Hypocrites. That’s what more and more people are calling the Catholic Church now, especially at the release of yet another report on Child Sexual Abuse by clergy in the USA. According to this particular report by the Attorney General in Pennsylvania, within a period of 70 years, 301 priests have been implicated in 1000 child abuse cases across six dioceses. A staggering number and supposedly what’s worse is the pattern of cover-ups made by bishops for their erring priests. Hypocrites! That’s what people are calling us now. We preach the word of God, but not practice it. We pronounce vows but lead double lives. We are supposed to shepherd the flock but lead them astray instead.
Hypocrites! The label, the charge stings! It hurts to be placed alongside Christ’s enemy number one, as we see in the Gospel today—the Pharisees and the Scribes. We are supposed to be on the side of our Lord, leading authentic, well-integrated, honest, sincere lives. But no, the Lord, today, in this Gospel today and at this point in our history, is asking us to face, albeit painfully, the hypocrisy of our lives and in our ministry. Not just on this issue of sexual abuse, but on other matters as well. Indeed, in what way or ways have we become the modern-day scribes and Pharisees? And what should be our response, how should we respond to this crisis of credibility that we now find ourselves in? “The Catholic Church is the Most Hypocritical institution in the world,” so says the President of the Philippines, who claims to have been molested by a Jesuit priest when he was a teenager, and who alleges corruption within the Church hierarchy. “Yes, we are a Church of hypocrites!” goes the glib response or reaction of many of the faithful, trying to defend the honor of the Church they love. So rather than an insult, the label has become a badge of honor. But, is that how it should be?
“You are all hypocrites,” a teenage, rebellious girl accuses the good Cardinal of Manila. And for a while, the Cardinal entertains the thought of shouting back but is able to control himself. This girl is sent to him for counseling by her parents who are his friends. “She is rebellious,” according to them, “please talk to her, and knock some sense into her head.” “Why do you say that,” the Cardinal asks the girl. The rebel explains herself: “My dad tells me not to smoke, and yet every night he is with his friends smoking and drinking and what not. My mom tells me to save up, to be frugal, but every weekend she shops and dines in classy restaurants with her amigas.” You are all fakes. You are all hypocrites!” She has a point, reflects the Cardinal. And in an instant, a flash of insight dawns on him. We are all seeking the truth, like this girl. We all want the truth. Rather than enemies, we must, therefore, regard one another as partners in the search for the truth. Jesus may appear to be lashing out at the Pharisees and scribes but he was not their enemy; surely, he wanted them to change. And that maybe the place to start. Looking inside us and recognizing in all our hunger and the deep longing for truth, for greater authenticity. In this age of fake news and post-truth, perhaps God is leading us to face our hypocrisy now, so we could become more credible witnesses of his Truth. And may our saint today, St Augustine, whose search for truth eventually led him to God, inspire us in this difficult journey. In the end, it is the truth as Jesus tells us that will make us free. Amen.
This homily was delivered on August 28, 2018, by Fr. Nono Alfonso, SJ, at the Jesuit Health and Wellness Center.