the message of repentance and redemption through the death and resurrection of the Son of God, knowing that this message will not be universally received or even respected.

3. “Hath God said…?” (Gen. 3:1, KJV): The rejection of divine revelation

The Liar’s first deception was a question: has God really spoken? Is his Word reliable and lifegiving? Rejection of divine revelation is close to the root of the other rejections, for it encloses our perspective in a this-worldly frame. Of course, revelation is always verbally acknowledged, but not as that which measures us and our “experience.” This is precisely how Jesus speaks of the judgment: “He who rejects me and does not receive my sayings has a judge; the word that I have spoken will be his judge on the last day” (Jn 12:48).

Rather, revelation itself, clothed as it is in human language, is thought to be measurable by external standards—almost always those of sociology and “experience.” When the biblical Word is judged before such a tribunal and found wanting, it is rather nonchalantly modified, usually through tendentiously selective quotation. For example, one hears appeals to Genesis 1 on the goodness of creation, while Genesis 3 on the Fall and its consequences goes completely unmentioned. Scripture thus may be permitted to speak after a fashion, but only selectively and mutedly, through the interpretive filter of contemporary “experience.”

St Paul sets an apostolic example by “refus[ing] to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word” (2 Cor 4:2). Yet it is now standard practice for Catholic pastors, who are called to nourish the flock with God’s unadulterated Word, to quote and interpret Scripture superficially, facilely, and selectively, ignoring or simply omitting uncomfortable verses or passages.

Such de facto undermining of divine revelation implicitly answers Jesus’s haunting question: “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Lk 6:46). Because, Lord, we listen only selectively to what you tell us. Faithful Christians need to listen to and proclaim God’s Word, especially in Sacred Scripture, unreservedly.

Conclusion: “As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:5)

The diagnosis is dire, but the prognosis remains good, for Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, and death no longer has dominion over him (Rom 6:9). His victory is assured. Meanwhile, what are we called to do?

First, as Cardinal Pell recently put it, “If divine revelation, as found in the Scriptures, is accepted as God’s Word, we submit and obey. We stand under the Word of God.”4 We need to be committed to the primacy of Scripture. We need, as Benedict XV (not XVI!) called us to do, to be “saturated with the Bible” and thus “arrive at the all surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ” (Spiritus Paraclitus 69). For those involved in Catholic education in any of its forms, Scripture should be the sun around which our curricula and resources orbit, and from which they are constantly replenished with the light of truth and the warmth of love.

Second, the supernatural light of biblical faith affords us an eternal perspective, which, St Paul reminds us, capacitates us to “rejoice in our sufferings” (Rom 5:3) and to accept the world’s rejection without ceasing to love the world, indeed, to love it more, with the love revealed by the Father in the mission of his Son. We should, of course, hope and pray to be allowed to “lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way” (1 Tim 2:2). But we must always be preparing ourselves by way of faith, prayer, and ascetical discipline for rejection and persecution of various kinds—personal, social, cultural, even legal. Frictionless coexistence with the world has never been a guarantee. “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

Third, if we are being called to renew our “yes” of faith to the Lord, that “yes” must finally be a doxological act. The ultimate decision has always been the same: serviam or non serviam. Our supreme serviam as Catholics is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the “source and summit of the whole Christian life.” A deepened appreciation of the liturgy’s purpose, which is not only the sanctification of human beings but the glorification of God, can help us rediscover the primacy of the eternal. In Eucharistic worship, the Holy Spirit joins believers to the Son’s perfect sacrifice for the glory of the Father.

To recover the primacy of the eternal, we need to recover an emphasis on the worship of Almighty God, above all in the Most Holy Eucharist, where we encounter the transforming and deifying love of the Trinity that will strengthen us to acknowledge our Lord before men, that he may acknowledge us before his Father.


1 RSV-2CE unless otherwise indicated.

2 EV 22, which goes on to cite GS 36.

3 Note, however, that the same Paul who joined Barnabas in “sh[aking] off the dust from their feet against” the Jews of Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:51) could also write, “I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh” (Rom 9:1–3). The call to shake the dust off one’s feet is not a call to kill off compassion. The Christian can and must concur with God’s desire for “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4), simultaneously sorrowing at the rejection of saving truth and rejoicing in our conformity with Christ, who, we might add, himself lamented Jerusalem’s failure to receive him (Mt 23:37–39).

4 George Cardinal Pell, “Standing with the Word of God,” First Things, 22 September 2022.

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About Dr. John Sehorn 1 Article
Dr. John Sehorn> is the Academic Dean of the Graduate School of Theology at Augustine Institute, as well as an Associate Professor of Theology. He specializes in the theology of the Fathers of the Church, with a particular interest in their scriptural exegesis. He received his doctorate from the University of Notre Dame and has been a member of the faculty at the Augustine Institute since 2015. He is currently co-editing the series From the Side of Christ: A Biblical Theology of the Sacraments for Baker Academic.


  1. Matthew 11:15
    Whoever has ears ought to hear.

    Luke 14:35
    It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out. Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.”

    Mark 8:18
    Do you have eyes and not see, ears and not hear?

