Friday, May 28, 2010

Truth and Love

Caritas in Veritae we the title of Pope Benedicts's latest encyclical. It followed in line with a theme John Paul II had been talking about quite frequently. That too often people in the church had been seeing a conflict between teaching the truth of the Catholic faith and showing love for those same people. For example, if they encountered a pregnant woman in a difficult situation that was headed for an abortion they would know the teaching of the church was to tell her that abortion is a mortal sin. But they asked themselves what was the loving thing to say. Often they would water down the teaching of the church and sometimes flatly contradict it to try and say the loving thing.

Benedict says this choice between truth and love is a false choice. That to be loving one must always be truthful. That often means speaking hard truths. The harder they are the more important it is to speak them with love. But we must speak them.

So why don't we? One reason is we don't actually believe it. That is we buy into the secular thinking that this woman really is better off having the abortion. We know that choosing life is what the church would want but we don't fully accept the idea that committing a gravely evil act cannot make her life better. We overrule God and think our advise is better than His. Of course, we tell ourselves it is not God we are disobeying but just the church. But we lack trust. We see a gap between what is revealed to us by faith and what our secular thinking would tell us. We chose to trust ourselves more than we trust God.

Another reason we won't speak the truth is because we want to be liked. We say we are acting out of love for the other person but we are really acting to be loved by that person. It is likely that telling this woman the truth about abortion will cause her to react negatively. It won't always happen but it is one scenario we might expect. We tell ourselves it will do no good to destroy our relationship with this person. But it comes back to being self-centered. We don't trust the person to be able to see the wisdom in God's law. We don't trust God to be able to show it to her. We know how to get the praise of men and we get it. Then we convince ourselves it was all about love.

Pope Benedict rightly points out that Catholics have cut these kinds of corners. What has been the result? We have engaged in social action mostly as well-meaning humans and very rarely as agents of God's grace. If we don't go fully embracing God's truth, especially God's most counter-cultural truths, then we are living in the flesh and not in the spirit.


  1. I was thinking about how "truth vs. love" is played out in the the Protestant/Catholic rift. My real conversion toward Christ occurred in college through the Methodist Campus ministry. My greatest Christian mentor is the Methodist campus minister there. Though Methodist, he has sever Catholic leanings, and I believe would strongly consider converting if it wasn't for celibate clergy (not because he wants to be a priest, but because he disagrees with the discipline).

    Anyways, few of our conversations have probed the sharp differences between Catholic and Protestant belief, differences I'm more and more convinced are complete error on the Protestant end. Though you--and Pope Benedict XVI--caution against fearing effects of speaking the truth, here's my worry:

    Would it be the more "loving" thing to goad my pastor-friend to convert to Catholicism? I fear the profound effect this would have on the hundreds of college students in that thriving ministry if their pastor skipped town to the Catholic Student Union. I would fear that many in the Methodist ministry would quit campus ministry altogether, becoming disenfranchised once more with a hurtful church, rather than follow their pastor to the Catholic Church.

    On the flip side, I know that the truth--including the True Church--would be of benefit to all, regardless of how uncomfortable that truth may at first seem. The truth is objectively good for everyone.

    Difficult situation.

  2. I hear you Brandon. I have several siblings who are protestant pastors. Do I encourage them to convert? It would certainly increase the family tension over my conversion. Then there is the fact that they are doing what seems to be very effective ministry right now. Would that continue if they converted? It is hard to see how.

    But we cannot see the future as well as we think. God can find ways to welcome them home and keep the people they are reaching from falling as well. Ultimately depth is important. The superfical ministry of the moment matters less than getting people on a solid life long foundation.

    Youth minister and Campus minsters leave all the time. That crushes people's spiritual lives. But did they have a heart commitment to Jesus or were they just there for the community?

    Think of 1 Cor 3:12-15:
    If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

    So if what this man has built is solid it will survive when he leaves. If it isn't then what has really been lost? Lots of positive feelings but how important are they?

    It does tie with the tendency towards liberalism. Liberal Christians do generate more shallow niceness and fewer angry reactions than orthodox Christians. But they don't show the hard truth of the faith that forms a solid foundation for their life if they dare to embrace it.

  3. Good words. I think that particular campus ministry--which has exploded to become the largest student organization at FSU--is more non-denominational than explicitly Catholic. I don't think many of the students have firm reasons why they follow John Wesley's church instead of the Catholic Church. In fact, the majority have probably never even heard of John. Truth may go down easier than I first supposed.

    On a side note, there is an important character in this discussion who keeps flashing through my head: Mother Teresa. She was staunchly against active conversion, at least as I understand her from the biographies I've read. She let Hindus be Hindus, Muslims be Muslims, all the while encouraging them to pray to God as they understood them. She separated "loving action" from "introducing Jesus". What to make of her? Did she mistakenly divorce "love" from "truth"? She was the most loving woman I know of, yet she kept her truth pocketed most of the time. Would this be an asterisk?

  4. I think it was Malcom Muggeridge who tells a story about Mother Teresa. He had become Anglican and she was encouraing him to come all the way to Rome. He said, "God needs good Anglicans too". She simply said, "No, He doesn't". He said he could not refute that reply and eventually became Catholic.

    Mother Teresa did not push anyone to convert. She wanted to make everyone more Catholic but many of them didn't know they were becoming more Catholic. They thought they were becoming a better Hindu or Muslim. They were. But "better" by the Catholic understanding of the word. Many did eventually convert. Her holiness would slowly draw them closer and closer until, like Malcom Muggeridge, they would see the logic of becoming Catholic.

    We need to do that. We should not focus on getting someone saved or getting somebody Catholic. We should focus on making them "better" by the catholic definition of that term. That might involve discussing coming into sacramental union with the church. We should not be afraid of that. But there are a lot of other ways to bring God's grace into people's lives.