The commonality in this week’s items is the idea of Truth. In a few weeks on Good Friday we will once more read the words from Holy Scripture in which Pilate asks the man standing before him “Quid est veritas?” (John 18:38)
What is truth? As Jesus’ passion shows us, truth is rarely popular with a mob. But what else is truth?
- Truth is radical.
- Truth is clouded by ignorance.
- Truth is mimicked in the false mirrors of politics and tyranny.
- Truth is difficult to convey in our relativistic, multicultural, post modern age.
- Truth is still present in our world today. It is beautiful. It is unexpected. It will take our breath away and drop us to our knees in awe.
Strange times are these, in which we live, forsooth ;
When young and old are taught in Falsehood’s school:–
And the man who dares to tell the truth,
Is called at once a lunatic and fool.
— George Francis Train, from Pen Sketches of Nebraskans by A.C. Edmunds, published in 1871 in Lincoln, Nebraska (source). This quote (or its variation) is often misattributed to Plato and often appears in memes plastered all over Facebook and Twitter.
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Open up your Bible and read one of the four Gospels from start to finish. Try to do it with fresh eyes, and you will be struck by something: Jesus was a radical—and his life and teachings are a radical invitation to something beyond what most of us have settled for in our everyday lives.
What does radical mean? It means to get to the “root” of things.
Jesus was interested in getting deep down to the root of things. He was interested in what was essential—not the fluffy periphery, but the core, the center, the heart of things.
Jesus wasn’t trapped by the notion of political correctness. He wasn’t burdened with the need to be liked by people. He wasn’t moved by the desire for expediency or convenience. Instead, he simply allowed truth to reign supreme.
Truth is radical.
Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly. Chapter 8.
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Hidden beneath various slogans (“Love wins!”) and postures (“tolerance”) this is the fundamental factual reality that the modern ethos abhors, because it has substituted feelings for facts and overwhelmed reason with the will.
The duty to instruct the ignorant is a work of mercy because there is something important that can be known and should be known to attain spiritual maturity. Cicero said, “To be ignorant of history is always to remain a child.” That kind of ignorance is not the childlike innocence that leads to the Kingdom of heaven. It is the childishness of adults who do not know that there is much they do not know.
Father George Rutler, Magnificat Year of Mercy Companion, February 17
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Let us call this Lenin’s Wax Dummy Effect. During the Cold War, critics in the West remarked that the Soviet Union and its doctrine of Marxism-Leninism resembled nothing so much as a new religion, complete with scripture (the writings of Marx and Engels), charismatic prophets (Lenin and Stalin) with the aura of demigods, a Church Militant (the Party), a mother church (the Kremlin), and a clerical caste (the Politburo and Soviet apologists in the West). The religion also had, tellingly, a funerary temple to the mummified corpse of the Founder lying in eternal state just outside the Kremlin’s walls, where tourists an Soviet citizens alike would wait in the cold of a Russian winter to shuffle past the bier and gaze upon the embalmed body of the Leader, Teacher, Beacon, Helsman, the Immortal Guide, V.I. Lenin (whose relics were gathers at the Lenin Institute and Lenin Museum immediately upon his death).
Tens of millions of unborn babies have been slaughtered; illegitimacy rates have soared; divorce has skyrocketed; pornography is rampant; drug use has exploded; sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS have killed millions; birth control is a way of life; sex outside of wedlock has become the norm; countless children have been permanently damaged — their innocence lost forever — because of the proliferation of broken homes; and sodomy and homosexuality are celebrated openly. America has become the new Babylon. – Jeffrey T. Kuhner, Washington Times, January 20, 2011. (source)
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The one that is worrying is that, in our relativistic, multicultural, post modern age, any form of argumentation is simply impossible. You can only argue about something if you and your opponent have at least some shared foundational values and philosophical principles. If your opponent does not believe there is such a thing as truth or if he denies that there is any authority on earth that can ascertain and interpret the truth, then there is very little that can be discussed.
Look around. Why is there so much chaos, turmoil, confusion, fear and recrimination? Because people not only do not believe the same thing, they don’t believe it is possible to have a shared belief system or foundational philosophy. They don’t believe it is possible because they don’t believe such things exist. Consequently, on what basis does anyone argue about anything?
Increasingly, the only basis on which people argue is their feelings and instincts. Driven by animal instincts and dark forces they cannot understand, they respond with feelings of rage, anger, confusion and fear. When confronted with a belief system or person that contradicts them or suggests they control these instincts, the response is rage expressed as sarcasm, personal attack, profanity or some other form of irrational emotionalism.
Father Dwight Longenecker: Why I Won’t Argue Anymore
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“We went into the cathedral for a few moments, and as we stood there in respectful silence, a woman came in with her shopping basket and knelt down in one of the pews to say a short prayer. That was something completely new to me. In the synagogue, as in the Protestant churches I had visited, people only went in at the time of the service. But here was someone coming into the empty church in the middle of a day’s work as if to talk with a friend. I have never been able to forget that.” – Edith Stein, on a visit to Frankfurt in 1919 (source).
On August 9, 1942, Edith Stein, now known as Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, and her sister Rosa, died in Auschwitz. A German Jewish philosopher and former athiest, she was beatified as a saint on May 1, 1987, in Cologne, Germany.
There are so many great stories. Here is a favorite. As you leave the church, the following words are painted on the arch above the door: “The more we love God, the better our love is.” That quotation is from St. Thomas Aquinas. Makes sense, right? Well at one of our recent weddings, when the bride and groom walked out of the church, the bride stopped the groom at the arch and told him, “Take off your ring.” Of course, he was puzzled and confused. And so she said to him again, “Take off your ring and look at the inside.” Inscribed on the inside of the ring were the words, “The more we love God, the better our love is.” That story still gives me goose bumps.
And then of course there is Night Fever. Night Fever is an event that started in Cologne, Germany where young people go out into the streets and invite people who are out and about to come into the church to light a candle and say a prayer for peace. The Blessed Sacrament is on the altar with the lights low and priests and prayer team members are available for confessions or just to talk. We have had two of these nights in our new church. And again, it’s amazing to see what happens. I remember at our first Night Fever watching three young teenage boys walk up the center aisle with their skateboards in tow. They stood in front of the altar in amazement for a short time before falling to their knees to light a candle and offer a prayer. It was beautiful, and I’m pretty sure when they left home that evening with their skateboards, they had no idea that encounter was going to take place.
Father Robert Matya, HuskerCatholic newsletter, Winter 2016, p.11
Photos of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church and Newman Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln taken by the author.