Last year, many Americans discussed and debated how much they should trust the news. They talked about standards for truthful reporting and how to become an informed citizen. In a culture seemingly too timid to make hard claims about truth, they showed they care deeply whether a matter is true or false.
The differences between true news and false news mirror the differences between the two main types of Christians: “consistent Christians” and “nominal Christians.” In both cases, they look similar on the outside, but they are an ocean apart on the inside. What makes a Christian true or false is the subject of Blessed John Henry Newman’s sermon, “Sincerity and Hypocrisy.”
These two types of Christians are hard to tell apart. Both still sin regularly, both repent, both are sorry for their sins and wish they were better, and both feel as though only God can help them become righteous. What separates them, Blessed Newman explains, is their sincerity. The consistent Christian has “an honest, unaffected desire [sic] of doing right,” while the nominal Christian has a double mind and pursues “other ends besides truth.” A double mind is a hypocritical one.
Blessed Newman provides several Biblical references praising sincere and unhypocritical faith and love. He quotes St. Paul’s desire for his spiritual children to have “‘faith unfeigned [sic],’” which in Greek translates “‘unhypocritical faith.’” In other places, St. Paul speaks of the Apostles having love unfeigned and urging others to let their love be “‘without dissimulation.’”
A sincere or consistent Christian “has a ruling sense of God’s presence within him.” He senses God’s presence, not simply externally as one sees God’s providence in his life or in the beauty of creation, but “in his innermost heart, or in his conscience.” He is wide open before God from whom he hides nothing nor wishes for anything to be hidden. He is aware of his faults and the ugliness of his sin, but shame and fear do not repel him from God.
“He alone admits God into the shrine of his heart; whereas others wish in some way or other, to be by themselves, to have a home, a chamber, a throne, a self where God is not, – a home within them which is not a temple, a chamber which is not a confessional, a tribunal without a judge, a throne without a king; – that self may be king and judge.”
When the consistent Christian faces God with his sin, he does not seek to excuse or justify his behavior. He knows he is without excuse and begs only of God’s mercy. Blessed Newman says that to this man, “God is too near him to allow of argument, self-defence, excuse, or objection.” He simply says, “Lord, you see me.”
We have a beautiful witness of this attitude in the Psalms. Time and again we hear the Psalmist say, “‘O, Lord, Thou hast searched me out and known me’”, or “‘Into thy hands I commit my spirit’”, or “‘When I wake up, Thou are present with me.’” The man of a double mind is not open. He approaches God with reasoning and excuses, just as the unjust servant did in our Lord’s parable. He hides from God, as Adam did after he sinned.
The differences between these two types of Christians, apparently small and hardly detectable by men, are clear and bare before the eyes of God. We must be able to tell the difference, not for the sake of judging others, but for the sake of examining ourselves. Newman asks, “Do you, then, habitually thus unlock your hearts and subject your thoughts to Almighty God? Are you living in this conviction of His Presence…?” Today, if we can accept this Mystery of His Presence within us, to lay before Him all that He already sees and knows, and to do so without argument and excuse, we will attain the sincerity indicative of a saint. We will keep our Lord close and will be able to witness to ourselves and others that we are sons of God.