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False Piety (1)

In today's gospel reading for Mass, Jesus said:

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Interestingly, the Pharisees and scribes were considered in the first century to be the most holy Jews by almost everyone. And Jesus says our devotion must be better than theirs. He was not saying that people have to be holier than God to get into Heaven. He was pointing out that the "righteousness" of the Pharisees was not truly righteous. They had a false piety that appeared to be holy to many people, but down deep it was actually unrighteous. In fact, in one place Jesus says that hardly any Pharisees will enter Heaven!

So then, given that we do not have any actual Pharisees walking among us to examine, what does "false piety" look like? Could you recognize it at first glance? Would you be aware if you yourself had fallen into it? There are basically three types of false piety: 1) the "holier than God" types; 2) the "super humbles"; and 3) the "frowards". I will expand on each of these individually, but keep in mind the fact that these often do overlap in the same person (so examine your own heart closely). First, let us consider the "holier than God" type.

The "holier than God" ("HTG") false piety is seen most clearly in those who are always obsessed with the latest "spiritual high". Whether it is something good or something quirky does not matter. The HTG Catholic is always looking for a new spiritual trick (something to guarantee his trip to Heaven). They constantly change devotions because nothing truly satisfies them. They want to find holiness, but because they have a critical spirit, they always find something wrong. No, they do not usually something wrong with themselves (in fact, they virtually never recognize any of their own failures). Therefore they laud their newest discovery as the best thing ever, then a few weeks later they reject it for the next new thing.

Sadly, the HTG does not find things wrong because he is trying to correct it, but because he likes complaining ("that is not holy enough for me!"). This same personality is ready to leave one parish and go to another at the drop of a hat, because, once again, he is looking for a new "trick" for his faith. Interestingly, the complaints that come from an HTG are often vague or nondescript. "It's just not right, if you can't see why, then it proves that you are wrong as well!"

Truly, we should all be seeking greater holiness, but not because we are seeking a new and exciting spiritual high. We should seek holiness because we are called to be holy as God is holy. The HTG is on a constant search for the better way of being holy because he does not trust God properly to help him with becoming holy in the simple manner always available to God's people. This search appears holy because the HTG is always talking about his latest venture ("I joined this apostolate" or "I started saying the rosary 27 times a day" or "I now only read the Bible in the original Hebrew").

This might appear holy on the outside, but the person stuck in this Pharisaical pattern never reaches holiness. He may very well be very busy with spiritual stuff, but he never achieves actual growth in holiness because he is pursuing it for all the wrong reasons. In short, the person deceived into the HTG mindset thinks he is holy (and often deceives others into thinking the same thing) because he focuses on his "being busy" with spiritual activities, but never actual on what truly constitutes holiness: obedience to the clear commands of God.


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