In Scripture, St. Paul confesses, ‘I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’ (Romans 7:15). All of us are broken and all of us can relate to those words of St. Paul. But as Christians working to proclaim the truth, how do we handle our hypocrisy that seems inevitable? How do we tell people what God wants of them when we ourselves so often fail to do God’s will?
Recently on St. Joseph’s Workshop, Fr. Matthew Spencer, OSJ tackled this very problem – and offered a solution. He said:
“Those things that bother you about someone else – when you look at those things and you start to compare them to what is important to you, or your own values and your own weaknesses, you start to realize that the things that bother you in other people are actually the same things that you’re doing. Do you notice that?
When I get bothered by people leaving a mess somewhere, I start to realize that I make a mess somewhere too. Or when I get bothered by people doing x, y, and z then I notice that I have the same struggle. It’s just part of our weakness that we tend to see things like a mirror, so when people are doing those things badly it reflects our own weaknesses and our own errors. We don’t always recognize it, we don’t always see it, but it’s very common. It happens all the time.
Now, just because that’s the case, does that mean we shouldn’t talk about it? Does that mean it would be hypocritical of me to go and help this person stop doing that particular thing, or to correct that particular vice that they have? Because if I have the same problem, I better not correct anybody until I don’t have that problem at all.
It’s one of those things that is probably the most difficult part of evangelization – that we know so well that we’re hypocrites. You know you’re a hypocrite. And I’m not saying that to be judgmental, I’m saying that because it’s just the truth. All of us, as much as we know what’s important, as much as we know what we should be doing, we so often will choose to not do it.
We’ll sin and we’ll end up being hypocrites – maybe in minor ways, but it becomes a barrier to evangelization, doesn’t it? Because when we tell people, ‘This is what we believe’ and then in practice we’re not doing it, all of a sudden it’s this big barrier to authentic Christian witness.
But hold up, because I think that’s some misplaced logic. If you look at today’s Gospel, Jesus is pretty clear about that. He’s talking about judgement. And He’s saying be careful not to judge, because you’re going to be judged in the same way. Why are you noticing the small mistakes of your brother when you’re missing the fact that you share those same mistakes?
He calls us out on that hypocrisy, and He warns us of that hypocrisy, and the fact that we tend to judge people. We tend to hold people to standards that we ourselves can’t even live up to.
I think the difference is, here, that He’s not saying to lower your standards. He’s not saying to therefore not expect better things from other people. Just, you know, water down what I’m trying to tell you. Water down what you believe for other people. No. He’s saying be converted.
He’s saying start to change yourself. Remove that beam from your eye first, then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye. See, the solution to hypocrisy is not to stop proclaiming the truth. It’s not to stop helping people grow in their lives and turn away from their own vices. It’s not to stop talking about improvements to your spouse because you yourself aren’t perfect. Because if that was the case we would never be able to talk to each other about improvement. We’re always going to be imperfect.
The solution is to be converted yourself at the same time, and to help others not out of judgement. To help them clean up after themselves, to help them put the toilet seat down, whatever it is – those little things that bother you, or maybe not so little things that bother you.
You don’t need to wait for yourself to be perfect, but you do need to look at it through the lens of your own conversion. Say, ‘Am I working on that beam in my own eye, so that I can help to see the splinter in my brother’s eye. Am I working on being converted myself?’ Realizing that I’m a hypocrite, recognizing that this is just part of what it means to be broken.
We don’t stop proclaiming the Gospel because we’re imperfect. But instead we work on ourselves. We work on rooting out sin in our life. We work on being converted. And in the meantime, we still continue to help our neighbor out of love, out of care, and concern. Avoid judgement because we are going to be judged in the same way – instead be merciful but always desire the conversion of the sinner. And that starts first with myself.”
Listen to the full reflection below:
St. Joseph’s Workshop with Fr. Matthew Spencer airs weekdays from 9:00 – 10:00 a.m. Pacific on Immaculate Heart Radio.