“Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye” (Matt 7:5).
A gnawing fear for many people is being “caught out”. That is, to be saying one thing, and to be found doing another. It is “the practice of claiming to have higher standards or more noble beliefs than is the case.” Are we not all guilty of this offence, or have we not at least fallen prey to its lure. Is there anyone who has not wanted to appear to others in the best light and who afterwards did not feel the shame in speaking words to which there was little, if any, real substance. But is it so clear-cut and simple? We are all too human, let us not depress the spirit of others by expecting them to be what we ourselves cannot. And those few souls who have reached the state of dispassion, they see the potentiality of Christ moving in, and about, in everyone without exception.
An innumerable number of lives with lots of potential have been stunted or discouraged by those who have found it easy to judge. Younger people, whether religious or not, who are especially idealistic and lack the experience to know that life is full of surprises and shocks, are prone to becoming sad or even depressed at the thought that they do not live up to their best intentions or creeds. Older people, whether religious or not, though far more realistic when it comes to the frailty and weaknesses of the flesh, can still suffer if they perceive themselves to be falling short of their own expectations or religious convictions. This is the dreadful and interminable fear, that we are empty talk and full of humbug. But whether young or old we must not be discouraged and never allow for the realization of our brokenness to rob us of our beliefs and inmost revelations. This does not mean that we do not chastise ourselves for falling short of our ideals nor that we do not hurt at the lost opportunities for the better man or woman. It is not to make easy excuses and certainly, above all, it is not a licence to draw others into our conflict. But it does mean that we make the distinction between hypocrisy as ordinarily understood and the ongoing and never-ending struggle against the “flesh”. It is good that our religious creeds are taller than ourselves. We should aim above and beyond our reach.
And so we will fall. But we get up again. Growing up is not easy.
I must not despair or consign myself to the outer darkness if I cannot live the life of a saint. For instance, I might be waging war against an addiction, and to believe whole heartedly this addiction to be wrong. I fight against it; I bleed against it; I judge it to be wrong; I might even write essays exposing its pitfalls; and yet sometimes I am caught up in its terrorizing and unrelenting grip. I pray for redemption. And my chest burns on account of my tears. Am I then a hypocrite if I speak out against this vice? But who knows better the horrors of this addiction than the addict who is waging war against it? Who can be a truer teacher than the one who is “trying”? It is a different matter to stand up on the pulpit, for example, to preach against the evils of adultery when you reckon it normal and healthy. Hypocrisy is to deceive consciously by not ‘boxing’ the self about the ears. Victory might be late in the coming, but it is always around the corner for it is the sum total of all other little victories.
And so do not destroy the pallet on which your colours have been set because you have given up on the vision you have seen during your brightest moments, when you were picked up by the scruff of the neck and given a glimpse of the horizon. Do not allow for anyone to disfigure the image which illuminates your soul because you are all too human. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). Are we not, all of us, engaged in our own secret battles? Are we not beset with a multitude of contradictions? And yet, as hopeless or far remote as it might appear, holiness is still possible and indeed, expected of us.
“Father, speaking Your name is enough to convict me of my powerlessness to keep steadfast to the truths which You have placed in my heart. But what is it that refuses to let me give up and to despair completely? I confess to what You already know… I am a hypocrite and heavy are these chains about my neck… And yet, Lord, thank You, I must not forget that however small my steps or dissembling in the eyes of others, it is these small steps which have brought me here, in this place, before You, day and night.”