When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites. . . -Matthew 6:5
One of the most common confessions that I have heard over the years, whether it be in serious conversations, spiritual direction or in the sacrament of reconciliation, is the acknowledgement of feeling like a hypocrite. Those of us who are making a thoughtful effort of doing good and avoiding evil will sometimes feel like hypocrites.
The reality is that we all struggle with sinful patterns. Many have the false notion that once we give ourselves over to the following of Jesus, as the disciples did, and have been anointed by the Holy Spirit, then we should not have to struggle with our sinful tendencies.
However, our struggle with sinful ways will always be with us. We waste a lot of our time and energy fighting the fact that temptation and sin is part of our everyday life and everyone’s life. But we want to be the exception.
Once we accept our sinful condition, then we can go about the business of becoming holy day by day. We can concentrate on being good rather than avoiding evil.
Sinful patterns are baked into our way of life. Those who struggle with anger, will end up dealing with anger issues. Those who are dishonest and tend to lie will find themselves fighting this for the rest of their lives. Everyone has sinful tendencies. They will be with us until death. And these tendencies are all different and personal.
So, when Jesus is talking about hypocrites, he is not talking about the human struggle to do good and avoid evil. Jesus is talking about a whole different reality. He is talking about people who choose to live a double life, a life of sin and a public life that looks sinless. A hypocrite’s life is all about the appearance of goodness, it was all about the mask, the role that one plays in public.
In Jesus’ day, a hypocrite was a common term for an actor. The actor took on the persona of a playwriter’s script. There was no personal connection to character in the play and the personal life of the actor. The hypocrite is very much aware that the role presented to the audience is not a real person, but a make-believe one. An actor wants to deceive. And a good actor studies and perfects the art of acting for an audience. This is the result of a personal decision, to live a double life, even if it’s just briefly.
Most of us will never be hypocrites. We want to be good people. We want to live lives of integrity. We want to be authentic followers of Jesus. We want to struggle with our evil tendencies to overcome them, with the grace of God. We want to be loving and compassionate as Jesus was.
Do we sometimes fail? Sure! Do we always do and say the right thing? No! But that does not make us hypocrites! It just makes us aware that but for the grace of God, there go I.
Yes, there are people who want to be hypocrites. And maybe, before our conversion, before Jesus called us to come and follow him, we lived as hypocrites, intentionally doing things just so people could judge us good, even though we lived a sinful life.
It is when we embrace our God as a loving God, a merciful God, a God who sees our heart with eyes of Love, that we begin the journey of holiness. The journey of holiness is not the journey of perfection, Rather is a journey that begins each day with a purity of intention of following Jesus, confident that the God who sees all, sees us with love!
Fr. Clemente Barrón, C.P. is a member of Mater Dolorosa Community in Sierra Madre, California.