What is truth, indeed? During this Lenten season, when we pay special attention to the events leading up to our Lord’s passion, there is one particular passage in John's gospel that sums up so much of what is wrong these days, especially during this time of great Coronaviral confusion: it is that truth is so often considered to be something subjective!
When Jesus was sent in the midst of His Passion to appear before the Roman procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate (pictured above), Pilate was trying to figure out what to do with Him in the midst of cries for His death from the Sanhedrin (the Jewish supreme council and tribunal).
In the midst of all his suffering from being treated as some completely base criminal, Christ, with great dignity, spoke of His mission to testify to the truth.
(Indeed, in an intriguing side note, God the Father referred to Jesus as His Truth in the revelations He gave to the 14th century mystic St. Catherine of Siena, as recorded in her famous book The Dialogue).
Pilate responded to our Lord by saying famously “What is truth” (John 18:38). Was this a sneer, or a complaint from some harried petty functionary who was blind to truth staring right at him? We can only imagine.
Pilate’s question “what is truth” is very much on my mind, and maybe yours as well, during this current coronavirus pandemic. Depending on what I’ve been reading on the internet its scope is either being exaggerated, providing a great opportunity for various bad actors to cause trouble in a world filled with lockdowns and quarantines.
Or else the Coronavirus pandemic really is an unfolding disaster on a par with the Spanish flu, which killed some 50 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1920. Or perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between these two hypotheses!
I suspect there are only a few real experts out there, if any, who really can see how this pandemic will play out, but there are many wannabes nonetheless!
Keep in mind in this regard who ultimately gains from any and all suspected malfeasance and confusion, Satan himself! More often than not, humanity is content to play three card monte with him, even as we get ripped off again and again and again. Peter Kreeft wrote a great article about knowing our real enemy over 20 years ago linked here.
Speak of the devil, literally, Jesus memorably rebuked the Pharisees in John’s Gospel saying “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Clearly he is Truth’s, that is to say Christ’s, adversary!
Getting back to Pontius Pilate, he was an aggravated, compromised man of the world who couldn't comprehend what Jesus was saying when he responded with his famous sneer: And yet here was Truth standing right in front of him in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity!
Still, Pilate knew how much those among the Pharisees and the Sanhedrin hated this man in front of him and wanted Him dead. Having no love for them, he was looking for wiggle room, for maneuverability to be able to set this Jesus, not an insurrectionist by any means, free and put this whole mess behind him!
His idea of a compromise with them, you might recall, was to have our Lord scourged, that is to say beaten so badly that anyone else might well have died from this brutality! (Some compromise!)
But in the end, after struggling with whatever subjective sense of right and wrong he might have had, Pilate folded under pressure from the mob accusing him of being no friend of Caesar, that is to say the powers that be in Rome, and washed his hands as he authorized Jesus’ brutal execution shortly afterwards!
So, how does that relate to us this Lent and beyond? I’ve come to realize there’s a little bit of Pilate in a lot of us, and certainly in those who wield power or are close to it in some way. Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote that “Pilate was one of those who believed that truth was not objective but subjective, that each man determined for himself what was to be true.”
Granted, many times so called white lies or various shadings of the truth may indeed be necessary given a particular situation. Sometimes hard truths need to be sugar coated with tact and prudence. Even our Lord told His disciples once to be shrewd as serpents (John 10:16).
Still, while we say we value goodness and truth, time and time again we show ambivalence in following the Commandments of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who, along with His Father and the Holy Spirit, is goodness and truth itself.
Speaking of Pilate in this regard, Jesus Himself told Sister Josefa Menendez, a Spanish nun, in 1923, that the governor’s soul was, as He put it, “typical of those who, tossed between the impulses of grace and the allurements of their own passions, blindly yield to human respect and excessive self-love.”
How many oaths to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth are broken willingly in our nation’s courts each day (not accountlng here for natural human error in remembering details about an issue, for example). How many companies and agencies make false claims about products or services for their own gains?
How many of our vaunted political “strategists”make a living off of calumnies (mortal sins against the eighth Commandment) and what is known more generically by the sanitized term “Opposition Research”?
