Sunday, October 16, 2005

How To Avoid Hypocrisy On Life Issues

Senator Bill Frist: Pray for him, that he will forsake his hypocricy and become a saint!

(Twenty-ninth Sunday of the Year (A): This homily was given on October 16, 2005 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I. Read Matthew 22: 15-21.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Twenty-ninth Sunday 2005]

A couple of months ago, Bill Frist from Tennessee—the majority leader in the United States’ Senate—caused quite a stir when he came out publicly in support of embryonic stem cell research.

This was disturbing to many of us because Senator Frist—who also happens to be a medical doctor—has always claimed to be pro-life.

I decided to write to him about this issue, and about the inconsistency of his position. He sent back a form letter, via email, in which he made the following statement: “Because embryonic stem cell research requires that embryos be destroyed and because I believe that all human life deserves respect and dignity, stem cell research should be conducted only within a highly regulated, transparent system of ethical and moral oversight. Within this system, a limited number of stem cells should be derived only from embryos that would otherwise be discarded or destroyed.”

Now if those two sentences make any sense to you, I would ask you to please explain them to me after Mass. Senator Frist makes 3 assertions there: first, he admits that doing embryonic stem cell research involves the destruction of human embryos; secondly, he says that all human life deserves respect and dignity; finally, he says that it’s okay to kill human embryos for research, if they were going to be killed anyway by somebody else.

First, he acknowledges that embryonic stem cell research involves the killing of the innocent; then he asserts that he’s pro-life; and finally he says that, under certain conditions, it’s okay to directly kill the innocent.

That makes no sense, my brothers and sisters! It’s completely illogical.

I wrote the following brief letter back to Dr. Frist:

“So let me get this straight, Senator . . . if a human embryo is earmarked for death by some immoral means, you say that it’s acceptable to destroy this human being in another manner which is just as immoral.

“I’m glad we clarified that point.

“Just for the record, if you decide to run for president someday, don’t expect my vote.”

By the way, those of you who think I only criticize Democrats from the pulpit, please take note: Senator Bill Frist is a Republican!

Quite frankly, I don’t care which side of the aisle a politician is on. If he happens to be on the wrong side of these moral issues, he’s wrong—and he’ll hear about it from me (as he should hear about it from every committed Catholic)!

I mention this today because Senator Bill Frist is being a hypocrite on this matter—in the classical sense of that term.

Hypocrisy comes from a Greek word meaning “to play a part” or “to pretend.”

A hypocrite is someone who pretends to believe certain things, but really doesn’t!

We’re sometimes told that a hypocrite is somebody who doesn’t practice what he preaches. Strictly speaking, however, that’s wrong; that’s not hypocrisy!

It’s true that a person might fail to practice what he preaches because he really doesn’t believe it—that certainly is possible. But it’s also true that he might fail to practice what he preaches for reasons which have nothing to do with hypocrisy.

For example, you may fail in a given instance to practice what you preach because of simple human weakness!—because you let temptation get the better of you. In fact, that happens to all of us every day, does it not? We commit little sins, not because we think the sins are okay (we know they aren’t), but rather because of our weak, wounded human nature.

We believe the right things; we just don’t always live accordingly.

The senator’s situation is different. He says he believes that all human life is sacred, but then he indicates by his new position on embryonic stem cell research that he really doesn’t believe that at all!

In reality, he believes that some human lives are sacred and deserve the protection of the law, but this does not include the lives of embryos (which, of course, are human beings at a very early stage of development). Remember, you and I were once embryos!

In today’s Gospel story from Matthew 22, the disciples of the Pharisees demonstrate this same type of hypocrisy as they converse with Jesus.

They and the Herodians say to our Lord, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”


Since when did they believe that?

In Matthew 12, the Pharisees accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons! That’s what they really thought: that Jesus was in league with Satan!

For almost 3 years they had been arguing with our Lord about the Old Testament Law.

They accused him time and time again of violating the truth that God had revealed through Moses and the prophets.

And all of a sudden they’ve come to the conclusion that Jesus is the great “guru of truth”?

I don’t think so!—which is precisely why our Lord called them “hypocrites” in this scene!

The only thing these men said to Jesus—and actually believed—was this line: “You are not concerned with anyone’s opinion, for you do not regard a person’s status.”

They knew that was true, of course, by their own experience! They were leaders in the community—they had social and religious status—people looked up to them—but Jesus not impressed by any of it! And he let them know that on many occasions—including this one!

Today I believe the Lord offers us a simple challenge on issues related to the sanctity of life. You could call it, the “If, then challenge.”

He says to us, “If you really believe that human life is sacred (which you should!)—and if you believe that life begins at the moment of conception (which is a scientific fact), then . . .”

  • You will oppose abortion, contraception, embryonic stem cell research, cloning, and anything else that attacks innocent human life at its beginning.

  • You’ll oppose physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia, and anything else that attacks innocent human life at its end.

  • You will speak about your convictions with others in a respectful but clear manner.

  • You will pray every day that respect for human life increases in our world.

  • You will pray for the conversion of those who promote the culture of death, and for the re-conversion of hypocritical compromisers like Senator Frist.

  • You will offer encouragement and whatever other assistance you can to women in difficult pregnancies.

  • You will offer words of consolation and hope to hurting, repentant women who have had abortions and now deeply regret it. If they’re Catholic, you’ll encourage them to go to Confession, and to a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat (if they need inner healing).

  • You’ll make “the right to life” your primary issue when you vote, refusing to support politicians who uphold laws that allow the killing of innocent human life at its beginning or its end—regardless of what party they belong to.

  • And you’ll do all these things consistently.

That’s the “If, then challenge”. It’s the challenge to be true to what we say we believe as disciples of Jesus Christ. It’s the challenge to avoid hypocrisy and to embrace sanctity.

Because that’s really what a saint is, my brothers and sisters. A saint is not only a person who is extremely virtuous; a saint is also someone who is an “anti-hypocrite”. Hypocrites don’t believe what they say. Saints, on the other hand, say it—and believe it—and most importantly, they live it.

May the Lord give us the grace we need, today and every day, to be saints.