    Matthew 13:15
    To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because ‘they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in them, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand, you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.’

    2 Timothy 4:3-4
    For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.

    Acts 7:51
    “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors.

    Matthew 13:16
    “But blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear.

    Revelation 2:7
    “‘“Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the victor I will give the right to eat from the tree of life that is in the garden of God.”

    • You encourage us to seek truth. Jesus is the essence of truth and we must open our hearts to discern His message.

      The church is in trouble today because people prefer a trip to Delusional Island. Dogmas that take us away from Christ”s teachings are replacement theology and of no benefit to anyones spiritual wellbeing. People don’t like to hear this and instead, prefer set false beliefs. Attachment to folklore needs to be rebuked, first within ourselves and then speaking the truth in love to others.

      Thank you for your witness.

      2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.

      1 John 3:18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

      James 1:18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.

  2. [We] “assume that if only we articulate our message with sufficient winsomeness and little enough hypocrisy, the intrinsic appeal of the Gospel will overwhelm every heart and mind” (Dr Sehorn). Rationalization of the Gospel for appeal, a disastrous failure. Stripping it of its ferocity makes it insipid.
    Insofar as 3, the Word is the rule ‘by’ which we measure what is true, reason is the measure by which we deliberate what is true and good. Sehorn targets attempts to measure the Word by human standards.
    Simple, comprehensive, pointed. The exact three dimensions of today’s rejection of the Word [particularly well stated on pastors and preaching]. I never use this term, but here it fits. Sehorn nails it.

    • And of of course what is responsible for 2 and 3 is 1. A general loss of faith in the Word. Priests, and there are many, who no longer really believe in the Word, particularly the Real Presence in the Eucharist. The infectious disbelief reaching down to the laity.
      Loss of faith is so widespread that short of some near miraculous reversal divine intervention is the only feasible recourse. My hope is that this intervention may first be by raising men and women of great faith to reverse the deadly course the world and Church [evident in its highest leadership] is on.

  3. Regarding the key dynamic, number one, belief, the Church is at a unique time in its history, when there’s indication that there are those who do believe, but don’t wish to serve, Christ. Rather out of cowardice they remain silent, or due to malevolence they serve another.

  4. (1) Good article on the 3 rejections. I gained much from this article–inspiration and knowledge.
    (2) Forgive me for probably being imprudent or even foolish, but I blame the Vatican II revolution of the 1960s for feeding us Catholics for over 50 years now a watered down, feckless, fuzzy, incoherent, “updated,” contradictory, “ecumenical”/interfaith religion, so that many or most us would be swept along by the Pagan/Protestant culture into these 3 rejections.
    Couldn’t we have the pure traditional Faith again, please! Oh, Father, how much longer must the people suffer?

  5. The “seamless garment” refrain is beginning to reveal a trend I think. And unravel. It is crucial to note it in order not to feed the synod’s hunger for iconic themes and ways to stage falsehoods on “sensitivity”.

    This developed out of the context of the new assertion that the “pro-life” concept is “too rigid” and “fanatic”, too “focused on abortion” to exclusion; and that that must give way to “seamless garment” (supposedly) ethic or spirit accommodating “all life’s issues inclusively”.

    This “embracing” took on more and more the idea of understanding homosexuality as part of the normal course of human experience and understanding. A video of an interview with Pope Francis was revealed where he “proposed” the “legalizing” of homosexual “civil union. Now the Biden administration has run the gauntlet.

    But in essence it is anarchy. For a Catholic it is heretical. From anybody it is an attack on any part of “pro-life”. And it is a total undermining of pro-life action for babes-in-the-womb, trying to cause a rout – a distortion of sensitivity – a blurring of already clear focus: in the name of wholeness. As if we never knew and now it was necessary to have to see it through the eyes of homosexuals, etc.

    It was Catholics that proved to be bold-faced enough to use the image “seamless garment”, saying there was a “move of the Spirit” bringing a “revolution in tenderness”.

    • (1)
      On the left side of the political spectrum, there are some political leaders who cynically use the “seamless garment” rhetoric to downplay or ignore the grave evil of abortion.
      On the right side of the political spectrum, there are some political leaders who cynically use the pro-life issue as leverage (a wedge and a hammer) to justify the dismanting and eradication of labor unions, Social Security, Medicare, Workers Compensation (for workplace accidents), the minimum wage, antitrust laws, anti-pollution laws, laws that protect consumers from business fraud and dangerous products, etc.
      Jesus said that he was sending his disciples out as sheep among wolves, and that therefore His disciples must be very discerning. The world is full of wolves, on all sides, all around. Many on both the Right and Left have found the political value of pretending to be Catholic or Christian.

  6. What are we to do when a Catholic Priest encourages all three rejections in a homily to a church full of young people? My son told me that this just happened at the Catholic University he attends on the Second Advent Sunday before Winter dismissal. I am not going to mention the university because I am so disappointed – Ironically Dr. Sehorn, you may actually know this “LGBTQ Outreach” priest personally, (‘Cut the Anchor’ so we can drift with the tide, if you know what I mean).

