Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Apathy versus Holy Indifference

A term I come across quite often while reading about the lives of the saints is "holy indifference". I think this is a term that is widely misunderstood in today's world. It's confused with a certain type of apathy which is prevalent in our society today. The apathy I speak of here is a generalized apathetic stance toward certain aspects of our life here on earth including a "dullness" of the heart concerning God and things of a spiritual nature (though not limited to this area).

The "holy indifference" of which the saints speak of stems from a lack of attachment to the world and self. Apathy stems from being overly attached to the very same things. A simple definition of holy indifference : detachment from the world which stems from a total attachment to God.

In other words, it is a complete abandonment to God's will. This holy indifference has nothing to do with a lack of compassion for others - it actually leads us to action and away from the indifference associated with apathy. Mother Teresa is a good example of a person in our day who reached this state of holy indifference and this quote from her is a perfect example of apathy versus holy indifference.

    If you are preoccupied with people who are talking about the poor, you scarcely have time to talk to the poor. Some people talk about hunger, but they don't come and say, "Mother, here is five rupees. Buy food for these people." But they can give a most beautiful lecture on hunger.
   I had a most extraordinary experience once in Bombay. There was a big conference on hunger. I was supposed to go to that meeting and I lost the way. Suddenly I came to that place, and right in front of the door to where hundreds of people were talking about food and hunger, I found a dying man.
  I took him out and I took him home.
  He died there.
  He died of hunger.
  And the people inside were talking about how in 15 years we will have so much food, so much this, so much that, and that man died.

 Their fault didn't lie in speaking about hunger but in the fact that they failed to act.  Apathy is closely associated with sloth. They are partners and sloth is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Holy indifference results in a freedom of spirit while apathy is the result of bondage and being overly concerned with self. The heart is closed off to a degree rather than completely open to God. When we are closed off to God, we are closed off to our brother and sisters in Christ.

Here is a link to a post and poem about apathy that I wrote last year on one of my other blogs. The best way for overcoming apathy is through prayer (see link) and by practicing the opposing virtues of diligence and prudence.


  1. Oh Mary ... there's so much in this post one can comment about. I'll try not to take too long.

    When Jesus had preached to the 5000; His Disciples suggested that the people be sent away so they can buy food and feed themselves. Jesus turned the table on the Disciples, and on us. He said: Why don't you feed them?

    The Disciples panicked. "How can we do that?" they asked, "we've only got a few loaves and fishes!"

    We too panic today, or worse, we're indifferent to poverty and hunger. There's so much news on TV and newspapers about famines, drought, starvation, economic crisis, bankruptcies, poverty and so on. What can we really do to help?

    Jesus showed us the way - through prayer. He took the loaves and fishes and prayed. That's how He fed the crowd.

    We may not all be able to help practically through donations; but do we pray ... enough?

    People today are indiferent and detatched. Because they are confused. They don't know WHAT to believe and WHO to believe in anymore. Life is hard and getting harder. People are frightened. Worried. Fearful for their future and that of their loved ones.

    They may turn to God ... but many do so in confusion and panic rather than in trust and in Faith.

    They need leadership. From their shepherds the priests. From the pulpit and through personal visits or even through the Internet via Blogs, Twitters and other modern methods. Priests can and should lead the way in today's confused world through any means at their disposal. But they need not work alone - we should help them too. Practically ... and through prayer.

    Sorry Mary for taking too long here.

    God bless you.

  2. Mary,
    This is an excellent post. Our culture is so apathetic and attached to the wrong things. If more of us could attain that state of Holy Indifference, the world would certainly be a much better place. The quote you gave from Mother Teresa is a stark example of how people can often talk a good game, but never rise to acting on those good ideas.I have been guilty of it myself- those sins of omission-while not purposely omitting doing good, I sometimes fail on the follow through. You know what they say about good intentions...
    Thanks for this and God bless.

  3. Mary, wow! Thanks so much for this post. You explain the difference quite clearly.

  4. Victor,
    Thanks for your comment. You are right, people today are indifferent and detached - unfortunately from the wrong things. Prayer is a good way to get rid of this apathy as well as practicing the opposing virtues. One of the problems is that many people are not taught about these things in our day. I rarely hear the word virtue used.

  5. Thanks Karin. I have been guilty of apathy many times in my life, too. This particular quote from Mother Teresa really struck me - we can all talk the talk but can we walk the walk? It's not easy, not for any of us, but we can do what we can in various ways to lift this cloud of apathy that hangs over our world.

  6. Esther,
    The only reason I can write about it is because I've struggled with it. Mother Teresa has a way of explaining things in a way we can all understand.

  7. Mary this is one of the themes in The Gift of Faith book that I am reading. It is one thing to hear or read about this but the example from Mother Teresa clarifies things quite a bit.