Printer Friendly

There's room for hypocrisy in church.

For the practiced and unpracticed, sitting through Mass can be a critical experience. Relegated to an interior world, one can think thoughts unbecoming the event:

"Those children kicking the back of the pew should be put in plastic bags and left out in the snow during church."

"Their parents, who obviously have no common decency and no regard for others, ought to be out there with them."

"What nerve does he/she have going to communion? Isn't he/she divorced/ remarried?"

"All that old priest has to do all week is come up with a decent homily where the sentences that follow each other make sense. I'd get more out of a bad cartoon than I get out of the jokes he makes of the gospel."

"The cantor can't carry a tune in a tin bucket. I hope to God we don't pay him/her."

"His/her smile is so fake you'd think he/she paints it on every morning to sell used cars."

"If he/she can give out communion after being out at the bars last night, then whores have wings and halos."

"If we pray for those deadbeats on welfare one more time I'm not going to give another penny to this church."

"That priest/deacon, man/woman girl/boy makes me sick."

All those thoughts are possible as one sits through Mass--and more than possible. We have all had them. They are mean thoughts, judgmental and often worse than the ones I could bring myself to write down. Yet, at the sign of peace, we're all perfectly capable--except on a really bad day when we couldn't hide our anger, hatred, dislike or revulsion to save our souls--of smiling and saying something civil to the person we've just torn apart in our heads. This, of course, is hypocrisy: thinking or being one thing and saying or doing another--pretending to be better than we really are.

The good news is there is room for hypocrisy in church. As a matter of fact, we thrive on hypocrisy. It is a necessary. prerequisite for kind, churchgoing, hymn singing, openhanded, communion-going would-be believers. Without it, we couldn't stand ourselves.

Hypocrisy is our introduction to virtue. It is the practice of growing up and maybe even growing holy. Think about it. Your mother and father told you it wasn't nice to hit your sister or brother. You had those mean thoughts about her or him rattling around in your head like a mad monkey in a cage, but your parents told you not to hit and to say you were sorry when you weren't. And the world was more peaceful because of it--at least until the next time the two of you sat in the back seat of the car.

As you grew older, you practiced hypocrisy on others: aunts and uncles with bad breath who wanted a kiss or a hug; friends who borrowed your bats or dolls and never returned them; teachers who made you learn when you didn't want to; coaches who demanded you act like a good sportsman when you wanted to tear the opponent's nose off. None of that was real. You were pretending to be a better person than you really were.

And it works. We learn to get along with one another; we learn to forgive each other; we act like we care--and, wondrously, one day we do care about old Mrs. Jacobson who made us so miserable in fourth grade when we were learning long division. We're sorry she died and admit that if it weren't for her we still wouldn't be able to figure out unit pricing at the grocery.

By the time we're 40, we're truly sorry that we used to lasso our younger sister when she went by our bedroom door--in fact, now we call her every week just to talk.

When we meet our best friend from grade school and notice that he still hear' a mark where we stabbed his arm with a sharp No. 2 pencil, we wince and wonder how we could have let a piddly thing like a card game make us want to hurt and disfigure such a grand guy.

And when our old pastor, who had only two homilies in his repertoire, dies we go to his funeral and remember how much it meant to us when he sent us a card after our father died. We genuinely want to return the kindness but don't know to whom you'd send a sympathy card for a dead priest.

Lent is the preminent time to practice hypocrisy. We number our onerous desires and malfeasant thoughts and do the opposite. We give to the poor eventhough we don't want to meet them and pray even though we're not sure anyone is listening. We go to church more often and smile at the people we can't stand, nod approvingly at the homilies that don't make sense, offer our sincere sorrow for sins we can't remember committing and receive the bread of life and drink from the cup of gladness, which sometimes makes as much sense to us as our exercise of hypocrisy.

We practice what we want to become as much as we eat and drink what we will became. And on Easter, we sing alleluias to Jesus, who is supposed to be dead, but isn't.
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Catholic Reporter
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Starting Point
Author:Szews, George R.
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Column
Date:Feb 23, 1996
Previous Article:John Paul reflection: liberating the poor.
Next Article:Nuns, Americorps volunteers join forces.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters