How do we share the revealed truth found in Christianity, especially when this truth causes discomfort or demands a change in behavior? In Ephesians, St. Paul ties revealed truth with the attainment of maturity and seeing beyond deceitful schemes. This newly attained truth is the context in which love speaks.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Ephesians 4:11-16 [emphasis added]
Furthermore, the heir to the apostles, St. Pope John Paul II, wrote of the Splendor of Truth in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor (VS). Drawing on the wisdom of St. Pope John Paul II’s VS, I lay out the role of truth in one’s life and what it means to speak it “in love.” Contrary to the modern sense of “niceness” and “prudence,” true love sometimes demands discomfort and a change in accustomed behavior.
The Church as Intolerably Intransigent Concerning Truth
In one of the most exquisitely worded sentences in VS, St. Pope John Paul II descripted the dissidence between the Church’s commitment to truth and preconceived notions of motherly tenderness. He states in paragraph 95:
The Church’s teaching, and in particular her firmness in defending the universal and permanent validity of the precepts prohibiting intrinsically evil acts, is not infrequently seen as the sign of an intolerable intransigence, particularly with regard to the enormously complex and conflict-filled situations present in the moral life of individuals and of society today; this intransigence is said to be in contrast with the Church’s motherhood.
If there exists one constant critique among critics of the Catholic Church (both within and without the Church) it is this: intolerable intransigence, or the perceived inability to change its views regardless of the frustration this creates. And we all know that “mothers” must coddle and affirm children, not frustrate or alienate them. If the Church were a “good” and accommodating mother, she would seek greater flexibility with her children and their problems. No one likes a rigid mother.
Truth is a Person to Whom the Church is Betrothed
However, as St. John Paull II points out, the Church’s intransigency is inseparably linked with her relationship to truth, or more accurately the Truth – Jesus Christ. The Church, as the Bride of Christ, obeys her husband. She (the Church) is not “the author or the arbiter” of truth but only “interprets the moral norm and proposes it to all people of good will, without concealing its demands of radicalness and perfection.” Moreover, this inseparable link between the Truth and the Church means that she must take a stand and remain firm. To call “good” evil or “evil” good would constitute a breach in marital fidelity between Christ and His bride, the Church.
True Compassion (Or Love) Seeks the True Good for the Person
Most parents know that giving their child EVERYTHING they request creates a spoiled and undisciplined child. Such an approach also acts against the true good or best interests of the child. It sets the child up for future hardships and does not prepare them for trials that await them in the “real world.” Likewise, concealing or weakening moral truth deprives a person of the true good and dignity due them as creatures created in God’s image. St. Pope John Paul II calls this good man’s “authentic freedom.” He reiterates this in paragraph 96:
Because there can be no freedom apart from or in opposition to the truth, the categorical — unyielding and uncompromising — defense of the absolutely essential demands of man’s personal dignity must be considered the way and the condition for the very existence of freedom.
The Respect of Weakness and Painful Situations
What about human weakness and painful situations that may cause some to give in to temptation and evil? Should the Church, in an attempt at “niceness,” soften its approach to morality? Does de-emphasizing Church teaching better reflect the “love” we ought to speak the “truth” in? According to VS, no. While we should approach everyone with respect so as to not “break the bruised reed or to quench the dimly burning wick (cf. Is 42:3),” we cannot do so by sacrificing the truth. We, like Jesus, must show patience and mercy towards sinners, but also never compromise when it comes to sin. Again, “the good” and a person’s “authentic freedom” depend on truth. To deny a person truth is to deny them Christ, who is the Truth.
More on “Authentic Freedom”
Moreover, some in our culture cry “foul” when the concept of “freedom” is contextualized within a discussion of “morality.” They claim true freedom means the ability to “live your own truth,” and see the Church’s supposed linking of morality and freedom as nothing more than attempts at control. VS, and the Catholic Church, does not see “authentic freedom” in such a way. Quoting St. Augustine, VS states that “authentic freedom” begins with love of neighbor, which in turn creates freedom from crime.
“The beginning of freedom,” Saint Augustine writes, “is to be free from crimes… such as murder, adultery, fornication, theft, fraud, sacrilege and so forth. When once one is without these crimes (and every Christian should be without them), one begins to lift up one’s head towards freedom. But this is only the beginning of freedom, not perfect freedom…”.
Furthermore, mature (perfected) freedom understands that morality (God’s law) and human freedom appeal to one another. Mature freedom loves God and neighbor, so it does not sin against either. Therefore, “authentic freedom” means the freedom to NOT sin. (Galatians 5:13)
The Example of Mary as Our Mother
In his conclusion, St. Pope John Paul II turns to Mary, the mother of all Catholics, as an example of motherly love and unflinching dedication to truth.
She understands sinful man and loves him with a Mother’s love. Precisely for this reason she is on the side of truth and shares the Church’s burden in recalling always and to everyone the demands of morality. Nor does she permit sinful man to be deceived by those who claim to love him by justifying his sin, for she knows that the sacrifice of Christ her Son would thus be emptied of its power. No absolution offered by beguiling doctrines, even in the areas of philosophy and theology, can make man truly happy: only the Cross and the glory of the Risen Christ can grant peace to his conscience and salvation to his life.
Such beautiful and profound words…
In Veritatis Splendor, St. Pope John Paul II shows us the way of compassionate truth that does not give way to sin. In Catholicism, truth is a person. Therefore, to deny truth means to deny the person of Christ. Furthermore, a Christian who claims love of neighbor by justifying their sin empties the sacrifice of Christ of its power. To do so also robs the person, made in the image of God, of their true and “authentic freedom.” Only in Christ do we find peace and salvation. And in Mary, the Mother of God, do we see a true example of motherly love and unflinching dedication to the Truth, who is her Son.
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