Last weekend, I had a Baptism at one of the Masses at Our Lady of Hope. As with all Baptisms at Mass, we brought the family of the baby forward and we all affirmed our Baptismal promises together as a community with the new Christian. Any such affirmation, then, takes the place of the Profession of Faith (the Creed) at that liturgy. After Mass, I was handed an anonymous note telling me that “We didn’t profess our faith after the homily. Thanks.”
Now, I am capable of laughing at myself, but at that moment I was angry – this was anonymous, critical, and liturgically ignorant. In other words, I was right and they were wrong. How do I deal with such a situation? Well, this is 2019.
I posted the note on Facebook.
I commented, “For the curious, this is not how you enter into dialogue when you disagree with your pastor.” And I waited for the affirmation of my own righteousness that would soon flow from my friends’ comments – which they did.
However, after a while – and after my own opportunity for prayer that night, a night’s rest, and prayer in the morning – something gnawed at me about that posting. As with a lot on Facebook, it was petty and self-serving. And I had done it.
I was wrong.
I posted a second message of apology – and I am not seeking credit for this. I truly am sorry and humbled by my own sinfulness. I tell you all this story to my shame, and no one else’s.
Then, this weekend, we listen to our readings which illustrate a desire to present and know our “true colors.” “Praise no one before he speaks,” Sirach teaches, “for it is then that people are tested.” God is first interested in our hearts; then He seeks to guide our words and actions. Jesus shares this same sentiment: “For every tree is known by its fruit…. A good person out of the store of goodness in his heart produces good, but an evil person out of the store of evil produces evil; for from the fullness of the heart the mouth speaks.”
We cannot follow blindly – and we cannot lead blindly. Most real adults will admit that going through life is a scary business, and no one really has it all together and knows everything. There is no manual for “adulting.” Instead, we seek good examples and try to emulate those who show us goodness and right. This is what our Church leaders should be doing; it is what I should be doing – which I why I felt the need to correct myself publicly.
The leaders we choose says a lot about our values. The “news” we share says a lot about our presumptions – good and bad. The words we pick to express ourselves reveal our character. When we direct a critical eye toward our own hearts, what do we see? Can we really be that righteous in our own sight? Are we completely without fault? When we rub people the wrong way, is it because there is something wrong with them or, perhaps, is there something wrong with us? This is the virtue of self-reflection, and we all should practice it.
Mark Twain is credited with saying, “Better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.” This, I think, is also in the spirit of the message of our readings this weekend. If there’s one thing that God seems to despise in the Bible it’s hypocrisy; and hypocrisy is most evident and criticized in leaders.
So, let’s pray for those whom we follow – that their eyes may be wide open and clear, that they may see the one true Leader whom we all must follow. It takes humility to lead; it takes humility to follow. Jesus offers us the model and the grace to do both when the time is right.