Emmitsburg Council of Churches

Hypocrisy or Holy Consistency?

Father John J. Lombardi

The American Heritage Dictionary defines hypocrisy as "the practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness; to play a part, pretend; to judge."

(Notes based in part from last Sunday's Gospel and Readings)

I still remember today, twenty-five years later, when I was in speech class (cringe!) and the professor at Towson State University said we should not use Mother Teresa as an example for illustration in our speeches. Why? The kindly professor said the saint was "overused" and has become a cliché-people tune out because they hear her name so much. Now, I think, a quarter-century later in that class, probably filled with agnostics, believers and atheists, why did she pick Mother Teresa, of all people?: probably because she was a known example of holiness and lived her spiritual faith in action-she was no hypocrite--her actions were consistent with her beliefs.

Mother Teresa and all the saints blended to near perfection love of God and love of neighbor, and they aimed at inner conversion-purity of heart-and saw this, their own spiritual focus, as complementary, not contradictory, to service to the poor. Most of us have trouble with balancing love of God and of neighbor, and when we accentuate one over the other-we can become hypocritical-falling into opposite evils of "spiritualism" or "socialism." For instance, when souls focus only on spiritual matters and neglect the poor, they are doing just what the Pharisees did, leading to "spiritualism." This can form a "siege mentality" where they become fearful, and the Creed (right belief) does not lead to charity. Perhaps you've witnessed this in spiritual movements, groups and individuals who do not reach out to others, though they themselves are striving to be holy and devout. Oppositely, people who only view social outreach as the only thing necessary, to the neglect of right belief may turn into "spiritual socialists"-activists who happen to be somewhat religious. Mother Teresa herself decried both of these errors and lifestyles, and we ourselves, as did she,

must always balance outreach with spirituality and proper belief.

Perhaps you've seen the bumper sticker, "You can't be pro abortion and Catholic." That sticker points out hypocrisy. Translation: Mother Teresa said it is hypocritical to promote abortions and pray for peace in the world. In the Gospels Jesus often rails against hypocrites-the Scribes and Pharisees-the established religious leaders of Israel. Why? Because they had all the treasures of wisdom and holiness and thereby the Lord's calling-they were scrupulous (focusing on non-essentials, calling sins where there were none); they were haughty (elitist and off-putting) and they failed in service to the poor. Contrariwise, Jesus Himself identified most especially with the poor, the outcast and sinners.

Our sacred religion should be a bridge to God and others, not a barrier. The laws of God should lead to love and service of others. The helps of our Faith should not be hindrances to befriending others.

Jesus pronounced "woe" to the Pharisees (Lk. 11:37ff) because they focused on money over spirituality; they were more concerned with materialism than mysticism. Are you? How can you help your Church, your priest and parish excel in spiritual matters over money matters? Yes, the Church needs money to provide liturgies, programs and outreach to the poor, but when money trumps the spiritual we are in trouble

Merely "going through the motions" of religious devotion turns us into tired treadmills, mechanically saying words of prayers and Mass parts. In other words to "just do it" won't do it: we need to cleanse and uplift our minds and souls and pray with heart. So, avoid hypocrisy when going to Mass. Remember it is not a pain but a privilege; it is not only an obligation but also a joy. Hypocrisy promotes dullness, but true spirituality promotes spirit-enlivened worship. Image the prayers you say going thru your heart, for instance, to avoid hypocrisy. Repeat the prayers of the priest or lector to impress them in your heart and thereby sense them more spiritually, not just saying them repetitiously. Pray this prayer before each Mass, to avoid hypocrisy, "Lord, help me to celebrate this Mass as though it were my first Mass, my last Mass and my only Mass." The great priest and stigmatist Padre Pio not only celebrated the Mass but kinda "became" the Mass-in union with Jesus' Passion and Sacrifice--to the point of bleeding through his wounds while saying Mass, so close was this saint to the Lord.

Also, ask yourself in helping others - is this a duty or is it a joy. Do you see others in Christ and Christ Jesus in them so as to serve and help them more readily and lovingly? Hypocrites leave Jesus at the altar and don't see Him in their world and thereby separate the Lord from the poor. I was visiting Rich, a pilgrim recently and he described how moved he was by Mother Teresa in a film. She picked up a poor, deformed, crying baby, an orphan, and said, pointing: "This is Jesus." Obviously Rich was profoundly startled by this and thereby, now, wants to visit Calcutta where Mother Teresa lived to re-experience her faith-filled love and devotion. St James says that "religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to take care of widows and orphans" (1: 27). Is your religion like this?

