The Limits of Sincerity

How would you feel if the best that could be said of you were, ‘Well, (s)he was sincere’? There is something midly dismissive about the phrase — meant well, you know, but never quite made the grade. That is not to denigrate sincerity, which is in itself a wonderful expression of that integrity of heart the prophets write about, but it is to acknowledge that sincerity by itself is not enough. It is necessary, but there must be something more. We can be sincere admirers of Jesus as a holy man, but that is not the same as recognizing him as Lord and Saviour and acting on his words.

Today’s gospel is an uncomfortable one for ‘professional pray-ers’ like me (Matthew 7.21–27). Monks and nuns spend a lot of the day saying, in effect, ‘Lord, Lord’, but Jesus is not content with our words, no matter how beautifully or sincerely uttered. There must be action, too, and that is where the difficulty lies. What sort of action? Very few find discipleship uncomplicated. Questions of right and wrong have a way of becoming more complex the more one thinks about them, and even faith itself can be distinctly fragile at times. We want to do the right thing but often end up doing the wrong one — or nothing at all. That is where I think the reading from Isaiah (Is 26.1-6) is helpful. There is a lot about trusting in the Lord, being steadfast, keeping the peace. Those unspectacular virtues have something very Benedictine about them. I’d dare to say that they have something very Christian about them, too, because they emphasize that whatever good we do is a work of grace, attributable to the Lord. He is the only real doer. Our problem is not getting in his way!

Most of us are not called to be heroes of faith like St Francis Xavier, whose feast we celebrate today, but all of us are called to fidelity in the duties of every day, to preaching the gospel through a life of good deeds and perseverance. We may feel that we are weak and wobbly, that we haven’t prayed enough or done enough, but that is to turn our gaze on ourselves in an unhealthy way. The Lord is our Rock. This Advent, let us build on him, for he will never fail or forsake us.

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