Thursday, January 13, 2011

Do as President Obama says, not as he does

Hypocrisy is the pretension to qualities which one does not possess.  Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, in a sermon delivered in the presence of Pope Benedict XVI on March 11, 2007, explained the gravity of hypocrisy: "Hypocrisy is the sin that is most powerfully denounced by God in the Bible and the reason for this is clear. With his hypocrisy, man demotes God, he puts him in second place, putting the creature, the public, in first place. "Man sees the appearance, the Lord sees the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7): Cultivating our appearance more than our heart means giving greater importance to man than to God.

Hypocrisy is thus essentially a lack of faith; but it is also a lack of charity for our neighbor in the sense that it tends to reduce persons to admirers. It does not recognize their proper dignity, but sees them only in function of one's own image.

Christ's judgment on hypocrisy is without appeal: "Receperunt mercedem suam" (They have already received their reward)! A reward that is, above all, illusory, even on a human level because we know that glory flees from those that seek it, and seeks those who flee from it.

Jesus' invectives against the scribes and the Pharisees also help us understand the meaning of purity of heart. Jesus' criticisms focus on the opposition between the "inside" and the "outside," the interior and the exterior of man.

"Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men's bones and filth. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matthew 23:27-28).

The revolution which Jesus brings about here is of incalculable significance. Before him, except for some rare hint in the prophets and the Psalms — "Who will ascend the mountain of the Lord? Those whose hands are innocent and whose hearts are pure" (Psalm 24:3) — purity was understood in a ritual and cultural way; it consisted in keeping one's distance from things, animals, persons or places that were understood to contaminate one and separate one from God's holiness. Above all, these were things associated with birth, death, food and sexuality. In different forms and with different presuppositions, other religions outside the Bible shared these ideas.

Jesus makes a clean sweep of all these taboos and does so first of all by certain gestures: He eats with sinners, touches lepers, mixes with pagans. All of these were taken to be highly unsanitary things. He also sweeps away these taboos with his teachings. The solemnity with which he introduces his discourse on the pure and the impure makes apparent how conscious he was of the novelty of his doctrine.

"And he called the people to him again and said to them: 'Hear me all of you and understand; there is nothing outside a man that by going into him can defile him. It is the things that come out of a man that can defile him.... For from within, out of the heart of a man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man'" (Mark 7:14-17,21-23)."

Jesus knew that the pharisees often preached a good game but that they failed to live up to what they preached.  Which is why He told His listeners, "Do as they say, not as they do."  Might not the same be said of President Obama?  At a memorial on Wednesday for those killed and wounded by Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson, Arizona, President Obama said (in part): "At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized - at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do - it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds...As we discuss..issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility.."

But the same president who is urging us to talk with each other "in a way that heals..not a way that wounds," not long ago "..rejected a series of bipartisan town halls, and said that if there's a political knife fight, he'd bring a gun."  See here.  Yes, that is certainly a shining example of meaningful dialogue and calm rhetoric.  One can feel the charity and humility in such discourse.  President Obama is so determined to engage in peaceful dialogue that when Pope Benedict XVI telephoned him after the election to congratulate him on his victory and brought up the subject of abortion, he responded simply, "We agree to disagree."  (See here).  And, referring to Christians, Jews, Muslims and others who are opposed to homosexuality on moral grounds, he said that such people are clinging to "worn arguments and old attitudes."  (See here).  Yesiree, a good does of humility right there.

As one of those whom President Obama has dismissed as "clinging to religion" (I do not own a gun), I'll certainly reflect very carefully on his words.  And I will listen as well to my Master: "Do as he says, not as he does."

1 comment:

Alan said...

I think most people of good will can see through Obama's claptrap. In my opinion, he's a one-term president. He has been nothing but a lightning rod for division and turmoil.

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