When Is It Right to Pretend?

25 August 2010 Wednesday of the 21st Week in Ordinary Time
2 Thessalonians 3, 6-18; Psalm 128; Matthew 23, 27-32

When a “woe” is pronounced in Scripture, it expresses one’s sadness on the state of someone or a group of people. It is also a warning of the very bad consequences to follow. Thus, a “woe” may not have the sting of a condemnation. Its goal is awareness of one’s sorry state and thus the people concerned are encouraged to end it, or else the consequences will be unfavorable.

Today’s woe is the sixth in Matthew. It contrasts a pure exterior from a rotten interior. There is a wide gap between the external appearance from the internal reality that the persons are described as “whitewashed tombs.”

Let me tell you a story.

A lawyer watches the first person enter his office. He decides to look busy, so he picks up the phone and starts talking: “Look, sir, about that deal. I think I better run down to the factory and handle it myself. Yes. No, I don’t think three million will swing it. We better have Mr. George fly from Davao to meet us here. Ok, I’ll call you later.”

He looks up at the visitor and says, “Good morning, how can I help you?”

The prospective client says, “Nothing sir. I’m here to fix your phone.”

The world today encourages us to “pretend” in a good way; to put up an image even if what one actually feels is negative. You can’t bring your problems from home into the office. So you have to put up a face, set your domestic woes aside, and work as if nothing’s bothering you. Certain jobs require you to smile, even if “your heart is aching.” Flight attendants, hotel and restaurant personnel, customer care staff all require some acting abilities. Coffee shop barristas are asked to be courteous, warm and friendly. Even priests should not let what is “happening interiorly” affect their productivity and relationship with people. And sometimes, we have to “look busy” so our work evaluation will not be deplorable.

But like the “woes” we are to be aware of what is true and authentic. We work out our personal lives so that what people see externally is a reflection of what is truly inside. St. Paul in the first reading encourages us to work, just as he did. Nothing comes to us in the silver platter. So when we want our character to be holy, we have to work for it since our interiors are sinful and malicious.

What I am saying is this: to work on an authentic self that is reflected exteriorly and interiorly means to deal with the tension between how much of our interior we have to show outside, and how much of our exterior reflects the real person. It is always a growing tension. And we have to live within that tension.

We have to evaluate. Keep what is good in either the exterior or the interior. Prune what is otherwise.
The danger to avoid is to concentrate on one end only: we become what we are pretending to be, or we become the rotten interior we have.

Either way the truth will eventually show. We will never know when we will be caught in the act. So next time you pretend you are talking to someone on the phone, check if the phone is actually functioning.

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