What is Truth?

Andrey Mironov, “Ecce Homo” (2013), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Andrey Mironov, “Ecce Homo” (2013), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons (photo: Public Domain)

In the Gospel of John, Pilate says to our Lord, "So You are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice." (John 18:37) Then Pilate responds – “What is Truth”?

How would you answer that question if it were posed to you today?  The dictionary says that truth is “conformity to fact or reality; exact accordance with that which is, or has been, or shall be.”  As Catholics we believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life. His life and his teachings have revealed the truth to us.  We all have at our disposal a reflection of this divine revelation of what is “true” and “real” captured within the scriptures.  So for the question – “What is Truth?” – the answer can be found within the pages of Holy Scripture.  “Sanctify them in truth, Your word is truth” (John 17:17) 

Do we form our thoughts about what is true and real by reading the Scriptures and praying for an infusion of the Lord’s Holy Spirit to grace us with understanding and discernment?  Is our belief about what is good, right and true in the world, formed by our experiences, the opinions of others and the values of society?  What do we do when these are in conflict with one another? (i.e., respect for life from conception to natural death, the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, etc.)

As Catholics, we have the additional benefit of having the Church which was established by our Lord and graced with his Holy Spirit to be the guardian of “truth” – "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it" (Matt. 16:18).  We can lean upon the Church, the Body of Christ, to help us discern the issues of our day in the light of Divine Revelation and Sacred Tradition. This sacred tradition is available to us through the teachings of the church as well as the Catechism, and it is nurtured within us by sanctifying grace through reception of the sacraments.

It’s wonderful to have sources of Divine Revelation and Sacred Tradition to help form our understanding of what is true and real.  Although we also have the free will to seek the truth from a multitude of competing purveyors of truth.  The popular culture can be attractive and easily influence our perspective of reality since we are immersed within it.  Various people in all walks of life are personified as bigger than life and god-like.  Joey Fatone of the Band “NSYNC” recently stated in an 11/24/2015 “billboard” article about the singer Adele’s album sales,…”In all honesty.  Adele is the truth”.   Some basketball personalities are idolized by millions purely for their sports achievements. Popular politicians sometimes have almost messianic characterizations attributed to them by their most ardent followers. Thousands will follow popular teachings and programs marketed by Religious “celebrities” as “the” path to a legitimate expression of faith.  Millions worship at the Alter of the NFL every Sunday, and on, and on.

None of us are immune from being influenced by the popular culture in a manner that influences our perception of what is true, real and good.  There has always been a spiritual struggle between the kingdom of this world and that of the kingdom of God and this will continue till the end of time.  The struggle involves attempts by the spirit of this world to reframe the one true reality into a version that is consistent with this world and not the kingdom of God.  Perhaps you’ve heard it said that “my reality is not your reality” or “perception is reality”.  These are expressions that enable an argument that an individualistic subjective understanding of reality is OK and that there is not objective truth.

It’s easy to see what can happen when we as a society move towards accepting what is true, good and noble as being based primarily on our perceptions of the world around us, as opposed to some objective truth.  The effect on our society is an increase in the divisions between us.  If one group passionately holds on to a particular perception as “reality” as “truth” and another differing group does the same, then there is inherent conflict. 

A necessary prerequisite for the resolution of this conflict is an acceptance from society that there is objective truth and that it is given to us by our creator through divine revelation and sacred tradition.  Without a collegial acceptance of this prerequisite, like-minded groups within a society will champion multiple perceptions of the truth as deeply held versions of the truth, thereby enabling continuous conflict, amongst themselves.

The impact of inducing conflict within a society is not the only ramification of relative truth.  If we hold fast to the concept that truth is relative, then as individuals we apply a subjective measuring stick to our own behavior as well.  The effect of doing this is our rationalization of our personal behaviors that conflict with divine revelation and sacred tradition – or God’s truth and reality.  Doing so minimizes any internal conflict that we may have as a result of deviating from God’s standard, as long as we continue to separate ourselves from the acceptance of God’s revealed truth.  A consequence of an on-going separation from God in addition to the loss of salvation, is minimizing in our personal lives, the supernatural benefits that accompany the in-dwelling of the Lord’s spirit, as evidenced by the fruits of his spirit; charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control and chastity.

 So, what can we do to help minimize these conflicts within society and within ourselves?  The best that any of us can do is to expend an effort to obtain the best possible level of understanding of objective “truth” as revealed to us by God through divine revelation within the Holy Scriptures, by reading it daily and praying for the Holy Spirit to grace us with the gift of understanding and discernment.  Secondly, we can help ourselves better understand the “truth” of what is unfolding in front of us in the world, by learning what the guardian of truth – the Church – teaches within its sacred tradition, such as the Catechism.

During his homily in 1987 at the Detroit Silverdome, Our Holy Father at the time, Pope Saint John Paul II spoke to truth and reality in our daily lives. 

"Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ". As Christians we live and work in this world, which is symbolized by the vineyard, but at the same time we are called to work in the vineyard of the Lord. We live this visible earthly life and at the same time the life of the Kingdom of God, which is the ultimate destiny and vocation of every person. How then are we to conduct ourselves worthily in regard to these two realities?

And so, my brothers and sisters, “Conduct yourselves in a way worthy of the Gospel of Christ", that is to say, measure the things of this world by the standard of the Kingdom of God.
Not the other way around!
Not the other way around!
“Seek the Lord while he may be found, call to him while he is near" (Ibid. 55, 6).
He is near! The Lord is near!
The Kingdom of God is within us. Amen.”