What is truth?

Archbishop Aquila

As we approach Holy Week, I am returning to a meditation I have been making in my heart on Jesus’ statement to Pilate, “I came into the world to testify to the truth,” and over the next three days he did just that through his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

The Church relives and celebrates Jesus’ testimony to the truth during the Triduum, the three final days of Holy Week known as Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. During these three days, we encounter Jesus in the gift of the Eucharist, his death for us, and his resurrection, in which sin and death are conquered.

Last summer when I was on my annual 8-day silent retreat, I meditated on the Passion of Christ in John’s Gospel and the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. I often reflected on Pilate’s profoundly skeptical response — “What is truth?” – to Jesus stating that he came to testify to the truth. Pilate’s skepticism and flippant tone capture our own times well.

During my retreat, Jesus’ statement of his mission that triggered Pilate’s dismissive question came alive for me. Christ declared, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (Jn 18:37). The words of Jesus struck my heart and have continued to resonate in my heart since the retreat.

In the times in which we live, truth has in many ways been discarded. We live in a time of relativism, when even things that contradict the truth are viewed as “true” if the person believes them. We have become blind to the truth and never want to contradict what a person says or thinks is true, even if the evidence is contradictory.

Some of you may have seen the YouTube video with almost 2 million views that displays this approach to the truth so obviously. In the Family Policy Institute’s video, a 5’ 9” white man asks college students what they would say if he claimed he was 6’ 5” Chinese woman. Seven of the students he interviewed refused to contradict him, even though it was clear he did not fit that description. We see the same phenomenon in the case of people who claim to be genderless, such as Time Magazine’s March 15th cover story. Despite alterations that people might make to their clothes, bodies or behaviors, a DNA test will show that they are either male or female. The test will not show that they have multiple genders or are genderless.

In the past, people who acted in this way would have been considered delusional or irrational, but today, reason and logic are cast aside in the name of tolerance and open-mindedness, no matter how absurd the claim being made is.

Into this confused and lost world, Jesus’ words to Pilate ring out. “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” The theme of truth runs strongly through John’s Gospel, as we hear at the beginning of the Gospel where Christ is described as “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

But the gift of Jesus is not just that he gives us the truth and is the truth. John’s Gospel also tells us that “the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).

Jesus desires us to come to the truth – to come to him and be free. Only by encountering Jesus in his Word, in the sacraments, in prayer and in others do we come to know the Father and his eternal love for us (cf. Jn 14:6). Jesus is the way, the truth and the life! Every human being is born for the truth and longs for the true freedom that Christ alone gives.

Truth and freedom go together; not the freedom to do ‘whatever I want as long as it doesn’t “hurt” anyone,’ but freedom that is rooted in truth and goodness and directed towards God, who is all good (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1730-1748). Only when freedom is directed towards the true and good can one experience happiness, peace and fulfillment. This is because when we move away from all that is evil and toward the truth of Jesus, he sets us free from sin and guides us to the will of the Father. This is the work of a life-time, yet the more deeply we encounter Jesus as the truth, the freer we become.

As we enter Holy Week, I encourage you, my brothers and sisters, to mediate on the Passion of Jesus and ponder in your hearts the words of Jesus, especially his words on truth. Reflect in your hearts about how you have been influenced by the relativism of our day. All of us are influenced by it, even if we are unware of it. Do you listen to the voice of Jesus or the voice of the world? Are you skeptical and flippant like Pilate in response to Jesus’ words or do you encounter and receive them? Jesus desires that you come to know him so that you may encounter him who is true, who has died and risen for you so that you may walk in true freedom. Open your hearts to that encounter and give witness to it in a world sorely in need of the truth, Jesus, who is our Lord and fills our hearts with joy!

To help you encounter the truth and the mercy of Jesus, I want to remind you to participate in the novena of Divine Mercy that begins on Good Friday, April 14. You can find the novena either in your parishes in a brochure or by simply searching the web for “Divine Mercy Novena.” May you have a blessed Holy Week and may you come to encounter the Truth, Jesus Christ, and his mercy and love for you!

COMING UP: Lenten lessons from the silent saint

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He was a man of silence and action. As we continue to walk through Lent, St. Joseph, the man who is revered as patron of the universal Church, and “the terror of demons” has much to teach us.

For people who live in a world awash in sounds and images, the silence of St. Joseph can be disconcerting. No spoken word of his is recorded in the Gospels. They only tell us that he was a “righteous man” (Mt. 1:19).

We also know that he was a man who trusted God and obeyed his guidance. This is evident from his encounter with the angel of the Lord, who appeared to him in a dream and told him to take Mary as his wife. Despite any negative consequences this might have had for him in his community, St. Joseph immediately acted on that divine guidance.

Months later, after Jesus had been born and the three Magi had visited, an angel appeared to him again and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him” (Mt. 2:13). While it was still night, he rose and fled into Egypt with Jesus and Mary. Joseph’s attentiveness and obedience saved Jesus life, as Herod decided to massacre all male children two and under in the region.

As we continue deeper conversion during Lent, St. Joseph displays three qualities that we can all strive to imitate, with the help of God. St. Joseph was silently attentive, obedient and steadfast. He is the “terror of demons” because of these three virtues.

Cardinal Robert Sarah recently penned a masterful book called “The Power of Silence.” In it, he explains that silence is an essential condition for hearing God’s voice, just as St. Joseph did in his dreams. “Silence is more important than any other human work,” he says, “for it expresses God. The true revolution comes from silence; it leads us toward God and others so as to place ourselves humbly and generously at their service.”

St. John of the Cross, reflecting on the state of the world before it was created, said, “God’s first language is silence.” If you would like to increase your ability to hear God’s voice, then I recommend that you use the remaining days of Lent as an opportunity to cultivate exterior and interior silence.

Besides being attentive to God, it is evident from St. Joseph’s actions that he profoundly trusted the Lord. Trust is the bedrock upon which the obedience of the saints is built. Their obedience flows from knowing that God the Father only seeks their good and they can trust him. St. Joseph was no exception: once he heard God’s direction, he obeyed because he trusted him.

There is a wonderful passage in Jeremiah that captures this attitude well. Jeremiah prophesied, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: It fears not the heat when it comes, its leaves stay green; In the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit” (Jer. 17:8).

If you want to grow in obedience this Lent, then strive to grow in your relationship with God the Father. Trust him and believe in your heart he only desires your good. Reflect on the story of the Prodigal Son, asking yourself, ‘Which son am I – the prodigal or the resentful older son?’ Then, ponder the generous, always-present love of the Father for you in your prayer. Ask the Father to reveal his unique, personal love for you.

The final lines of Jeremiah’s blessing give us a vivid image of St. Joseph’s final virtue, his perseverance or steadfastness in difficulty. We see this virtue on display when he gathers Mary and Jesus together in the middle of the night and flees for Egypt, aware of the danger but trusting in God. Above all, we witness St. Joseph’s steadfastness in accepting his vocation of caring for and helping raise the son of God and protecting Mary – a truly daunting responsibility. He joyfully embraced it.

Being steadfast in a society that is less than accepting of Christian values and beliefs is a necessity today. If we are connected to God’s grace through the sacraments and daily prayer, then we will not show signs of distress in our drought-stricken world but will bear fruit.

Each of us is called by God to become a saint in our own circumstances. This Lent, I encourage you to follow the example of St. Joseph and strive to grow in attentiveness to God’s voice, obedience to his will for you, and in perseverance in carrying that out.

May St. Joseph, patron of the universal Church, pray for us and help us grow in holiness this Lent.

Featured image by M0tty – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15546418