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The Journey of a Self-Reflective Hypocrite

I want to spend some time talking about the nature of hypocrisy. It seems as though a byproduct of our social media use is that we’ve gotten really good at pointing out hypocrisy, and for some reason our tolerance for it seems lower than that of most any other character flaw. We demonize hypocrisy rather than seeking to better understand the root cause and correlations of the inconsistencies.


For the past few months, I’ve been writing about society’s shift from a knowledge age to an understanding age, and the challenges and opportunities that poses for learning, teaching, and simply being human. In my last post, I make the argument that human thriving involves vigorously pursuing a learning agenda that includes matters of both the mind and heart. However, the duality of this approach can lead to trouble when the inclinations of the heart don’t marry up with the rationalities of the mind. Societal sensibilities also change, and the longer we’re around, the greater the chance that the choices we are making today appear at odds with our actions of the past - even if our values have remained generally consistent. Thus, hypocrisy (or the perception of hypocrisy)  grows with time.


While exploring these thoughts the past few months, I have also been thinking about the Church and what compels me to remain Catholic. We all know that organized religion has taken a pretty big hit, particularly the past 10 years and particularly among young people. However, what is more noteworthy to me are the number of my middle-aged friends and family who have drifted away from their faith tradition, mostly because they find it to be out of touch or lacking relevance in their daily lives. Why, then, do I stay? Is it simply out of habit? 


Through it all, my reflections kept calling me back to a single clarifying realization - I love the beautiful, richly significant gift of Catholic Social Teaching which articulates in a most aspirational way what it means to be in right relationship with a broken world. Here is a brief description of the major tenets. 

  • Life and Dignity of the Human Person: “We believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.”

  • Call to Family, Community, and Participation: “The person is not only sacred but also social…We believe people have a right and a duty to participate in society, seeking together the common good and well-being of all, especially the poor and vulnerable.”

  • Rights and Responsibilities: “The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to life and a right to those things required for human decency.”

  • Option for the Poor and Vulnerable: “A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring.”

  • The Dignity of Work: “The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God's creation.”

  • Solidarity: “We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences…At the core of the virtue of solidarity is the pursuit of justice and peace.”

  • Care for God's Creation: "We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation…We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God's creation.”


Wow. It’s hard not to find inspiration in these guideposts. However, that’s also why so many find fault with the Church. Whether through the hurtful acts of individuals, or the seeming rigidity of Church doctrine and practice, hypocrisy abounds. This is where it’s helpful to recognize the immensity of the Church, its 2,000 year history, and that it exists within the imperfect realities and sometimes pure evil of our modern world. In the end, I like to believe that we are a Church that tries…and fails…and then tries again.


This isn’t meant to give the Church a pass on its failings, nor am I suggesting that the Church not be challenged. Some people have good reasons to struggle with forgiveness or with a particular position. The role of women in the Church is one such example where a person might feel disenfranchised. I simply believe that a world with the Church is far better than a world without it. In the spiritual sense, redemption matters.


Much of my last post dealt with the importance of developing a regular practice of introspection to form a clearer sense of understanding. This internalization is important, but in order to activate our true humanness, at some point, our introspection needs to become extrospection. We need to focus our attention outward and act with purpose. This is the important turn where our practice of critical thinking becomes an enactment of self-transcendence.


In my last post, I referenced magis, a Jesuit term that orients our actions toward “the more universal good”. Fidelity to the magis requires us to constantly seek a more complete understanding of our world, to acknowledge with gratitude our giftedness, and to respond with generosity and courage. Magis, then, is self-transcendence in action.


This likely sounds quite daunting, however, self-transcendence isn’t attained when a person crosses some magical threshold that provides instant wisdom and makes the person immune to societal influence and the desire for peer approval. Rather, it’s when a person (or institution) recognizes their hypocrisy in negotiating life’s numerous complexities, and attempts to reconcile inconsistencies bit by bit as circumstances evolve. In other words, it’s living in the mess not above it. I like to think, then, of magis as a series of “one-percenters” - small little course corrections that might seem insignificant, but when viewed over a long enough horizon, lead to greater goodness. By focusing on little wins - often within the context of larger goals and concerns - it is possible to live our daily lives without feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of all that is acting on us and around us.


At this point, I’d like to bring in one last theme from previous posts from this series, accompaniment. I spent the past week with teachers and administrators from Catholic, Jesuit schools discussing the integration of global perspectives into our shared daily work. Through presentations and conversations about programs, structures, possibilities, and barriers, what became most apparent to me was the deep desire of those present to find ways of accompanying youth toward a hope-filled future where global understanding informs personal action. This is the path of self-transcendence. This is the magis. Boarding the plane home I was filled with gratitude for witnessing that Catholic Social Teaching is not just alive in our schools, it is ablaze. Catholic education matters.


All of this talk about magis reminded me of a quote Yulia Navalnaya attributed to her late husband Alexei Navalny during a powerful press statement she gave after his death, “It is not shameful to do a little. It is shameful to do nothing.” Unfortunately, the complexities of our broken world make it easier to do nothing. Our daily challenge, then, should simply be to muster something - to move the ball forward even when progress feels frustratingly slow or difficult. By doing so, we become co-authors of humanity’s future, a story in search of a happy ending. 


CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Hausman, AVLI President

vol 6 issue 7


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