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Tackling the Vice of Hypocrisy

Updated on June 18, 2020

A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation” ~ Adlai Stevenson

We close the book on the intrepid prophet Elijah and his earthly evangelical mission in today’s 1st Reading (2 Kings 2:1, 6-14), as he is suddenly and dramatically taken up into Heaven in a whirlwind, a fitting exit for a man of such profundity. All week long we’ve had the opportunity to reflect upon his exploits, highlighted perhaps by his stunning victory over the 450 in his midst who worshipped the idol Baal was, in my eyes, the boldest of God’s prophets.

It is now his predecessor, the young Elisha, buoyed by a “double portion” of Elijah’s spirit, who will take the baton and go forth to proclaim the Word of God. In tomorrow’s 1st Reading (Sirach 48:1-14), in part an epitaph to Elijah, we go on to learn that Elisha, having been filled with this twofold portion of Elijah’s spirit, “wrought many marvels by his mere word.” He was fearless we’re told, impervious to intimidation and “nothing was beyond his power.”

In today’s Gospel (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18), a continuation of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the Son of Man takes on the scourge of hypocrisy. On matters pertaining to righteous deeds, prayer, and the seemingly lost art of fasting, Jesus warns against outward displays designed to draw attention to one’s self, thereby diminishing the true spirit in which the noble deed in question was performed.

English literary critic and philosopher William Hazlitt once said “the only vice that cannot be forgiven is hypocrisy. The repentance of a hypocrite is itself hypocrisy.” Apparently a subject near and dear to him, Hazlitt also once remarked “a hypocrite despises those whom he deceives, but has no respect for himself. He would make a dupe of himself too, if he could.” Fact is, Jesus called out hypocrites many times throughout Scripture, perhaps an indication of how commonplace hypocrisy is, certainly underscoring how much he loathed it.

So how do we overcome this natural proclivity towards hypocrisy in our lives? I’d venture to say that all of us have, at one point or another, been hypocritical in either our thoughts, words or actions. Well, with all due respect to Mr. Hazlitt, I do believe it starts with contrition and the pursuit of forgiveness, for we know that God forgives all who come to him, hypocrites included. As Catholics, we partake of the Sacrament of Reconciliation for reasons that go far beyond the forgiveness of our sins (although forgiveness of our sins in and of itself is a remarkable gift of sanctifying grace given freely to us by God the Father). But we receive so many additional divine graces through this Sacrament, graces we need to bring meaningful change into our lives.

Prayer too can help us to overcome our hypocritical tendencies. Prayer by its very nature is the means by which we bring our lives into the conformity of God’s will for our lives. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden, wherein he calls out to his Father to “let this cup pass ~ but not my will be done but thy will be done.” (Matthew 26:39) serving as the perfect example this. Prayer is indeed, to quote Saint Padre Pio, “the oxygen of the soul,” that by which hypocrisy can eventually be rinsed from one’s soul. God wills no one to be a hypocrite.

As I entered into the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary before Mass this morning and arrived at the 5th Decade ~ Jesus’ Institution of the Eucharist ~ I couldn’t help but reflect upon the Eucharist’s power as it relates to ridding us of hypocrisy and so many other misguided passions. For when we receive Holy Communion as frequently as possible, we begin to become more and more like He whom we receive. And Jesus was hypocrisy-free from his birth until his death on the cross, the nails of which were driven home by the very hypocrites he called out to His Father to forgive, for they knew not what they were doing.

In closing, I would ask you to consider being more forgiving towards the hypocrites in your life; to pray for them often as well. As discussed, this is a very difficult affliction to rid one’s self of, and as we do our best to grow in grace amidst the temptations and other assorted landmines, we must avoid being hypocritical to the hypocrites we encounter. For they, like us, know not what they do.


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