Saturday, February 5, 2011

Seek the Truth Above All

Last night I spoke at the 545th Monthly All Night Vigil within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The overall theme was "Be Not Afraid" and my talk was entitled "Seek the Truth Above All." Here is pretty much what I said:

One of the first lessons we learn when we are growing up is to tell the truth. It was a tough lesson to learn at times, especially when we did something wrong and wanted to hide that fact. Later, the importance of telling the truth as instilled in us when we watched TV shows set in courtrooms and heard an official ask a witness who is about to testify, "Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God." With a hand on the Bible, the witness answered, "I do," and sat down. To not tell the truth after taking such a solemn oath was not simply a lie; it was perjury and was punishable.

Yet the world today seems to have become more and more like Pontius Pilate. Remember the scene of Jesus' trial before Pilate (John 18: 37-38)? After Jesus declared, "For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth," Pilate responded, "What is truth?" I hear in those words a contemptuous, cynical response. It's the response the world makes today. It's as though Pilate were saying: "You have your truth and I have mine."

Have you ever heard that. Or maybe you've heard that same line of thinking a bit differently. Perhaps something like this: "That may be true for you, but it's not true for me." I always want to ask someone who says that, "Well, how do you know what you just said is true?" You see, that response begs the question. Whether we recognize it or not, we all have some sense of objective truth.

Let's imagine the dialogue going a bit further:

"Look, all I'm saying is that you can't know anything for sure."

"But you seem pretty sure about that."

"No, no, what I'm saying is that there are no absolutes."

"But isn't that an absolute statement?"

"OK. OK. I'm just saying that it's wrong to impose your morality on me."

"Wait a minute. When you say it's wrong, aren't you imposing your morality on me?"

You see, behind all of these statements is a sense of truth, a measuring stick for objective reality. It's this that the Church proposes to people. Pope Benedict has often said that the Church does not "impose" its teachings but "proposes" them. The Church says: "This is true. This is false. This is right and this is wrong. What is true and right are better for you and for society as a whole."

But isn't the Church being "mean" and "intolerant?" Shouldn't we be open to all opinions? Not when it's a matter of life and death. Let's say we have a bottle of liquid here and on the label is a skull and cross bones, or as we see more often today, a face with the tongue sticking out--"Mr. Yuck." Some say that since we don't know where it came from it's probably OK to drink it. Others say that maybe the label is right, that there's poison inside. We take a vote. Those who don't agree with the label win. The majority says it's OK to drink it. Is this the way we would deal with a life-threatening risk? How much more foolish is it to go with personal or public opinion when it comes to the risks not only to our physical well-being but to our spiritual well-being.

There is right and there is wrong. It is not being intolerant to say so. It's being truthful and loving. It's truthful and loving to warn someone about the poison in the bottle that he or she is about to drink.

Some years ago I read the following words in a college student newspaper: "We will not tolerate intolerance!" Now, I know what they were trying to say: that we should treat one another with dignity and respect. But the fact is there are some things in our world that are intolerable. I would challenge anyone to go to Poland and visit the death camp known as Auschwitz and say that we should have tolerated that which is so clearly intolerable. I was there in the summer of 2006 and I saw the buildings where they have glass cases filled with the possessions of the people who went through the camp: luggage of all kinds, eye glasses, shoes for men and women and children. For me the most chilling exhibit was the glass case that was half-filled with human hair. We and the world look at this and nobody says, "Well, the Nazis had their truth and we have ours. It's just the way they were raised." No, we clearly recognize that what happened there was not right. That it was wrong. It was evil.

The Church speaks the truth to a world that has begun to have problems with the very notion of objective truth. The Church strives to speak the truth with love, for we know that it is not enough to hammer others with the truth. To do so would deny the dignity that we recognize in our fellow human beings. It is loving to warn others of the poison they are about to drink, but our hearts must always be filled with love, with the desire for the ultimate good of the other.

Jesus is the truth. He said so at the Last Supper (John 14: 6). When asked for "the way" to where He was going, Jesus replied "I am the way and the truth and the life." Jesus, being fully divine, is the truth about who God is, that God is Love. All God wanted to communicate to us, He spoke in the Word, Jesus Christ. And, being fully human, Jesus is the truth that tells us who we are, what it means to be human, what's our goal and purpose in life. We are beloved children of God. So much so that when humanity sinned and rejected God's plan, He did not abandon us to ourselves, but sent His Son to save us from ourselves.

Think for a moment of the first sin. God told our ancestral parents a truth and warned them: "Don't eat of this one tree. If you do, you will die." Satan said that God was lying. He told Adam and Eve that they could eat and they would not die. In fact, if they ate, they would become like gods and be able to determine for themselves what was right and what was wrong. The "Father of Lies" told a lie and convinced the first humans to believe it. They wanted the power to determine for themselves what was true and what was false. We know the rest of the story.

God sent His Son to testify to the truth of His love for humanity, a love that was willing to suffer and die in order to free humanity from the lie that God was jealous and really did not have humanity's best interests at heart. Jesus came and lived and died for the truth. In doing so He showed us the way that leads to eternal life. He is the way that leads to eternal happiness.

We gather because we are seeking the truth above all. We are seeking Christ above all. Don't settle for anything less.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, the snowstorm must have held up my flier about this last vigil-I never did receive it! So glad that I can read your words here, though! "We are seeking Christ above all. Don't settle for anything less." That's brilliant!

    Thanks Fr. Jim!