Friday, 23rd Week, Ordinary Time, Cycle I

Published: September 11, 2015

Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily on Friday, Sept. 11, 2015 at a Mass for the knights and ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.

Bishop Taylor

One of the most common reasons people give for not going to church is the claim that the Church is full of hypocrites, by which they mean that we pretend to be better than we are. And it is true that in striving to become more like God, we sometimes speak a better line than we really live.

One alternative is to settle for mediocrity but that's even worse. Underachievement in the spiritual life is really a form of false humility, a failure to respond to God's call to holiness. The cure for hypocrisy is not to give up on improving ourselves, but rather to combine our quest for holiness with a quest for true humility.

In today's Gospel Jesus deals directly with the issue of hypocrisy and he suggests that the first task of the spiritual life is to see, and this seeing begins first by understanding clearly who we are and where we stand before God.

The cure for hypocrisy, the cure for pretense, is humility. 

Until we know our true selves we don't have much to offer others. Jesus asks: "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?" Indeed, those most blind to their own hypocrisy are most likely to find others hypocritical. Rather than presuming that others have honorable reasons for unexpected behavior, the blind person projects their own reasons onto someone else's actions and without noticing whose reasons they are, judges them negatively.

The cure for hypocrisy, the cure for pretense, is humility. But you don't get humility by just deciding you want to be humble — you know, lowering your eyes, suppressing your true feelings. That usually backfires, for instance turning formerly aggressive people into passive aggressive people.

True humility is the fruit of self-knowledge. The humble person knows that he is capable of just about anything: "But for the grace of God, there go I." Accepting ourselves as we really are requires courage and can only be accomplished in an atmosphere of unconditional acceptance — by God and at least one other person — which frees us finally from feeling like we have to pretend.

And then once we are able to see clearly, we begin to produce the fruit that derives from this clear vision. Just as figs don't come from thornbushes and grapes don't come from brambles, right living doesn't come from play-acting. People's words often betray inadvertently what's really going on inside. We laugh about Freudian slips, but what's happening is that the truth slips out despite the speaker.

And sometimes you can hear the pain of a person in a loveless life in the tone and manner in which otherwise innocuous words are spoken. As Jesus says in the passage in Luke that immediately follows today's Gospel, it is "from the fullness of the heart that the mouth speaks."

In today's Gospel Jesus shows us the way to a fuller life, how to build up the store of goodness in our heart, with the result that our actions produce the good we intend, rather than the inadvertent bad we don't intend. The key is clear vision and acceptance of our true self, including things we have reason to be ashamed of.

The resulting humility enables us to avoid hypocrisy, to avoid pretense as we aspire to the greatness that is ours and to the holiness to which the Lord calls us. Tomorrow Jesus will build on today's Gospel about hypocrisy and humility — the blind leading the blind — by reminding us that "A good tree does not bear rotten fruit ... it is from the fullness of the heart that the mouth speaks."