It was a given that at some point, I’d be accused of it; of acting like I am holier than thou. Someone I considered at that point a friend said it directly to me a couple months back. And others close to me have shared that they, too, have heard the murmuring.
The most recent public pronouncement of it came in a Tweet on Twitter, responding to a blog post of mine: “This woman is catholic and obviously thinks she too is infallible, smarter & certainly closer to God than the pope.”
So is it true? Am I rightly, fairly accused?
In some ways, I’ve asked for this. I write about faith and living out a life of faith. Right there, I’ve set myself up.
But I think it’s important to explore what’s underneath these sentiments, because something very raw and real seems to be just below the surface.
Truly, to start to understand what’s going on in these accusations, I don’t have to look far. I can look inside my own heart, and how I’ve felt in moments when I’ve been around friends I’ve felt inadequate against. Yes, I have friends that, at times, I’ve looked at and thought, “They are so much more faithful than I am. They do this or that, after all, and I don’t, and that’s an obvious sign of holiness. So obviously I’m lacking.”
Recently, I admitted to one of my dearest friends, “I so admire that you are so intent on getting to daily Mass as often as possible. I wish I could make that same commitment.”
“Oh, but you don’t understand,” she replied. “I know that if I didn’t, I’d be lost.”
She articulated something important, I think, for understanding this complex (or what I’m calling one for the sake of this post). She goes to daily Mass because she is in tune with her weaknesses, and going to Mass helps her cope with life and her own deficiencies. She feels she would be lost without that regular infusion of Christ. That’s a little different than, “I’m doing this because, deep down inside, I feel superior to you and this is my way of proving it,” is it not? It sort of changes everything when motives are known, and the heart is made visible.
In my own life, I’ve been led on a quest for God. But I don’t follow this path to show others how very good and holy I am. Oh dear, no. I have failed and messed up so many times, in big and small ways. And I am trying, daily, to do better. Within that, I feel an obligation and also a desire to share my discoveries, especially the redeeming love of Christ. I know I need a savior and I’ve become convinced He is what holds me together.
So when I write about faith and the hoped-for ideals of it, I am writing to myself most of all. As a bonus, if my sharing inspires others as others have inspired me, it is a blessing. People seem to respond to my meditations in either one of two ways: they either receive them as a gift, and become inspired, or fall into the “she thinks she’s holier than thou” trap. Most of the time, I assume, if the latter, the readiness is just not there. I don’t take it personally, or try not to at least. When they express this publicly, as the above Tweeter, I find it is much more efficacious to offer up a prayer for them rather than try to correct or defend.
Let me add that I think it’s okay for us to feel at times that we are deficient in some areas. We get into trouble, however, when we stay stuck in this feeling of inadequacy.
Perhaps we can move, instead, in another direction, reminding ourselves: 1) My feeling of discomfort tells me I have work to do. 2) This person is not trying to make me uncomfortable or belittled. She’s just groping for God like I am. 3) It’s okay to allow myself to be inspired, giving myself permission to consider putting her actions into practice in my own life at some point, or realizing God might have something else in mind for me to grow more in love with him.
It’s a discovery, always, but we impede ourselves by clinging to the “She’s holier than thou” or “He’s holier than thou.” If anything, this just holds us back from finding God’s merciful embrace more quickly.
But I get it. I know how easy it is to fall into the trap because I fall into it, too. I see people’s beautiful actions toward God, and I tend toward seeing my own inadequacies rather than what may be very pure motives on their part. But really, this is unfair to both me and them.
Recently, I shared a meme on Facebook created with the words of Peter Kreeft, who’d taken up the issue of the Biblical directive to “judge not.” Kreeft said, “Do you think he meant don’t judge deeds, don’t believe the Commandments, don’t morally discriminate a just war from an unjust war, a hero from a bully? He couldn’t have meant that. He meant, ‘Don’t claim to judge motives and hearts, which only God can see.’ I can judge your deeds because I can see them. I can’t judge what your motives are, because I can’t see that.”
I think that applies well here. When my friend revealed her true motives for attending Mass so frequently, everything changed within me. We are all broken, and doing our best.
Just something to keep in mind: that my actions and words might not be meant to condemn you, but may instead be manifestations of my own desperate need for God — my humanity laid bare.
We are not here to compete, or make each other feel less than. We’re here to journey together, to learn from one another, to be broken and groping together.
Q4U: Have you ever been accused of being ‘holier than thou,’ or accused another of it? How did you process that?