Here's my homily for the 22st Sunday of Ordinary Time reflecting on hypocrisy and something about how we can help avoid it.
You can find the readings on which this homily is based linked HERE
One of my siblings once told me of a run-in they had with my father.
My father had taken a sceptical view of what he was being told by one of his older kids.
He listened quietly, as was his style, and then offered:
“Well, you can kid your old man. But kidding yourself, that’s another matter.”
Nowadays with your truth and my truth, your reality and my reality the potential for kidding ourselves on these is pretty high.
Today’s Gospel offers us a perspective on important foundational Christian realities
...on which kidding ourselves risks a lot of harm.
Central is outward appearances compared to inward realities
...as well as to just where the battleground between good and evil lies.
Jesus had “issues”, as they say, those who held themselves up as paragons of religious virtue and laid burdens on others, while on the inside being quite elsewhere themselves.
Today, quoting the Prophet Isaiah he notes that they honor God with their lips, “but their hearts are far away”.
Elsewhere Jesus likens them to “whitewashed tombs' that gleam on the outside and are full of dead bones and filth on the inside.
The word for this is hypocrisy.
It can be devastating if you are trying to get people to listen to you, believe what they hear and respond positively.
A striking example of this can be seen in our own Church in America where some in positions of responsibility
...who while teaching the goodness, truth and beauty of our tradition on say, marriage, human sexuality and family life
...managed clerical sex abuse in a manner that aided and abetted evil, lies and ugliness
...to devastating effect on its victims, the people of God as a whole and the credibility of the Gospel itself.
The cost of hypocrisy highlights the importance of having attitudes, aspirations, words and deeds be consistent.
Deacons, and all priests and bishops are first ordained deacons, get forcefully reminded of the importance of this when at their ordination they are handed a Book of the Gospels and told to
...“Receive the Gospel of Christ whose herald you have become.
…”Believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach.”
This is a very humbling moment, where one is reminded of how great a responsibility is being handed on.
It is no different for any of us, though
...because by virtue of our baptism we are all called to live holy lives
...with the responsibility to receive, believe, teach and practice in our own way wherever God has put us.
It strikes me, more strongly as time passes, that the key here is to realize that
...while the Gospel and the faith it embodies and calls us to aim at the highest goodness, truth and beauty,
...and that is as it should be
...even though in living it ourselves we have a lot of work to do
...and that's just the truth.
Solid groundwork for great hypocrisy can be found in believing that evil, lies and ugliness is somehow only “out there”, in “those people”, in the ‘system”
...and not in us as well.
The great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitysn, who spent years in the Soviet Gulag, offered that the experience taught him to see that that
“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.”
This, Solzhenistsyn thinks, is a very big lie.
“But the line dividing between good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”...he asks
Well, WE need to be.
Our own baptism tells us that part of us needs to die, so we can rise, both to “newness of life” now and eternally.
Solzhenistyn, an Orthodox Christian, understood this.
The bedrock of Orthodox prayer and spirituality is the Jesus Prayer which is simply,
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
The Orthodox say this prayer repetitively on beads called “chotki” akin to how we say the Rosary.
We understand the need for mercy too.
It's the reason we start our prayer together each Sunday asking
“Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy.”
We have the Prayer for Divine Mercy, which asks for mercy on us and all the whole word.
Why? Because we need it, and knowing that is to be in contact with reality and the beginning of wisdom.
Only God is perfect in love.
We’re working on it, and hope to make progress with the help of God’s grace.
It's a rough and uncertain journey, and we will stumble.
Pope Francis understands this pretty clearly too.
He has often remarked that the Church needs to be a field hospital for sinners rather than a museum of saints.
We should wish and make it so.
We wouldn’t be kidding ourselves
...it would make us less fearful of admitting painful realities
...help us to see the path forward more clearly
...better able to help others do likewise
...and all this effort might just help save us from being hypocrites as well.