Sr. Theresa Aletheia Noble, FSP is a former atheist who has returned to the Church and is now a religious sister with the Daughters of St. Paul. At the end of her life, she hopes to be able to say, “It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Sr. Theresa Aletheia is the author of The Prodigal You Love: Inviting Loved Ones Back to the Church and she blogs for Patheos at Pursued by Truth. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @pursuedbytruth as well as on Facebook.
When I became an atheist, I was very disillusioned with Christians. My father worked for the Church in some capacity for most of my childhood and this exposed me to wonderful, loving people but also to what I like to call the “underbelly” of the Church.
My dissatisfaction with religion was fueled by interactions and models of behavior among some Christians that were nothing like Christ.
Now that I wear a veil and am a visible symbol of the Church, I am acutely aware that my sinfulness could push someone away from the faith. I try not to let this awareness cripple me, or push me to act like a Stepford nun, but I do allow it to spur me to desire greater holiness.
Pope Francis has spoken a lot about the danger of hypocrisy during his pontificate saying “The sign that we are far from the Lord is hypocrisy.”
Here are five pieces of advice from Pope Francis to avoid hypocrisy and grow in holiness.
1. Acknowledge Our Own Faults: Hypocrites often have their fingers pointed at everyone else but him or herself. But the first weapon against hypocrisy is to admit it openly and acknowledge that we are not perfect. Not all of us feel comfortable doing this; it seems that more of us put on a show to some degree to appear more put-together than we actually are.
Pope Francis said once in a homily: “Men and women who can’t learn how to acknowledge their own faults become hypocrites. All of them? All of them: starting from the Pope downwards: all of them.”
2. Reach Out, Help Others: A hypocrite is unable to reach beyond his or her own interests, perhaps partly because maintaining a mask, and acting like someone he is not takes up so much energy.
Pope Francis says: “Take care of the neighbor: the sick, the poor, the needy, the ignorant … This is the yardstick. The hypocrites do not know how to do this, they can’t, because they are so full of themselves that they are blind on account of watching others.”
3. Pray with Tears: A person who prays draws closer to the light of God and this dazzling light allows us to see ourselves as we truly are. It is through prayer that we recognize the need to change, to become more like the God who we love. When we allow ourselves to cry, especially in prayer, it shows a level of authenticity and vulnerability that is impossible for the hypocrite who feels the need to maintain a façade of competence and self sufficiency.
Pope Francis exhorts us saying: “[Ask for the] gift of tears [so] as to make our prayer and our journey of conversion ever more authentic and without hypocrisy.”
4. Avoid Excessive Formalism: When we fall into hypocrisy, we can put an excessive emphasis on rules, especially the ones we are following. This is not to say that rules are bad, but when a person loves rules more than the Gospel, our faith becomes more about exterior actions rather than exterior behavior and interior transformation. Both are necessary.
Pope Francis spoke of this when pointing to the sin of “formalism”: “Christian hypocrites [are] only interested in their formalities. It was a Sabbath? No, you cannot do miracles on the Sabbath, the grace of God cannot work on Sabbath days. They close the door to the grace of God. We have so many in the Church, we have many! It is another sin.”
5. Learn the Language of Truth: One sure-fire way to avoid hypocrisy is to speak the truth in all situations. Hypocrites may have no problem pointing out other peoples’ faults but when it comes to self analysis, they are usually lacking.
To avoid hypocrisy Pope Francis tells us that truth is essential: “[Hypocrites] do not like the truth. They only like themselves and so they try to deceive and to involve others in their falsehood, in their lying. They have a false heart, they are unable to tell the truth.”
Christianity holds a high standard for us all and if we are honest with ourselves, we don’t meet it most of the time.
The truth is we are all hypocrites; we desire to avoid sin and yet continue to sin. But it is also true that there is a hypocrisy of degrees, and we can strive to surrender our inconsistent behavior to Jesus to transform it.
Jesus, I give you all within me that is lie, all that fights against the good in me, the person you made me to be. I surrender my hypocrisy to you and ask you to transform it, to make me more like you.