And how many news reports are anything but objective? In totalitarian societies this problem tragically magnifies whatever mistakes and miscalculations despotic rulers make because there is no one to “speak truth to power”, as the saying goes.
You might have heard the saying “You’re entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts” Yet in today’s world, going back to Pilate's words, “what is truth”, truth is too often considered to be what it is in the eyes and ears of the beholder! There was even a television personality who made reference to her truth not too long ago!
We can scream “I want the truth!” as Tom Cruise did at Jack Nicholson in the movie A Few Good Men, but for many people Nicholson’s reply, “You can’t handle the truth!” might be too much to bear.
Do they feel threatened by our Lord trying to help them carry some cross, to expunge some inner wound, or to wake them from an unholy slumber? Is the truth something they feel can never be resolved satisfactorily, that it will somehow threaten not only whatever peace of mind they think they’ve got, but their very existence somehow?
Do they think thus that their only recourse is to believe in lies, project their sins on others, or otherwise engage in some mindless virtue-signaling about the splinter in someone else’s eye while ignoring their own beams (Matt 7:3-5)? God only knows, literally!
We live in a time when relativism has run so amok that ideology can trump biology, such as in the popular notion these days that one’s gender is a fluid option; or that in some warped idea of what constitutes religious freedom Satanism can be considered a religion worthy of protection on par with Christianity! (Sure Clorox and water are both great for cleaning, both are clear liquids but only one can be used for drinking!)
What’s the antidote for the poison of calumny, the vaccine for the virus of falsehood? In no small part, it involves our accepting basic supernatural premises with God-given faith as we try our best to show Him loving obedience in our day to day lives.
As Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matt 22:37-39).
Or as He told His apostles at the Last Supper: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). The Ten Commandments are His laws of love after all!
Remember that Jesus is God, not some prophet, philosopher or just that “Golden Rule” guy. His Kingdom may not be of this world but it is in heaven, indeed, it is heaven, a place every bit as real as the sun you see come up in the morning.
Heaven and Hell are real, the ultimate carrot and stick, an Eternity of love and beauty and peace like you can’t imagine on one hand, or one of hatred, ugliness, fear, anxiety and loathing like you can’t on the other. Guess which is which???
Christ loves each one of us enough to have created us and died for us in the first place. As Goodness Itself He gave us His Commandments (not, as newsman Ted Koppel once famously noted, His Suggestions) to follow as citizens-in-training for that Heavenly abode, but He will not force us to join Him there.
He respects our free will to choose to follow Him, but this often means undergoing Earthly hardships that can be endured more easily, or at least more bearably, through His grace in prayer and receiving His sacraments.
Remember that God loves each of us enough to get us through all this if we let him. Set your sights and efforts, with His help in making His kingdom your destination, when you pass away and your earthly pilgrimage ends.
In this regard, John Lennon got it wrong in literally singing the praises of some worldly humanist utopia with his line “imagine there’s no heaven”. No! Quite the opposite in fact! Heaven’s where you’ll find utopia, not here!
Heaven is a place of total transparency and transcendent love! Where there’s no fighting over what is or isn’t true, no disputes over the love God the Father, His Son, and His Spirit have for each other and for us.Heaven is the ultimate Sea of Love, in fact its an Ocean of Love where you have no fear of drowning in choppy waters.
It’s where you know for sure that, unlike the disciples in the boat with Jesus during a storm before he calmed things down, with a command to the wind and the waves (Matt 8:27) that you’re in good hands. You’re in God’s hands for eternity and as such you will never perish!!
I’d like to finish this blog post here with the Nicene Creed. In a world of calumnies, canards, white lies, and various obfuscations, you can count on this being true. All you need to believe these words is supernatural faith which is also God ‘s gift to us, and to trust in Him!
I believe in one
the Father almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all things visible and invisible.
I believe in one
Lord Jesus Christ,
the Only Begotten Son of God,
born of the Father before all ages.
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven,
and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary,
and became man.
For our sake he
was crucified under Pontius Pilate,
he suffered death and was buried,
and rose again on the third day
in accordance with the Scriptures.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory
to judge the living and the dead
and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the
Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son,
who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
I believe in one,
holy, catholic and apostolic Church.
I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins
and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come. Amen.