I am not a hypocrite, the Devil wants you to quit, and you belong.
This blog is about me, but it’s also about you. It’s about how you see me, and it’s also about how you see yourself.
I am not a hypocrite.
“You are not a hypocrite.”
“You are not a hypocrite.” That’s what a priest recently told me when I was feeling most hypocritical.
His statement struck me as rather odd. At that point in time, I was fairly confident I matched the definition to a tee. In fact, I was pretty sure that if you opened up to the word “hypocrite” in the dictionary, Merriam-Webster would have my headshot as the featured photo on that particular page. So I guess his statement was shocking, in the sense that I couldn’t see any way that I wasn’t a hypocrite, and unexpected, in the sense that I wasn’t exactly anticipating anything other than silence on the issue of my hypocrisy which loomed so obviously in the air.
I am Peter, and I am Paul.
From the earliest times I can remember, I’ve had a heart like Peter’s. I have loved boldly. I have lived my life out loud. And I’ve also said stupid things. And I’ve also failed.
The connection I’ve felt to Peter as his life is spilled out across the Gospels has been there ever since I first read the Bible. From wanting to give all of my heart to finding that more often I come up short, my heart has always leaped when I recalled Jesus giving Peter the opportunity to say, once again, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you!”
But more recently, the notion of actually having to say this again has left me with a sick and empty feeling in my stomach, deep down in my gut. And, so, rather than returning to this narrative I’d so relied on before – feeling like I couldn’t even dare to relate to Peter anymore because I’d failed way more than three times and because I’d gotten to a point where I wasn’t even sure I could respond to Jesus as Peter did and still believe it – I thought, “Who’s worse than Peter?” And then I remembered: Paul.
Paul killed Christians and still God chose him! Well, I hadn’t done that! Surely God could still love me.
But then I thought about the fact that Paul kind of turned his life around in a pretty big way after his conversion experienced. And then I remembered that I had experienced a similar turnaround when I had a pretty radical conversion of my own. Yet, here we were: Paul’s had stuck and mine had not.
So I was back to feeling bad about myself. But, in that confessional, the priest mentioned Paul. And then something clicked! Romans 7:15.
“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
Paul hadn’t perfected himself! This man that we revere as a saint still fell victim to some of the very same trials and temptations he suffered before he was claimed for Christ. Indeed, in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he writes:
Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
(2 Corinthians 12:7-9)
We hear this sentiment echoed in the letter to the Ephesians, in which it is written:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast.
Though we know not what this sin was that continued to affect Paul, we do know that it was not enough to keep God from continually choosing Paul in a significant way.
All of this is fine and dandy, but my name is not Paul and I am nothing special. I am not doing anything of the magnitude of Paul’s ministry, nor do I think I’m anywhere near willing to die a death like Peter did, proclaiming his love of Christ.
But maybe He can use me still.
Jesus thinks you’re dumb.
When Jesus first called on Peter, it seems Peter already knew he was destined to fail him. Immediately, Peter falls on his knees, saying, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). But, as my confessor pointed out, Jesus did not leave him. Instead, to a man clearly not understanding the wisdom of God, Jesus, in effect, says, “Get up, you bumbling fool. Come follow me.”
At the height of our feelings of shame and unworthiness, when we cannot or should not press on in the presence of the Lord, Jesus is calling us off the ground. He is calling us out of our sin, saying, once more, “Come. Follow me.”
All fall short.
You were made in the image and likeness of God, you have inherent dignity and worth, and you have a Father who loves you more than life. That is the core of the Christian message.
While we’re called to strive to do better, to be better – to attain freedom and life – it is the truth of human nature that we are both flawed and sinful. Though we may certainly temper some of that ugliness, as we grow in holiness through prayer and practice and an abundance of grace, we may never be fully rid of the disease which poisons our hearts.
Romans 3:23 assures us of this:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
I think we often forget that. Church friends and secular friends alike get scandalized at the notion that anyone within the Church should commit any sin.
So we hide our sin, just as Adam and Eve sought to hide theirs. We succumb to shame. And we wind up isolated, out of communion with God and neighbor. And this is just what the Devil wants: disunion. In some sense, that is what hell is. And anyone who’s been through that cycle of sin and isolation and distrust can attest to anguish it can cause. But, once more, that is not the will of God.
In fact, to do anything other than to boast of our weaknesses, “that the power of Christ may dwell in (us),” is to blaspheme the name of God by making Him a liar (2 Corinthians 12:9). It is to make ourselves guilty of denying Him by denying our need for Him.
It is to deny the tremendous consequence of His sacrifice – a sacrifice that is not just an event for the history books nor something that ceases to apply once we’ve had our conversion. It is to deny a sacrifice that is to us an efficacious grace, an ever replenishing source of life. It is to reject the very essence of God’s character, which does not cease to meet us in the present tense and restore us when we are found to be dead in our sin once more.
And to be scandalized by sin is not the call of a Christian; it is to be ministers to it.
The Devil wants you to quit.
Being a Christian who still struggles with sin is not hypocrisy; being a Christian who doesn’t believe in God’s desire and power to save – and to save again – is. Anyone who tells you anything different is not of God but of the Evil One.
The Devil wants you to quit. The Devil wants you to finally get to that point I got to – the point where you’re tired of asking for forgiveness for the same sin the hundredth time over again, the point where you succumb to shame, the point where you start to doubt if you’re really capable of love.
He wants you to stop going to church, to feel out of place. He wants us to make people feel that way. And he seeks to get you to gradually let him take you over. The ultimate revenge you can take on the Devil, however, is never letting him have his way. Never let him have the final say when you’ve fallen – yet again.
You belong here.
If you are broken, you belong here. If you are sinful, you belong here. You belong in the Church.
The old RCIA adage goes: “the Church is not a museum of saints, but a hospital for sinners.”
In the Gospels, Jesus explains that He came for sinners. “Those who are well have no need of a physician,” He says. “It is those who are well that do” (Luke 5:31-32).
You belong here. Shame has no place here – only mercy and healing. Call out the voice of the Evil One when he tries to prevent you. Indeed, advance boldly. Come forth and be healed. Come, and find communion. Come to Reconciliation, and never tire of coming back.
Begin again, for the Church is not whole without you.
What you are is loved.
I want to conclude with the words that priest spoke to me that brought my heart to my throat. At the close of confession, he told me, “Jesus has told his Father about you. And He has told Him good things.”
Read those words and re-read them, especially when it feels like they couldn’t possibly be true. God loves you, and He longs to take you to himself. He reconciles the wandering heart, and He sows healing where we’ve sown hurt.
It might be harder to continue to allow the Divine Physician to restore your life and regenerate love in your heart, but it becomes ever more necessary.
Because you are not a hypocrite.
Because what you are is needed. What you are is willed. And what you are is loved.