The difference between hypocrisy and repentence

I recently had a chance to attend to a woman afflicted with a terminal illness. She was always very pleasant, and was very happy to receive a simple blessing when it was offered. But she always refused the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick. Her reason? “I don’t want to be a hypocrite.”

You see, there were things in her past where she had acted in ways contrary to the gospel of Christ. She knew that the Church disapproved of these things, so her choice of them at the time had included an element of rebellion. Although she came to regret them later, she felt that to come before God and apologize would be an act of hypocrisy — after all, these *were* her choices, should she not therefore face their consequences?

While I admire her desire to take responsibility for her actions, the sad reality is that this woman has confused hypocrisy and repentence. The same pride that fuelled her original sinful choices (“I know its wrong but I’m choosing it anyway”) is now fuelling her refusal to approach the sacraments. It sounds noble, but in effect she is saying, “I want to die for my sins”, rather than accept that Jesus died for us for exactly that purpose. I’ve come to see that impenitence (the refusal to repent) is actually a kind of disgust with the crucifixion — not its physical dimension, but what it represents. “I refuse that you should die for me!” is the cry of such a person. What such people don’t realise is that St. Peter said exactly this at one point, and Jesus’ answer was “Get thee behind me, Satan.”

The bottom line is that God is generous. Everything we have is gift. Our fundamental posture towards God needs to be one of grateful acceptance. We only find our fundamental dignity in the love God has for us, and nothing else. If he offers us his gifts, it is impolite to not accept them with gratitude. God offered this woman the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing. He would not offer them if they were not the best thing for her. For her (or anyone) to refuse these gifts is not an act of nobility, but of pride.