Archbishop François Fénelon (1651-1725) found it curious that people in the world were so anxious to think evil of good people. Such an attitude assumed that there are no good people on the earth. Some rejoice to feel this way and triumph in their spiteful thinking. Others are troubled, and despite a particular desire for what is good, they distance themselves from joining devout believers out of mistrust.

Not only that, but people are astonished to see a person who seemed to be religious, or who, more correctly speaking, converted while living in solitude, suddenly relapse into old ways and habits when confronted once more with what the world has to offer. Did they not know before that as mortals, they are frail, that the world is full of sinful contamination, and that spiritually weak individuals can only be faithful by deliberately avoiding occasions of falling? What are such instances all about? Indeed, this is a great fuss about the fall of rootless Christians whenever the winds of temptation blow! But, after all, are there not hypocrites in religion to be found in the world? And ought we conclude that there are no honest people because we encounter some who are false: When the world rejoices over the scandal of a person falling, it shows how little it knows about human nature or virtue.

We may grieve over such scandals, but those who know how deep human frailty goes and how we will not be surprised that even the little good we do is a part-time endeavor. So let those who stand upright tremble for fear that they too will fall; let those who wallow in the mire not rejoice because they see someone fall which seemed able to stand true to God’s calling.

Our confidence is neither in frail mortals nor in ourselves, who are as fragile as others. Our faith is in God alone, the one unchanging Truth. Therefore, let all humankind prove themselves to be mere mortals – that is to say, nothing but falsehood and sin. Let the rushing waters of immorality carry them away. Still, this will not weaken God’s truth, and the world will only show itself as more hateful than ever in having corrupted those who were seeking a quality spiritual life.

As for hypocrites, time always unmasks them, and they are sure to expose themselves one way or another. They are hypocrites only with the object of enjoying the fruits of their hypocrisy. Either their life is sensual and pleasure-seeking, or their conduct is self-interested and ambitious. They can be seen sweet-talking, flattering, playing all kinds of roles, whereas real virtue is simple, single-minded, free from conceit or camouflage. It does not rise and fall; it is never jealous of the success or reputation of others.

On the contrary, it does the smallest amount of wrong that it can, lets itself be criticized in silence, is content with small things, and is free from plots, maneuverings, and pretensions. Take it or leave it; it is always the same. Hypocrisy may imitate all this, but only very crudely. People may be deceived by it only through their lack of discernment or experience in real virtue.

People who do not understand diamonds. Or who do not examine them closely may be deceived by fake stones to be authentic. But the same is true that there are such things as natural diamonds, and it is possible to distinguish them.

In order to trust fair-minded people, we should be able to recognize their conduct as determined, steadfast, solid, and well-tried under difficulty, free from affectation, while firm and vigorous in all that is essential to real Christian character.[1]

King Solomon had a warning in the First Covenant about those who are careless in their conduct as Christians. He asks, “Who gets into fights and arguments? Who gets hurt for no reason and has red, bloodshot eyes? People who stay out too late drinking wine, staring into their alcoholic drinks. So be careful with wine. It is pretty and red as it sparkles in the glass. And it goes down so smoothly when you drink it. But in the end, it will bite like a snake. Wine will cause you to see strange things and to say things that make no sense. When you lie down, you will think you are on a rough sea and feel like you are at the top of the mast. You will say, ‘They hit me, but I never felt it. They beat me, but I don’t remember it. Now I can’t wake up. I need another drink.’”[2] He gives no reason for us to rejoice over such wasted lives.

And in the Final Covenant we hear Jesus say, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults – unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your face is muddied by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. You hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the splinter in another person’s eye.”[3]

So, let’s take the words of Jesus and make them our spiritual motto: “I will not judge those who hear what I’m saying but choose not to listen to what I’m advising them. I was born again to be a light to this world, not a judge.”[4]

[1] Fénelon, François: Paraclete Giants, The Complete Fénelon, Translated and Edited by Robert J. Edmonson, Paraclete Press, Brewster, Massachusetts, 2008, pp. 31-33; Vocabulary redacted by Dr. Robert R Seyda

[2] Proverbs 23:29-35

[3] Matthew 7:1-5

[4] John 12:47

About drbob76

Retired missionary, pastor, seminary professor, Board Certified Chaplain and American Cancer Society Hope Lodge Director.
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