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Educators Need to Be Reminded: The Truth Will Set You Free

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Our very salvation is threatened when even Catholic institutions are afraid to speak of "the truth" for fear of implying that others are "wrong."

“Father, ‘truth’ is divisive!”

They spoke to me slowly, gently, yet firmly—as if I were a child being warned about the dangers of a hot stove.

I was a young priest then, on a committee to rewrite a school’s mission statement. I was admonished after pointing out that the proposed mission statement included the word “diversity” three times, but not the word “truth.” (Back then, “Diversity is our strength!” was not yet a slogan. Instead we had: “UNITY + DIVERSITY = UNIVERSITY!”)

The members of the committee stared at me blankly when I asked, “Is your library still under warranty? Can you return it?” I then pointed out the window towards the school’s shiny new library, which had these words inscribed (in stone!) in the archway over the door: “THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE. John 8:32” I’ve repeatedly found since then that committees have little sense of irony, and even less of a sense of humor.

These folks were not full-blown relativists. Their position was actually a strategy that could be summarized this way: 1) “ Everybody” agrees that diversity is an unqualified good; 2) If the advocates of the truth are right, then advocates of the not-truth (what used to be called “falsehood” or “error”) would be wrong—and then feelings might be hurt; 3) We can all rally around diversity without hurt feelings and without having to define “diversity” (I did ask for a definition but never got one); 4) Therefore let’s all agree not to mention “truth” anymore because it is “divisive” (that is, some people who were not right would be wrong—and who wants to be wrong?).

Etienne Gilson warned against such a strategy decades ago in his essay, The Intelligence in the Service of Christ the King:

“…we are continually tempted to diminish or adapt our truth, in order to lessen the distance which separates our thinking from those of the world, or indeed, and sometimes in all sincerity, in the hope of rendering Christianity more acceptable to the world… To imitate the Church ought to be our rule, if we wish to put our intelligence in the service of Christ the King. For, to serve Him, is to unite our efforts to His… to… permit Him to work in us and through us for the salvation of the intelligence blinded by sin.”

In other words, we do not serve Christ, and we do not serve our neighbor, if we abandon the service of the truth. And remember, Truth—yes, Truth with a capital ‘T’—is not an abstraction but a person. Truth is Christ Himself: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) To be coy or indifferent about proclaiming the liberating and healing power of Truth is to blaspheme against Christ and to deprive our neighbor of what he needs most.

Decades before Gilson, Sertillanges wrote in The Intellectual Life: “…your neighbor is the person who needs the truth, as the neighbor of the good Samaritan was the wounded man by the wayside. Before giving out the truth, acquire it for yourself…” Father Sertillanges makes clear that the lack of zeal for truth that marks and mars our present culture is rooted in a lack of love: “One throws oneself wholeheartedly only into causes that one would die for. Are you ready to die for the truth? Everything that a real lover of truth writes, everything that he thinks, should be like the letters that St. Peter Martyr traced with the blood of his wound as he was dying: Credo (I believe).”

What does a world look like that lacks love for the Truth Who is Christ? To answer that question, all we need to do is turn on the television or look out of the window. In contemporary culture, it seems that almost everywhere, if Christ is not reviled, He is ignored. Partisans of a culture that is blinded to the Sovereign Truth Who is Christ cannot live rightly, wisely or safely. Over 300 years ago, Pascal warned: “Outside Jesus Christ we do not know what life is, nor death, nor God, nor ourselves.” (Pensees #548)

Years ago there was a popular bumper sticker: IF YOU THINK EDUCATION IS EXPENSIVE, TRY IGNORANCE! An “education” that abandons truth, in particular, a “Catholic” education that abandons Christ-the-Truth, is a schooling that does not illuminate or liberate. Instead, it blinds us to God, to our neighbor and to our own human and Christian dignity. The members of that long-ago committee were wrong: it is not truth that is divisive—it is ignorance of Christ-the-Truth that is divisive. A willful ignorance of Christ divides us from one another and, ultimately, from the happiness of Heaven.

When I write next, I will address the importance of having a “firm purpose of amendment” and the Sacrament of Confession. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.

 

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