It’s important for the man, woman or child who is going to live out the Christian faith to have the courage and integrity to be exactly who they appear to be. I remember a time when I used to begin almost every sentence with “I swear to God…”, convinced that this would help people believe what I was saying. In the early days as a Christian, around the time of my own conversion, it also began to make sense to me of just how wrong this was on my part. First of all, and perhaps most obviously this is taking the Lord’s name in vane (invoking His name to somehow make my words more meaningful) but also knowing that what I was saying wasn’t always exactly true, sometimes embellished, sometimes completely untrue – I had habitually used the Lord to live a lie. I’ve been given many graces in my life, one was (with the Lord’s help) to break this habit. To strive to have my word mean something, to work towards my own sense of personal integrity. I know that I have embellished and there have been times when I have fallen short in my personal integrity, but today through prayer and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, I begin again and I try to live a life of greater integrity.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls out the Pharisees for their lack of integrity. That they appear one way to the people and behave differently is not something which only Jesus sees. He calls them out because this is what many people see. This is not just their sin, it can be ours too.
Bad examples on the part of Christians can be the greatest obstacle to faith and actually has the greatest effect on “anti-evangelization”. Fewer people desire to be Catholic Christians because they witness first hand how we pay lip service to our faith. It may not be the whole picture, but it appears to people who see us sometimes that we are more about the exterior structures of our faith than the interior disposition that a deep faith offers us; peace of heart and a great love for God. Of course, there are layers to this and its not all that simple. I remember a conversation with a good friend of mine in seminary. I told him it impressed me that he was so happy all the time. He told me that he wasn’t, and that he struggled like everybody else – but that he tried to make sure that especially when he was struggling, he put a smile on his face. At first, I thought that this was “fake” but he further explained that “everybody shouldn’t be having a bad day because I am”. This is integrity. He was not living in self-denial but thinking of others besides himself, the mark of a good Christian.
Good examples on the part of Christian can be the greatest tools to faith and evangelization. I know more than a few call stories inspired by the examples of good Christians. Integrity and the courage to be who Jesus calls us to be, both in the outward way we live our lives that others see and inwardly in the time we give to prayer and the disposition of our souls; these are the marks of a true and authentic Christian life. May God bless you.