Saturday, May 14, 2011

Truth and Charity

"Charity in truth, to which Jesus Christ bore witness by his earthly life and especially by his death and resurrection, is the principal driving force behind the authentic development of every person and of all humanity."-Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 1.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Catholic theology is the "both...and" as opposed to the "either...or". Faith AND works. Scripture AND Tradition. Revelation AND reason. To divide these into "either...or" propositions is to miss out on the fullness of truth. One area in which I see this today is in the attempt to divorce truth and charity.

There are many in the Church today who are uncomfortable with proclaiming anything controversial for fear of offending others. They will either downplay what the Church teaches or actually seek to distance themselves from it. I'm sure from their perspective, this seems like a form of charity- to not ruffle any feathers, to avoid causing unpleasant feelings. But is this charity? "Charity" devoid of truth is little more than sentimentality. Our modern society tends to define love as being a pleasant feeling for another. But love is not a feeling, it is an action. Love is desiring the good of the other. Love is the willingness to suffer for that good. Our ultimate example of love is found in the Crucifixion- Christ laid down His life out of love for us. What He did not do was to run from the Cross, to say to the scribes and Pharisees "you're entitled to your opinion". He spoke the truth, would not deny who He was or what it meant to live in charity, and He died for it. He spoke the truth, even when it was unpleasant. The Pharisees did not want to hear what He had to say. But who loved the Pharisees more than Jesus? He spoke the truth to them, knowing it would be difficult for them to hear and that He would be rejected for it.

The Pharisees show the other side of the coin- truth without charity. In belief, Jesus was close to the Pharisees, but not in practice. The Pharisees knew they had the truth from God and sought to justify themselves because of it. But simply believing correctly is not enough. "Truth" without charity is oppressive; we see how in fundamentalist cultures, the "truth" is used as a whip. When the love of Christ is proclaimed but not lived, it does great damage to the Body- people are driven away, are turned off, and leave believing that all Christians are just hypocrites. And is this really truth? When we present a Christ without mercy, without forgiveness, a judgmental rather than a loving Christ, we are presenting a false image of Him.

Ultimately, all truth leads to the one who is truth: the Divine Logos, the author of truth. Truth leads us to a Person, and that Person is Love. Truth and charity meet in the Person of Jesus Christ; to divide one from the other is to separate oneself from Him.

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