National Catholic Register

Commentary

A Star for the Rest of the Journey

Speak the truth in love, and it truly will set you free

BY Carla Coon

December 12-20, 1998 Issue | Posted 12/12/98 at 2:00 PM

 

The splendor of truth shines forth in all the work of the Creator and in a special way in man, created in the image and likeness of God. Truth enlightens man's intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord.” (Veritatis Splendor, intro.)

I remember Peter Finch's character in the movie Network, hanging out his Manhattan apartment window, shouting: “I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore!”

It's easy to start feeling like that, after years in the trenches of every moral battle, especially the fight for life. We, many of us, find ourselves wishing someone would act faster, more decisively, on behalf of what is right and just. We long for reassurance, for some visible signs of the conviction and courage we need from those God has chosen with power and authority on the side of truth.

Sometimes, the fight for what's right seems such an uphill battle—everything good takes so long and falls apart so easily, while abuses crop up too fast to be stopped. My brother, who lives in

Rochester, New York, has been following the events of a nearby parish where the church has been scandalized by a woman in vestments, “concelebrating” at Mass. Bishop Matthew Clark removed the priest responsible, Father Jim Callan, from Corpus Christi parish in August; the woman, Mary Ramerman, was fired from her position as a pastoral assistant in October. Now Father Callan has been suspended—in December, after the story had already appeared in Time magazine.

The time it takes to end such abuses can seem more than a little frustrating. True, the wheels of justice sometimes turn slowly, and perhaps often they have to. Leaders want to act prudently, cautiously and with perspective. All very understandable. But for those of us in the trenches (or the pews), relief cannot come quickly enough.

Sometimes a leader who makes a tough decision is looked upon as lacking compassion, and is almost never thought of as a peacemaker. It takes a sort of wisdom to see that a strong defense of truth is actually a form of love. There are those of us who are peacemakers, and there are those who know that peace cannot be gained if truth is compromised. A false peace may be comfortable, for a while, but it remains false.

LOVING WHAT IS RIGHT

In the prayer “Come Holy Spirit,” which I like to pray before reading the Bible, the ending I learned goes like this; “Oh God, Who does instruct the hearts of the faithful by the light of the Holy Spirit, grant us by that same Spirit, a love and relish for what is right and just, and a constant enjoyment of His comforts, …”

These last words light a fire in my heart, as I have always had a particular hatred of injustice. And those who “hunger and thirst for justice” are certainly blessed, (Matthew 5:6) being specifically mentioned by Jesus in the Beatitudes. Yet being as mad as hell—well, “heck,” anyway—will not in itself do any good. When we feel we have no recourse in these situations, we would do well to remember: prayer and sacrifice conquers all!

And while we pray for good to be served, we have to pray for courage for ourselves and for others, especially our leaders. Standing by the truth takes courage. And sometimes standing by the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, takes heroic courage. Truth gets watered down, squashed and perverted, by false prudence, by false compromise, and by timid silence. And all for fear—fear of alienating a person or group, fear of offending, fear of sounding righteous or rigid, fear of backlash, fear of losing position, friends, or worldly respectability. The problem with all this fear is that it silences truth, causing a downward spiral, pulling with it the good that truth alone can give.

BE NOT AFRAID!

Time and again, our Holy Father exhorts us, “Be not afraid!” What is it he is asking us to do, if not to practice our faith, and defend the truth courageously? The fear that comes upon us is based on worldly concerns. But we need not fear the crosses that will come as a consequence of proclaiming and defending the whole truth. For as Jesus taught us, “In the world you will have affliction, but take courage, I have overcome the world.” We know that “the Lord is our helper, and we should not fear what man can do to us.” (Hebrews 13:6; Joshua 1:9)

Really, Jesus teaches against such fear very strongly, telling us to be more afraid of a just punishment, then of what man can do to us. “And do not be afraid of those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul. But rather be afraid of Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Matthew 10:28; also Luke 12:5)

