Listen to Fr. Jeremy’s Homily for the 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – September 2, 2018
There was a recent ad campaign for an antidepressant medication that featured those suffering with depression hiding behind ‘smiley faces.’ It was simple, effective, and true. Anyone, who has ever experienced times of depression, has at least some experience of putting on a false face to hide the inner struggles going on within. Many people suffering with depression would be helped by setting aside the mask, but depression itself isolates the sufferer and keeps the mask so firmly in place. The simple smiley face mask of the ad campaign effectively and truthfully communicates how many people feel in that situation.
Masks are powerful things. While few of us wear real masks, many of us ‘keep up appearances.’ We present ourselves other than we really are. We put on masks so others see us in certain ways. We wear masks to hide our inner selves, our faults, our insecurities, and yes, even our sins.
Jesus counters the Scribes and Pharisees who challenge the disciples for failure to follow outward ritual purity. He says of them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites” (Mk 7:6). The word hypocrite finds its root in the Greek word for ‘actor’ or ‘mask-wearer.’ Actors in Greek drama often wore masks to depict themselves in the various characters of the play. In time, the word has come to mean a person who is playacting, putting on a show, hiding an inner self, or leading a double life.
On person paraphrased Jesus’ correction of the Scribes and Pharisees by saying, “You actors! Scripture may be the lines you quote, but is it not the script by which you live.” The Scribes and Pharisees were experts in the text of the Law and its outward adherence, but likewise experts in living a double life of inner sin and selfishness. That is a rather harsh assessment, but true. The issues of hypocrisy, of double lives, of outward show and inner sin are part of the human condition. If only we Christians and the Church were immune, but we are not. Remember Judas betrayed Jesus behind the mask of a kiss.
Recent news stories have brought the hypocrisy of certain members of the Church to the forefront and once again put on display the immense suffering of so many people abused by some clergy. The heinous actions of Cardinal McCarrick, those 300+ priests who abused children/teens in PA, and bishops who covered it up, they are hypocrites. They led double lives. They hide behind masks, behind position, behind power. They gave outward show of piety, but inward were filled with death & filth, sin & selfishness. In their wake they leave a trail of innocents forever hurt and harmed, whom God alone can heal, although we must try to assist.
Much has been discussed about greater transparency & accountability, better policy & practices, improved safety measures and independent lay review boards, and even financial reparations to those who have been harmed. All of this is needed & I support.
But, what I have thought and prayed about most in light of these renewed crises is my own inner hypocrisy. To be clear: I’ve never done, nor would ever do, anything so unspeakable as these headline reports, but I am a sinner. I have weaknesses. I have flaws. I have moments of selfishness. There are times when I hear the voice of the serpent and struggle to turn away. I’m not perfect or without sin. As I serve as your pastor, you will come to know this only too well. This I have reflected upon.
What I have thought and prayed about second in light of these crises is the hypocrisy of all Catholic Christian – clergy or lay. How often do we put on a “smiley face” and outward show of being good, when secretly, our inner life is anything but. Studies show that Catholic Christians look and live like the greater population. Their birth rates, their divorce rates, their political affiliation, their voting records, their stance on contraception & sexual morality & same-sex unions, their support of the death penalty, their pursuit of wealth & health & prestige, taken as a whole, look just like the greater populace of the USA. To the outsider, we look just like they do.
Think about your life, if one saw you through the week, would they know you were a Catholic Christian by your outward life? By the words you say? By the stances you take? By causes you support? By the Truth you cling to and uphold? Would they pause, for even a moment, to question your ‘other-worldly’ motivations? Or do they see a mask that smiles back and says “I’m your typical secular American.” Our inner convictions and our outward actions should align, else we are wearing masks.
Jesus is crystal clear. Listen to this: “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile” (Mk 7:21-23). To this we could add sexual abuse. From within, Jesus might as well say, from behind their masks. It is the evilness within that needs to be cured. It is this inner duplicity hidden behind the false masks of “actors” pretending to be something they are not that needs to be exposed.
I’m not here to suggest that the lay faithful are in anyway as bad as these clerical abusers. They are not. But the solution to this crisis, like all crises, has to be much more than simply addressing these few but severely guilty. That must be done, certainly. But the true solution is true conversion of the inner heart. Those of the Church must earnestly pursue faithfulness, Christian integrity, and the removal of false masks so as to embrace authentic holiness. The solution is to become saints each and every one of us, each and every day of our lives.
We, none of us, myself most certainly included, none of us can settle for the being mere ‘actors’ for Christ on Sunday and agents of evil sins come Monday.