Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Masquerade

 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean” (Matt. 23:25-26).

Jesus lambasts the Pharisees seven times in Matthew 23 for being “hypocrites.” The word hypocrite comes from the Greek hypokrit─ôs, meaning a “stage actor; pretender, dissembler” (Source: Online Etymology Dictionary).

Apparently in Greek theater, an actor played several roles in each drama. Each role had a different mask, and as the actor changed roles, he/she changed masks to portray the new personality. So, a hypocrite is someone who changes masks to appear to be something different from what they really are.

Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites because they display the mask of holiness and piety on the “outside of the cup and dish,” but their inner lives are “full of greed and self-indulgence.” In order to be “pure in heart” (Matt. 5: 8), they are admonished to “first clean the inside of the cup and dish.”

Throughout their writings, Thomas Merton and Richard Rohr examine the concept of the “true self” and the “false self.” In simplistic terms, the true self is the stamp of God’s image on our souls along with all the accumulated shadows, and the false self is the different masks we put on to present to the world an image of ourselves that we think is more acceptable, more desirable or more lovable.

We all need masks to deal with reality. Different roles that we play in life like Greek actors on the stage, require different masks. The problem arises when we come to believe more in our masks than in our true selves. When this happens, we develop a false self.

This is my "spiritual director"
mask. Notice the Celtic cross
around my neck.
For example, I taught at the university level for over 30 years. Many students addressed me as “Professor Clymer.” At first, I was quite pleased with this appellation. I could strut around like a peacock with the illusion that I was somehow more important or more intelligent than other people.

I call it an illusion, because my mask belied my humble background, my longings for acceptance and my need for God. I had come to believe more in my role (mask) as a professor than a human being made in the image of God. Many years later, my illusion was ripped from me through a midlife crisis and intense inner work.

I could name many other delusional masks that I have worn, some more lightly than others. Parker Palmer, in his book On the Brink of Everything, describes well my inner work and its usefulness for embracing our true selves: “Contemplation is any way one has of penetrating illusion and touching reality” (p. 57).

The Pharisees presented an illusion of piety. They could not see the reality of their own shadow selves. They were supposed to be reflecting God’s plan for the world and his people. Instead they were “full of hypocrisy and wickedness” (Matt. 23: 28b). That is why Jesus criticized them so severely. He was trying to “penetrate their illusions” and get them to be in touch with their “reality.”

Palmer claims that any devastating loss can serve as a catalyst to make one touch reality and destroy illusions. He calls himself a “contemplative by catastrophe.” I have had catastrophes that have shattered many of my illusions, but I have also become much more self-aware through spiritual disciplines.

What role do you play that is the most tempting with which to identify and create a false self? What has served you the best in shattering your illusions of self-importance? Catastrophe or contemplation, or both?