The word “hypocrite” has its origins in a Greek word meaning “actor”. If you have ever seen an ancient Greek play you will remember that all the actors wear masks, you never see an actor’s real face. A hypocrite is someone who puts on a false appearance, someone who wears a mask. Often, we use the term “hypocrite” in relation to people who put on a false appearance in terms of seeming to be religious or in terms of seeming to exemplify a certain virtue. When hypocrisy is revealed we know how harmful it can be. Jesus also knew this. This is why in today’s gospel (Mt. 23:27-32) he chastised the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees. But hypocrisy can come in a wide variety and in many forms.
Some of you may have seen Miley Cyrus’ act at the MTV Video Music Awards recently. I did not see the show. Since I have moved to Chattanooga I have decided not to have a TV and even when I did have a TV I did not watch MTV. (I remember when MTV first came out and when they actually played music videos. Now, I don’t know what MTV is really about.) Anyway, so many of my friends were talking about it the next day on Facebook that I pulled it up on YouTube and watched it. Now, I do not necessarily have anything against Miley Cyrus. She seems to be quite talented which, to me, makes it all the more sad that she felt she had to perform in such a way but as I watched her performance I was just struck by the hypocrisy of it all. For whatever reason (maybe to move beyond her Hannah Montana image or to prove she is an adult) Miley chose to deny her dignity and on a national stage belittle herself and her worth.
Ladies, because Miley Cyrus is a role model (whether she chooses to admit this or not), because she is someone you grew up with, she also belittled you. This act fundamentally said that all you are is an object, something to be used for the pleasure of another. That is a lie. You are no one’s plaything. You have a dignity and a worth and if others ever try to deny that then to hell with them!
Gentlemen, this act also belittled you. Basically, it said that this is all you are about and that this type of activity is all you want from a woman and that it is also all that you are capable of. It said that there really is no dignity or virtue in being a man. This also is a lie. Don’t settle for this lie.
So, MTV has Miley and her crew up on stage dancing around with stuffed bears on their backs. (What was up with that? Who thought that was a good idea?) Who do we have? Well, we have a crusty old bishop from North Africa!
St. Augustine lived in a time very similar to our own. The security and peace of the great Roman Empire was unraveling at the seams. There were many voices in society and culture competing with one another and not connecting. The social institutions were just no longer working. In the midst of all of this; Augustine was asking the question, “Where do I find God?” God was certainly not in the diminishing strength of the empire nor was God in the structures of society. In the best sense of the term, Augustine turned inward and he realized, building on the very beginning of Scripture that we are each made in the image and likeness of God, that the best place to find the reflection of God was within our very selves. That, by God’s grace, once we move beyond our fears and hypocrisies, we can recognize within ourselves a dignity that is truly undeniable because it is a reflection rooted in God himself! Augustine, throughout his life, proclaimed the healing mercy of God’s grace and that how in receiving that mercy we are healed and our dignity is restored. Augustine was no hypocrite. He did not need to put on a false appearance. He trusted in God’s love.
So, after MTV and Miley we are today presented with Augustine – a crusty bishop from North Africa. His words to us today: “Remember your dignity. Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t settle.”
There are Star War nerds, Star Trek nerds, Hello Kitty nerds and Lord of the Rings nerds … just to name a few. Part of the dynamic of the “nerd” is to keep returning to the source of fascination – watching the movie or reading the book for the one hundredth time. With this stipulation, I have come to realize that I am a St. Augustine nerd. Anything I come across by the Bishop of Hippo I latch onto even if I have already encountered it a number of times before. Today’s excerpt from Augustine’s Confessions found in the Office of Readings is a prime example. This is a very familiar section to me but yet, once again, it spoke in a new way and I found myself being led by the saint’s thoughts into a new insight.
The part that most struck me was the first paragraph quoted.
Lord, you know me. Let me know you. Let me come to know you even as I am known. You are the strength of my soul; enter it and make it a place suitable for your dwelling, a possession without spot or blemish. This is my hope and the reason I speak. In this hope I rejoice, when I rejoice rightly. As for the other things of this life, the less they deserve tears, the more likely will they be lamented; and the more they deserve tears, the less likely will men sorrow for them. For behold, you have loved the truth, because the one who does what is true enters into the light. I wish to do this truth before you alone by praising you, and before a multitude of witnesses by writing of you.
First off, Augustine’s audaciousness strikes me. Lord … Let me know you. This is God that Augustine is addressing before whom we are each just a speck of dust yet Augustine is confident to make this request. Augustine can do this because he has come to realize that God indeed wants to be known by us. God wants relationship with us. In fact, all of salvation history can be read as God seeking relationship with us. An effort, on God’s part, that culminates and is fulfilled in the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Second, Augustine realizes that for us to begin to know God we need to first open ourselves to him; allowing him to make of us a pleasing dwelling place by his purifying presence. Augustine is not shy about confessing his own sinfulness and he is wise enough to recognize that God cannot dwell together with sin and evil. We cannot hold onto our sins and expect God to not notice nor care. The presence of God demands conversion – both big and small – on our part. I believe that one of the most besetting sins of our age is a fundamental ingratitude in the heart that flies into a huff when anyone (including God) dares to challenge it to move beyond its self-absorption and narcissism. This ingratitude is witnessed to in the thought that God had better accomodate himself to my sins rather than myself being challenged and converted.
I would venture to say that Augustine would have no place for those with an ungrateful heart. In other words, I think that the saint would be someone who would find it hard to suffer fools. This awareness on Augustine’s part of the needed purifying presence of God in life brings insight and allows him to judge rightly the tenor of the times where what does not deserve tears is lamented and where what does deserve tears is barely noticed let alone sorrowed after. Allowing God’s presence to make of us a pleasing dwelling does not just remain within as a comforting sentiment, a warm fuzzy inside. The more that God comes to dwell within the more one is able to both discern the world and see correctly while also discerning oneself and ones own place in the world.
This is where my own Vocation Director ears listen in attentively to Augustine’s development of thought. When we in all humility allow God to come within us and “know” us; we learn who we ourselves are meant to be. We start to realize our vocation in life. When we do not allow God within then we will never break beyond the surface of any true self-knowledge. No matter how many seminars we go to or self-help books we read or hours in therapy we attend or “stuff” we acquire.
When we allow God within we discover who we ourselves are.
For behold, you have loved the truth, because the one who does what is true enters into the light.