Relatedly, this Chaplain has compiled a list of why people don't go to Church or hang out with other Catholics and Christians. First, hypocrisy: some say they don't want to go to Church because "they are all hypocrites there." These critics say Christians worship at Mass and then go out and do the opposite in the world. While noting this is a mostly false excuse, remember the saying: You are the only witness of Christ that a person may see in their day, the only "gospel" they will ever read. So: are you an "icon"-window to Jesus or a hindrance? Are you a "holy roller" on Sunday and a gossiper on Monday? Do you worship the Homeless Man Christ on the Sabbath and walk by a homeless man on the weekday? Second, people who don't come to Church sometimes say all they do is talk about money at Church. Once again, this is not always true. However, to avoid any kind of partial slight to these kinds of folks, do you promote spiritual programs at your parish? Do you help the priest to be more spiritual, enlivened in the Holy Spirit? Do you focus more on the "killer B's"-bingo, bulletins and boilers than on spiritual realities? You need to help the Church to reform and appeal to others because everyone is starving for Infinity in God's Love and Mercy. Third, some say, "I don't get anything out of Mass." Really? They "get" God Himself, no matter what the music or sermon is about. Do you tell others this, that is, it is really Jesus Christ fully present, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Holy Eucharist? If a bored person comes into Mass do they see you praying or reading the bulletin? Do they see you actively participating or wanting to leave early? Do they witness you in profound piety, singing and responding or do they watch you "going through the motions" ho-hum like? We all need to avoid the hypocrisy! In other words, we all need inner conversion which leads to outer love.

As Catholics we can sometimes get caught up in our own "spiritual gig" and forget others. We can do penances, make novenas, attend Mass frequently, renovate the Church, profess the Creed, become "super Catholics" and, unfortunately, neglect or reject others in the process. Our spirituality thereby becomes a "me and God thing" to the detriment of others.

True Faith is not "either/or" but "both/and." This means true religion is not God or others, my spirituality or socialism, but, rather, both creed and charity. Authentic spirituality combines love of God and love of neighbor, my spirituality and helping others.

Pope John Paul II once wrote: "A spirituality of communion means, finally, to know how to 'make room' for our brothers and sisters, bearing 'each other's burdens' (Gal 6:2) and resisting the

selfish temptations which constantly beset us and provoke competition, careerism, distrust and jealousy. Let us have no illusions: unless we follow this spiritual path, external structures of communion will serve very little purpose. They would become mechanisms without a soul, 'masks' of communion rather than its means of expression and growth."

To avoid hypocrisy, ask yourself these questions: Do you consciously or unconsciously shun people, lock them out of your heart and the Church's Faith while concentrating on your own spiritual path of salvation? Do you neglect the commandments while only servicing the neglected? Do you join a community and subtlety form a clique out of it-cutting off others so as to preserve your spiritual unity? And, oppositely, do you fail to believe and practice all the Catholic Church teaches while avidly serving in a soup kitchen. Do you love the poor so much that you fail to love the Church-even her difficult teachings?

To some extent-we can all be hypocritical: we rarely fulfill all the Lord's Commands and Spiritual Counsels consistently. In our spirituality and lives there is usually something needing perfection-- we are not completely holy (though, to be sure-there are some). We need to more consistently combine love of God and love of neighbor. How can you do this more readily with God's grace?

Some meditations to help you avoid hypocrisy: It is hypocrisy to dress up for others in your Sunday best but not hypocrisy to dress up for the Lord-after all, you are going to have an audience with Jesus Christ. It is hypocrisy to save your soul but not help save other souls. It is hypocritical to go to Mass continually without going to confession. It is hypocrisy to profess community and to receive Holy Communion and reject others. A hypocrite will perhaps go to Mass but may continually fail to pray and give time to the Lord. It is hypocrisy to be a "pick and choose Catholic" or "Cafeteria Catholic"-selecting what you want to believe all the while rejecting other essentials of the Faith. It is hypocrisy to hoard possessions and reject the dispossessed people around you. It is hypocrisy to abuse your spouse or children or parents and go to Mass as if nothing's wrong. It is hypocrisy to practice contraception and be closed to life thru procreation. It is hypocritical to see the Church in need of priestly vocations and never do anything about it. It is hypocrisy to continually cohabit with an unmarried person and receive Holy Communion. It is hypocrisy to tell "white lies" and say you are honest. It is hypocritical to see our parishes and priests in need of help and volunteers and fail to respond, thinking or saying the same old line "Someone else will do it." In this age when so many look for inconsistencies in people-from politicians to priests to powerful people-we need vibrant Catholics and Christians to witness the Faith in action, devotions leading to dedicated service and love of God and neighbor. We are inspired by such people-so try to become one!

Read other reflections by Father John J. Lombardi