Thanks be to God, the Mueller Investigation has come to an end, and that distraction can hopefully be put aside so that we can get on with the real work of government. The back and forth bickering between the two major parties reminds me of the struggles Jesus had with the seemingly religious but only ambition-motivated leaders of His time in Jerusalem. In the Gospels, we often hear Jesus using very strong language against the practices of the Scribes and Pharisees. He notices how, on the surface, they seem to be religious; but in reality, they are guided by selfish motives and the desire for attention. The word that Christ uses to describe them is ‘hypocrite.’ Hypocrite comes from a Greek word which basically means ‘stage actor.’ This is a concept with which we are all familiar, whether it is a television sitcom, a movie, or a stage production.
One of the key elements to the show are the actors. They take on a certain role and attempt to imitate the behavior of that character in every detail, from the way they dress to the way they move and even the way they speak. These actors can be so good at their role that if we were to meet them away from the performance, we would be surprised at just how different they are in real life. Acting can give a positive portrayal, but sometimes acting can also be used in negative way, such as to mask a person’s dark side. This negative way is the sense in which the Gospel uses the word ‘hypocrite’ to describe the Scribes and Pharisees. They put on a good act when they are being seen, but the rest of their life is just the opposite. Jesus calls them “whitened sepulchers.”
While it can be easy for us to look in judgment upon these Scribes and Pharisees, we are challenged to look at ourselves as well and see whether or not we tend to fall into this type of behavior. Most people have a tendency to want to be accepted and approved. As a result, we sometimes do or say things which will gain that acceptance, even if that behavior does not reflect our true values or identity. We feel pressure to fit in, whether it be among a group of people or according to an image that our culture presents to us as being acceptable or desirable. That pressure can be so powerful that we can easily give in and play the role of an actor, putting on a performance because we think it’s what others want to see from us and thereby gain that acceptance and approval.
It’s obvious to us how destructive this can be to our lives. Aside from doing and saying things we wouldn’t otherwise normally do, we are pushing aside our true identity, never really letting others, or ourselves for that matter, experience our true identity as God has so beautifully created us. So many people, especially young people, struggle with their true identity and can feel lost and discouraged because so much of their time is spent living up to an image or expectation that is not who they really are.
What, then, is the solution to overcoming this temptation to conform our lives to who we are not? The answer to this is faith. This may sound simplistic or even generic, but there is wisdom to be found in seeing it as a solution to this problem. Sometimes, we can confuse faith with knowing information about God. While that’s important, that is not faith. True faith is not just knowing about God, it is actually knowing God in the form of a relationship. But here we have to be very cautious about how it is that we approach our understanding of God through faith.
Pope Francis, in his encyclical on the light of faith, Lumen Fidei, says that “God cannot be reduced to an object. He is a subject who makes himself known and perceived in an interpersonal relationship.” Faith, then, must be focused first and foremost on a person, God, and our relationship with Him. As we continue to grow in that relationship, we will notice how He begins to take on a greater part in our life. We will become more and more convinced of just how much He loves us and wants to be the very center of your lives. We gradually will become more convinced that His teachings lead to a life of true freedom, joy and happiness. We will experience that feeling of acceptance and approval from Him just the way we are, and we will no longer be so concerned about what other people think about us or expect from us. We will begin to live our life according to the way that God wants us to live, according to His unique plan developing and growing in our relationship with Him. But we need that study of Him to be more than just information to remember. Let’s make it an opportunity not only to know more about Him who loves us and wants to be at the center of our lives, but to really get to know Him.
Eagerly welcome the many chances that you have to encounter Him in your reception of the Sacraments (especially the Holy Eucharist) your reading of the Scriptures, and in your daily time of prayer where you speak to Him and listen to Him speaking to you, and from attending retreats and lectures. From a deepened relationship, you will be better equipped to follow the path He has prepared for you which will lead you to the fullness of relationship with Him in the glory of Heaven.