Hypocrisy is a universal experience. Every human being at some point in their lives realises that in some areas of their lives they could be classed as hypocrites. Certainly every night as I examine my conscience and every time I sit in the queue waiting to go to confession I realise that I am a hypocrite – a hypocrite in the sense that I preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but I so often fall short of it: I sin and fail to live up to the standard the Lord and Master has laid down for his disciples. Am I alone in that? Not at all – every disciple of Christ fails to live up to the Gospel. But rather than dumping the Gospel and giving way to hedonism and immorality, we strive to live the Gospel more perfectly, and with God’s grace, one day we will. In this the Saints serve as wonderful examples, they encourage us and pray for us. And of course that most wonderful of sacraments, confession, helps us in our struggle.
As men and women convinced of the truth of the Gospel we proclaim it and its values as men and women who are trying to live it. We recommend it to others, we defend it and we remind society that it is true, good and just. We offer the examples of the Saints as the Gospel in flesh, and so while we fall, those we proclaim the Gospel to can see that as we struggle to stay true to the truth, those holy ones who have gone before us have won the race. To men and women of goodwill struggling with their own fallen humanity the Gospel becomes a light, and even the disciples of Jesus, human and broken as they are, also serve as examples – those considering becoming Christian can see that you do not have to be perfect, to be a saint, to join, but in the communion of the Church we all journey together and struggle together, striving to become perfect, to become saints.
Failing to live the moral law perfectly does not negate the moral law, it just reveals that there are people who fail to live up to it. As followers of Christ we believe in forgiveness and the possibility of starting again, so much so that one who once broke the moral law could in time become its defender.
Of course the disciples of Christ are not the only ones who realise they are hypocrites in some shape or form. All men and women of good will know they fail to live up to ideals while they still promote these ideals for the betterment of society and human flourishing. Indeed the only ones who will not feel the sting of conscience in this area are those who have no ideals, or those who have deluded themselves into thinking they are perfect, or those who are just bad and do not care. A society which has no ideals is one on the edge of despair; a society that cannot embrace the idea that people can change their lives and improve is already in despair.
Why these thoughts? Well, the recent revelation that Cardinal Keith O’Brien has admitted he committed the sins he was accused of. The media have been circling and accusing him of hypocrisy: as he opposes the gay agenda now, they see him as a hypocrite given his own moral failures. Yes, he may well be – and as such he now joins the rest of the world. The media’s solution? Discard Christian teaching, get rid of celibacy and assent to the gay agenda. In other words, throw the baby out with the bathwater and embrace wild abandon: the solution of a society in despair.
But we as Christians say: no, we won’t. Not even this will distract us from the Gospel and the teaching of the Church – we just have another example of a sinner in our midst and, we hope, of another who will find Divine Mercy in his struggle. On this I would recommend Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith’s article in the Catholic Herald. Are we Catholics disappointed with Cardinal O’Brien? Yes we are, bitterly – he let us all down. He has reparation to do. Will we reject him? No, we won’t: he is still our brother and we pray for him. That does not mean we reject those he hurt. Certainly not, we pray for them too, pray for their healing and God’s blessing on them. He will have to face the new Holy Father and answer for what he has done to them, and rightly so.
However, if our journalists are looking for other Christians who fell, well I’ll give them a few examples:
St Augustine lived an immoral life, had a mistress and illegitimate child, was a member of a heretical sect and treated his mother badly: he was a bishop.
St Mary Magdalen was possessed by seven devils – Lord knows what she did to deserve that! She was chosen by Jesus to announce the Resurrection. Dodgy decision on Christ's part? Or is it a case be believes in forgiveness?
St Hippolytus was an anti-pope, he was proud and a rebel. He died a martyr with the very Pope he opposed, they were reconciled.
Here’s a bad Pope for you – stop the press! St Peter, the first – he denied Christ. And it was said he may even have considered abandoning his See during a time of persecution. He was also married and some say he may have left his wife to proclaim the Gospel.
St Simon the Apostle was a terrorist and conspired to overthrow a legitimate government. He was a bishop too.
Blessed Bartolo Longo was a Satanist – there’s a story there, boys. He founded a shrine in honour of Our Lady – now there’s hypocrisy!
St Pelagia was a debauched actress who even tried to lead a bishop into sin. He converted her and she became a hermit – but people saw her as holy and pious, but with a past! Is there an expose there?
And another of our Catholic heroes: a murderer – Jacques Fesch who killed a policeman in the course of a failed robbery. He became a mystic on death row and many think he may well be canonised one day.
And here’s another Catholic hero, though not as well known as he should be: Oscar Wilde. He struggled with his sexuality, but sought to embrace the Catholic faith believing that her teachings would cure him of his orientation. He finally had the courage to enter the Church on his deathbed leaving behind his lifestyle and finding peace before he died. And the Church embraced him – another sinner to join the billions of us already in it, and another who saw the need for mercy.
So if the press are looking for Catholics with a past to bring down the Church, then they have plenty to choose from. Any one of the above could be accused of hypocrisy. Yet in spite of all these sinners, the Church is still here; why? Because God believes in mercy - he sent his Son as the price of that mercy, and he pours it out on all and offers us a new life, a new beginning and an eternal destiny. And that gives us great hope! A hope that is absent in much of our society. We will not abandon the Church, or her teachings, because they speak of hope, holiness and eternal life: they guarantee that when we fall, the Lord will pick us up again and our brothers and sisters will wipe the dust off us and help us along the way. We may have reparation to do, sometimes very serious reparation, and it must be done, but we can do it with humility trusting in God's forgiveness.
And so when people say we are hypocrites, we smile and agree, we throw our eyes to heaven and ask for mercy, and truly try to do better in future, with God's help. If I may quote Oscar: "Every Saint has a past, and every sinner has a future" - it may come as a shock to many, but we Catholics actually believe that, not in spite of the moral law as is, but because of it.