When one of our regular commenters, Mary, mentioned that her friends on the left viewed "hypocrisy" as the worst of sins, it gave me pause.
First, I have long known that the word "hypocrite" is misused generally, and misused against religious folks in particular: "Look at those self-righteous Christians! They are no better than anyone else, they sin all the time, preaching one thing and doing another… hypocrites!!"
The word "hypocrites" in this context never made sense to me. Are we sinners who are falling all the time? Yes. But "hypocrites"? No. It just didn't sound right.
So, in responding to Mary's comment, I looked up the definition of "hypocrite" online, and up popped something from Wikipedia, which is worthy of sharing [all emphases mine]:
Hypocrisy is the state of pretending to have beliefs, opinions, virtues, feelings, qualities, or standards that one does not actually have. Hypocrisy involves the deception of others and is thus a kind of lie.
Hypocrisy is not simply failing to practice those virtues that one preaches. Samuel Johnson made this point when he wrote about the misuse of the charge of "hypocrisy" in Rambler No. 14:
Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.
Those who hold "hypocrisy" as the worst of all sins (which it isn't) should work to get the definition right and apply it correctly. There are certainly lying frauds in every religion and every walk of life (these would be true hypocrites!), but chances are that most people do hold their beliefs sincerely and wish to do good, even when their efforts fall scandalously short.
It seems to me that the benefit of the doubt should always be extended, and that the kindest reaction one can have to someone falling short of a professed standard is sadness at his fall, and hope for his redemption, not a sneering accusation of "hypocrite!" at the perception that his actions do not match his stated beliefs.
Speaking for myself and other faithful Catholics I know, we might be sinning, but we don't want to be. And we don't lower the bar or excuse our behavior because Catholic morality is "just too hard" or unrealistic in today's world. We pick ourselves up, get to Mass and confession, and try again with the help of God's grace.
It's a slow and laborious road to holiness, so much so that when we finally get to the point where our actions perfectly match our deeply held beliefs, we will already be in Heaven.
Until that point, please consider that we aren't hypocrites, only sinners.