Hypocrisy is always shameful—whether it be the hypocrisy of a priest who preaches fidelity to the Gospel but is, in his own life, unfaithful to it, or the hypocrisy of a public official who swears to defend the Constitution but is remorseless in its transgression, or the hypocrisy of one who has traded his birthright to speak his mind for the shameful post of a bootlicker!
In the same measure that martyrdom and heroism are part of the heritage of the Church, hypocrisy is. Peter was Jesus’ closest confidant. Even in those days, he enjoyed primacy—and everyone knew it, even Paul who was not quite always disposed to yield to it. And yet, on the fateful night that his Master was arrested and he was asked by a nameless servant-girl whether he was a friend of the defendant, he feigned ignorance. What a hypocrite he was when he had sworn that he was ready to lay down his very life for the Lord when he knew only too fully well that he did not have the fiber to make good on his promise!
It is one thing though to be a hypocrite, to be ashamed of it, to beg for forgiveness for one’s duplicity and to carry on as best one can, and quite another to boast of one’s failings, make light of them, and cast oneself in the image of one who dares all and fears none. “Look not on our sins but on the faith of your Church…” that is the priest’s constant prayer. But it is not the tirades of politicians and rulers that truly sting us. We are hardest hit whenever we don the sacred vestments of the Eucharist, and then ascend the steps of the altar, where we face the people “in the person of Christ”. Stupid, the unbeliever will scream in his irrational paroxysm. Mercy, the believer will humbly and joyfully acknowledge!
And maybe it should be asked whether the facts really support the claim. How many cases have been proved as against accusations made? Accusations fly fast and thick, but proving them in a manner that satisfies the demands of reason is quite another. But we—hypocritical clerics that we are — are quite prepared to admit our failings. We have done so repeatedly. Yet one hypocrite can still teach another. First, no person’s life is pre-cast, and no person’s past completely defines him. The shorthand term for that is “freedom”. So the failings of the past need not constitute my identity. To the very same Peter who said of Jesus: “I do not know the man”, the very same Jesus, after his Resurrection, entrusted to the hypocrite a supreme ministry: “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.” Jesus trusts hypocrites — that is why he trusts his clergy. There is a part of the story that no human betrayal or duplicity can ever account for: It is called grace!
And when a hypocrite calls out to another hypocrite: “Do not kill”, the command is not falsified, after all, it is a command even older that Mount Sinai. It is the command inscribed on the face of each person I encounter, the face that gazes at me in the panoply of my power, staring at the muzzle of my gun—and judges me. This command, no hypocrisy can everyone annul!