Spirituality for Today – October 2011 – Volume 16, Issue 3

Hypocrisy Or Redemption

By Rev. Raymond Petrucci

A favorite reproach used by many non-churchgoers toward their practicing neighbors is that of hypocrisy. They claim that the piety of those attending church remains within the walls and on the stained glass of the edifice when they leave. They pray like Christians, but they live like pagans. The American Heritage dictionary defines hypocrisy: The feigning of beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess. A prima facie case often can be made in favor of the critics. One, however, can call into question the weight of the evidence through a thorough examination of the nature of the perpetrator – to wit, the maligned churchgoer.

A black and white photo of Maxim GorkyMaxim Gorky

Examples of hypocrisy abound in human attitudes and activities. Allow me to illustrate by quoting two instances of this lamentable trait mentioned in an article by Stephen Bates for The Wilson Quarterly: "...Russian author Maxim Gorky, touring the United States [1906] to raise money for the Bolsheviks, had disparaged his hosts in a telegram to a Paris publisher: 'Gorky says that the Americans are the same spitting, vulgar, people that Charles Dickens found them and that personal liberty is as much hampered in America as in Russia... The sooner he gets out of the wretched country the better he will be pleased.' The married Gorky was traveling with a girlfriend, prompting the [The San Francisco] Call's headline: 'MAXIM GORKY SAYS YANKEES ARE SPITTERS/Vulgarity of Americans shocks the Russian Bigamist.'" The second example refers to a study on pay pornography on the Internet conducted by Benjamin Edelman of Harvard Business School and, regrettably, speaks more to the critic's point: "Residents of states with high rates of churchgoing prove to be about average in their appetite for pay porn – the only difference is that fewer of them sign up on Sundays."

Turning to the saving grace of redemption noted in the title of this article, the essence of the hypocrite is that he or she is "feigning" an outward expression of an inner belief making their pious claims to faith and virtue a mere pretense. Can this be said of the inveterate worshipper? If the person is attending church services for the sole purpose of acceptance in the community, to gain favor with people who could further one's social or financial status, or for some other reason not related to authentic religious observance, one could answer in the affirmative. What of those who do sincerely believe and truly do desire to live the tenets and moral teachings of their faith, but must struggle against sinful temptations within their nature. In other words, people who are human in their frailties, but endeavoring to grow holy in their lives. Of these, one must answer, "No!" to the charge of hypocrisy.

Someone once said that, "Saints are sinners who keep trying." The overriding motivation to take one's faith most seriously separates the believer from the hypocrite. Anyone who refuses to see the dichotomy in the power of choice for good or evil in the exercise of the free will of a human being knows little of freedom or of human beings. Yes, the true believer faces a daily struggle to put into fruitful action the desire to be Christ-like.

At this juncture, one would be wise to ponder the effect of one good person on another. The late Senator Ted Kennedy spoke of his wife as his "savior." Indeed, it was no secret that Senator Kennedy's life was not free of scandal, as it was not free of tragedy.

He also had to carry the burden of trying to reconcile in conscience his Catholic faith with certain aspects of his politics. One can hope that he did his best and one is assured that his wife's faith contributed mightily to whatever "best" he was able to attain. Ultimately, their life together was a story of personal redemption.

For no small reason does the Mass begin with a Penitential Rite, a plea for God's mercy. Only with the most profound sense of humility, do Catholics approach the sacred mystery of the Eucharist. In deepest gratitude, the faithful pray for themselves, their loved ones, and for all throughout the world that God will nurture their faith and their eternal wish to serve Him well. The pews do not contain an assemblage of phonies and frauds – people masquerading as believers – but a congregation of sinners acutely aware of their need for the healing of their souls, for an assurance of God's enduring love, and for the encouragement to keep striving to live as Christ's followers.

In this time of year when nature closes up shop as it were, a brilliant redemption takes place in the myriad hues of an autumn wood. This metamorphosis provides a natural reminder of what our life and our death – and our faith – are capable of producing. A final word to the critics declaring that the reason that they are not in church is because of the presence of hypocrites there: I accuse them of hypocrisy. In truth, they want no part of faith and they would not go to Church even if every pew were filled with angels.