Mt 23:27-32 The Allure of Hypocrisy

This is a syndicated post from Daily Meditations with Fr. Alfonse. [Read the original article...]

Wednesday of the Twenty-First Week in Ordinary time
By BENEDICT AUGUSTINE
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites.
You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside,
but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every kind of filth.
Even so, on the outside you appear righteous,
but inside you are filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.”
Oscar Wilde once said, among many other things, “In all unimportant matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential. In all important matters, style, not sincerity, is the essential.” He left this epigram for young people entering adulthood in his day, stating the unpleasant truth about respectability in Victorian England. In our own day, this statement rings just as true, if not more so. In a world where people adore exterior beauty, material wealth, and physical pleasure, hypocrisy is necessarily rampant. Why cultivate an inner life, when people only observe and respond to the outer life?
Modern people of all ages feel the strong temptation of hypocrisy; like the Pharisees and scribes, they desire to “appear beautiful on the outside” while “filled with hypocrisy and evildoing.” Students want to attain a high score they never earned and then brag about it to their family and friends. Young activists want to change the world and help those in need while they indulge in every kind of luxury themselves and live off their parents. People who work in offices or in the fields proclaim their efficiency and intelligence to anyone who can hear, and harangue those whom they deem lazy, while they themselves fail miserably at their duties. Even the elderly love to criticize the younger generations, excoriating their choices and decadence, despite their pivotal role as parents in forming these young people into who they are today. 
The Pharisees and scribes receive the worst kind of criticism from Jesus because of their hypocrisy. We should hesitate to join in the condemnation before searching our own hearts. After all, the Pharisees and the scribes only did what every politician, celebrity, intellectual, and businessmen does today: they assume their roles as moral and cultural authorities and proceed to tell others how to live. Has their behavior warranted this authority? Not at all. They sin like anyone else, often much more so. Does their power, fame, knowledge, or money really give them the authority to preach? Quite the opposite. It actually makes them less credible as moral teachers since they sought worldly goods in place of heavenly ones and frequently have a much hazier perception of reality. The Pharisees and scribes, having more power, fame, knowledge, and money than most commoners, only did what was normal by most people’s standards.
For the sake of His people, Jesus had to condemn them with supreme righteous anger. No behavior does greater damage to the Church, to people’s relationship with God, than hypocrisy. Many believers fall away from the Church because of the hypocrisy of clergy and laity, who make lofty proclamations only to act like every other sinner outside the Church. The hypocrite, more than the terrorist or serial killer, will convince people that there is no God, no reason to pray, and that morality is simply a tool of the crafty to oppress the naïve. Moreover, the hypocrite will create a whole new generation of hypocrites. If a person can preach one thing, practice something else, and gain everyone’s admiration, saint and sinner alike, then everyone will want to be a hypocrite. Why be a priest or teacher and suffer poverty and disrespect for taking care of people’s souls, like Paul, when a person can be a doctor or financial consultant and earn a high salary and the enjoy the greatest respect for caring for people’s bodies and possessions?
Perhaps the only thing more tempting than hypocrisy is tolerating others’ hypocrisy. We listen and praise hypocrites because we would have a much easier time following their example than the example of a virtuous person. Quite often, those who earn their reputation for goodness through actual virtue seem more like chumps fighting a futile battle than heroes improving society. At the time of her death, Princess Diana, a glamorous divorcee aristocrat, had many more mourners, and television specials, than Blessed Mother Theresa though they both died in the same week. The death of any celebrity who overindulges easily overshadow the death of a good person who sacrifices. Instead of jumping on this superficial bandwagon, we should acknowledge people’s merits as well as their faults, and give praise to the good man or woman instead of the powerful man or attractive woman. Let us honor the saints and imitate their example.
Today would be a great day to start since it is the Feast Day of St. Monica. Unlike most parents who desire world success from their children, Monica desired spiritual success for her son Augustine, only to see him ardently pursue worldly success for the first three decades of his life. Seeing past Augustine’s facade of happiness and wisdom, she encouraged him to put away his heresies and concubines and live a true life in Christ. Her prayers, her patience, her tears, effected the conversion and sanctity of one the greatest spiritual minds in history. Only her saintliness, her sincere love for God and her son, could have inspired such a miracle. Had she relied on style, our Church, and our world, would be much poorer as a result.
Let us ask for her intercession and give thank for God’s work in her and her son. We could certainly use more mothers like her.

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Fr. Alfonse (731 Posts)


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