By his example, Our Lord teaches us to speak the truth unwaveringly. Indeed we have the witness of those recorded in the Gospel: “Master we know that thou art truthful, and that thou teachest the way of God in truth, and that thou carest naught for any man, for thou dost not regard the person of men.” (Matthew 22:16; also Mark 12:14)

We understand that Jesus would not alter his speech or action based on human respect, for the thoughts or judgments of men are of no consequence to the truth. In fact, when many walked away from him (John 6), He did not soften his talk of the literal eating of his Body, but became more explicit and used stronger terms, including the Hebrew word for chewing meat.

Jesus, who is himself the Truth, could not be false to himself. Our Lord never worried about winning people over, or whether the harm of maligning tongues would keep good souls from hearing his message. He acted and spoke in truth wherever He went, leaving these other concerns to his Father in prayer.

TRUTH AND FREEDOM

“Ye shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free.” (John 8:32)

What comes of diluted truth, half-truth, unspoken truth? Most apparent of all consequences may be the loss of the whole truth—and of innocent souls, of people who otherwise would have been gripped by the force of truth and moved to act in a positive way for good. If Our Lord had worried about the “right thing to say” so as not offend the worldly, to retain his popularity or appease those in power, he never would have been crucified—and we never would have been redeemed.

True compromise involves give and take—on points which can be given and taken honestly. True compromise is not motivated by a dread of confrontation, or a propensity not to rock the boat—for if you don't want your boat rocked, Jesus is not the man for you. Remember Simon Peter? He lent Jesus his boat, to use as a makeshift pulpit—only to have it swamped with fish to the point of sinking, then abandoned by the sea, as he himself went off to a new life, a new name—and, eventually, to a cross. Our Lord rocked the boat, all right—hard enough to wash away our sins and cast us all into the waters of life.

Is there a place for diplomacy, for an effort not to offend? Yes—that place is love. True diplomacy is rooted in love, and true love is rooted in truth. If you love someone you are truthful with them. And we are to “speak the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15) Jesus condemns sin, yet has enormous compassion on sinners. “Go and sin no more” are the words which follow forgiveness. We see our Lord condemning those in power—Pharisees, lawyers etc.—yet eating with sinners, touching lepers, and forgiving repentant adulterers.

Our Lord is not out to win popularity, with the great or with sinners. Our Lord is kind. He is sweet in his truthfulness, meek in his way, and perfectly humble in his righteousness. It is his truth and love we are called to imitate, and which we pray for the grace to achieve.

A long time ago, when I read the book Cry, The Beloved Country by Alan Paton, a native of South Africa, I marked a passage in which a character was decrying the cowardice of some whites to speak and act on the many problems and inequities in his country. This passage, with slight adaptation, offers much worth pondering here:

“Therefore I shall devote myself, my time, my energy, my talents, to the service of [Truth.] I shall no longer ask myself if this or that is expedient, but only if it is right. I shall do this, not because I am noble or unselfish, but because life slips away, and because I need for the rest of my journey a star that will not play false to me, a compass that will not lie. I shall do this because I cannot find it in myself to do anything else. I am lost when I balance this against that, I am lost when I ask if this is safe, I am lost when I ask if men [or women,] white or black, English or African, Gentiles or Jews, will approve. Therefore I shall try to do what is right, and to speak what is true. It would not be honest to pretend that it is solely an inverted selfishness that moves me. I am moved by something that is not my own, that moves me to do what is right, at whatever cost it may be. My children are too young to understand. It would be grievous if they grew up to hate me or fear me, or think of me as a betrayer of those things that I call our possessions. It would be a source of unending joy if they grew up to think as we do. It would be exciting, exhilarating, a matter for thanksgiving. But it cannot be bargained for. It must be given or withheld, whether the one or the other, it must not alter the course that is right.”

Carla Coon writes from New York.