    • (1)
      There has been an epidemic of this sort of thing ever since the Vatican II Council of the 1960s. Nothing like this ever took place before the Vatican II Council.
      I believe that if a great detective, like Columbo, Sherlock Holmes, Jessical Fletcher, or Monk were put on the case, they’d conclude that the fault lies in the texts of the radical documents that were issued forth by the Vatican II Council and that have been poisoning the minds of bishops, priests, nuns, monks, and professors ever since.
      I know it is politically incorrect or theologically incorrect to state this view. But, as they say, “enough is enough.”
      The Vatican II endorsing bishops have had over 50 years to stop tbe insanity that is going on in the Church and that is ruining souls, but they have not stopped it.
      And as long as they are faithful to the new radical views stated in the Vatican II documements they are in essence handcuffed and hobbled from taking effective action to stop the insanity.

  7. The wraparound heresy of today is “monism”: the notion that God is simply the highest level of creation. And not the Creator who is radically other (Other!) than His creation…

    It follows, then, that creation is not a gratuitous and self-disclosing act of divine love through and through. And, that the transcendent and Triune One is not given in the historical Incarnation and then the alarming (yes?) Real Presence in the Eucharist, here and now, whom we should recognize, while kneeling after the consecration, as “My Lord and my God!”

    Von Balthasar says something about this revealed Faith compared with other religions:
    “The responses of the Old Testament and a fortiori of Islam (which remains essentially in the enclosure of the religion of Israel) are incapable of giving a satisfactory answer to the question of why Yahweh, why Allah, created a world of which he did not have need in order to be God. Only the fact is affirmed in the two religions, not the why. The Christian response is contained in these two fundamental dogmas: that of the Trinity and that of the Incarnation” (“My Work in Retrospect” (1993).

    If there is no Divine Fire as the cause of all things, and no redemption, nor even a need for redemption, then we can stay with our piddly politics and boring technology–a manageable and flat-earth sort of thingy. Monism.

    • There is no synergism between God of the Bible and Allah of the Koran. Some are confused, as the Koran is a book of bewilderment and perplexity. In the Bible, God gives lessons in history and a pathway to salvation that is attainable.

      God is “let your yes be yes and your no be no. Allah is maybes with a generous helping of contradictions.

      We must be of aid to the Muslim in helping him to know Jesus Christ of the Bible. Truth is love and we must be of aid.

      Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

      Romans 4:5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

      Acts 4:12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

      Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

      God bless one and all.

  8. Where I live “boy code” homosexual communities and the street homosexualist gigolos, have a very similar speech pattern as this. I am sorry to have to bring attention to it. Pope Francis does not realize that sodomists are very entrepreneurial.

    I hope it is not Pope Francis’ intention to uphold it. I do not intend to blemish his time of Christmas nor its celebration.

    But also, Jesus never said we melt before the Father or into the Father. This melting is comparable to orientalisms and is alien to the faith.

    What Jesus indicated about unity is, that the communion He gives us, is from Himself. “I in you and you in Me” is not “melting”. Proof is given in that He describes Himself as both Good Shepherd and Sheep Gate.

    Pope Francis ought to stay within the Advent themes. Anticipating the Easter too much outstrips both the time and the space that the Creator allocated for them and for us.

    Perhaps what Pope Francis ought to desire is not “the good vibes” but the talent to pay attention better? As it is the burden on the laity is too high but in any event may they rely better on God by it.

    I am not a priest but I think that jumping all over the map with messagings amounts to a decrepit and highly disjointed spiritual direction; that chases the Holy Spirit.

    ‘ The Holy Spirit gives us the ability to recognize God’s fatherhood. We have a tender, affectionate Father who loves us, who has always loved us. When we experience this, our hearts melt, and doubts and fears dissolve. Nothing can resist this love. ‘

  9. I don’t understand the negative view of Benedict XVI.
    Wherein lies the author’s disdain of the later pope’s understanding of scripture? Can you help me out?
    Have his works (Truth And Tolerance, Jesus of Nazareth , Many Religions, One Covenant, etc) betrayed the Divine Revelation we have from Christ?

    I don’t understand the disdain.

    • There’s no disdain whatsoever. The parenthesis “(not XVI!)” just clarifies that “XV” is not a typo, as the quotation sounds so characteristic of Benedict XVI, and Benedict XV is not very familiar to many Catholics today. To many it is surprising that a pope said that in 1920. But obviously Benedict XVI has been an inspiration and model for faithful Catholic reception of divine revelation.

    • There is no negative view here of Benedict XVI. Certainly no disdain. Seriously. The author was highlighting that it was Benedict XV who made the statement many decades ago, his point being that many people wrongly think the Catholic Church ignored the Bible during that pre-Vatican II era. It’s a fairly obvious point.

      • Dear Carl:

        Blessings of discernment and wisdom as you pay homage to the Book.

        Ecclesiastes 7:29 See, this alone I found, that God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.

        Colossians 3:10 And have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

        Acts 17:1-2 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures,

        Revelation 14:12 Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.

        That God gives us strength to adhere to His guidelines.

        Yours in Christ,


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