The Church: weeding out the Pharisees....

2012-06-01 Vatican Radio

A reflection by Monsignor Peter Fleetwood focusing on what it is that makes people view practising Catholics as hypocrites:

" As a priest , I hear a variety of reasons for not going to church. Some are convincing, but most are not. The most common reason people give in my home country is this: "I don't bother going to church, Father . It's not worth it, because the place is full of hypocrites ". The clever answer is to say "One more will make no difference, so why not come and join us?"

Beyond clever answers , though, what is it that makes people view practising Catholics as hypocrites? Various famous people have given eloquent answers. Mahatma Gandhi admired Jesus Christ, but thought Christians seemed to fail miserably at putting into practice the values Jesus taught. Just a hundred years ago a man died after writing some bitter criticisms of Christianity: he was Friedrich Nietzsche, the philologist and philosopher whose sombre Lutheran childhood had convinced him that Christianity ought to have liberated people, but in fact made them miserable and mean-minded.

To see what he meant, look at the faces of people coming out of church on a Sunday. In some places people rush out of church as soon as they can , even before the liturgy has ended ; they just can't wait to get away. It obviously depends on many things, but where a community really knows how to celebrate faith , people gather and talk and greet their friends . They are clearly very happy to be part of a community where they find support and life. Their attendance at church is something which recharges their spiritual batteries and gives them the energy to make a difference to their world during the week ahead.

But there is more to this idea that churches are full of hypocrites. It is the accusation that people who go regularly to church claim to believe in the Gospel, but live by completely different standards. It means that those people are one thing on a Sunday , and quite the opposite for the rest of the week. We have to listen and take this seriously, because, even if it is not absolutely true, this is how Christians come across to some people. Jesus was the first to point out that his real followers would be recognisable by their fruits , in other words by the difference their faith made to the way they lived. And the Christians in Antioch were given that name because the way they lived proved they were striving to follow Christ's command : "love one another , the way I loved you "...

Listen to Monsigno Peter's full reflection in what is part of the series "Why Bother? Staying Catholic despite it all...", produced by Veronica Scarisbrick.