Tag Archives: truth

Conflict Resolution

14 Aug

conflict resolution1Today’s Gospel, from Matthew 18, gives us the blueprint for peaceably resolving our differences with others. Jesus teaches us to first reach out privately to the person who has sinned against us. If that doesn’t work, we seek out the assistance of one or two others. Then, if necessary, we entrust the matter to the judgment of the Church.

Yet when we’re aggrieved by someone in our society, we tend to insist upon our legal rights. We demand satisfaction in one form or another.

The approach of the Church, having the mind of Christ, is much different. The goal is salvation–and not simply that, but “communion” with one another in Christ. The person is more important than the wrong he or she committed.

Yet as Christians, when someone hurts us, how often do we start talking down the other person to others and perhaps even via social media like Facebook and Twitter? And if we’re influential enough, we’ll even call a press conference to disseminate our side of the story through whatever media outlet is available to us.

That’s surely not what Our Lord is teaching in Matthew 18. I think that the best rule of thumb for dealing with conflicts is to limit our communications about people who have wronged us as much as possible, and when we do talk about them, we only involve those persons who can be part of the solution. In other words, we must be respectful of the person with whom we have the conflict, and we must always to seek to bring about healing, not further strife and enmity.

We should be aware that when we vent our frustrations to a third person, we could easily fall prey to the sin of detraction. This sin involves disclosing–without a legitimate reason for doing so–another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them (cf. Catechism, no. 2477). Detraction is an offense against the truth–not because what we’re saying is untruthful (if it were, then the sin would be defamation, not detraction), but because we’re using the truth to injure rather than to heal.

Rather than settle for division with our neighbor, let’s seek “communion” and unity at every turn. For at the conclusion of today’s Gospel we hear that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

The Truth Will Set Us Free

28 May

Murray on TIME coverAfter a brief hiatus, we now continue our series on the documents of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) during this Year of Faith with the Declaration on Religious Liberty (Dignitatis Humanae). While the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy may be considered the most controversial document of Vatican II in terms of its implementation, Dignitatis Humanae is probably the most controversial in terms of what it actually teaches, and it is a “front-burner” issue for the Church today.

The reason Dignitatis Humanae is so controversial are that it (a) reflects new and diverse responses to changing social conditions (notably the contribution of American theologian John Courtney Murray, S.J.) and (b) strikes a very different tone from a series of papal documents from Gregory XVI to Pius XI on the social kingship of Christ and the desirability of a “confessional state” (i.e., what we would call a “Catholic country”).

Let me try to simplify the issue for us: “Religious liberty” looks one way when the Catholic faith is in power and most people are Catholic or at least Christian, and the issue is how to apply religious truth in a manner that is both robust and yet respectful of the rights of non-believers. It looks another way when, as is more typical in our experience, the Catholic faith is a minority position and the issue is to protect the fundamental rights of individuals and religious entities. As the first section Dignitatis Humanae teaches, “Religious freedom, . . . which men demand as necessary to fulfill their duty to worship God, has to do with immunity from coercion in civil society.”

Further complicating the situation is American jurisprudence, which today, in my judgment, improperly treats the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment as meaning that there must be an impenetrable wall between Church and State—and really between religion and public life. This distorted emphasis on the Establishment Clause to the detriment of the “Free Exercise” clause has led secularists to narrow the scope of “religious liberty” to what happens in the church building as they bully believers and churches out of the public square.

Exhibit “A” is the HHS mandate.

Another complicating aspect of religious liberty is the widespread misunderstanding of conscience, especially in dissident Catholic circles. I’ve addressed that issue here. The Catechism (no. 1792) acknowledges that “a mistaken notion of autonomy of conscience” is a “source of errors of judgment in moral conduct.” Even more to the point, Catechism, no. 2039 teaches that “personal conscience and reason should not be set in opposition to the moral law or the Magisterium of the Church.”

We should not be forced to act against our conscience. By the same token, we are obliged to form our consciences well. Acting according to the dictates of conscience is about doing what is truly good, not whatever I feel like doing at the moment.

Let’s now briefly look at a “top ten” list of principles of religious liberty taken from the opening sections of Dignitatis Humanae. This is not an exhaustive list, but it contains principles that always apply even as cultural conditions change:

(1) We ordinarily cannot be forced to act contrary to our religious beliefs.

“All men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits.” (no. 2)

(2) Religious liberty is an innate right known to us through both faith and reason.

“The right to religious freedom has its foundation in the very dignity of the human person as this dignity is known through the revealed word of God and by reason itself.” (no. 2)

(3) Governments have the duty to respect religious liberty.

“This right of the human person to religious freedom is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right.” (no. 2)

(4) We must seek the truth.

“It is in accordance with their dignity as persons–that is, beings endowed with reason and free will and therefore privileged to bear personal responsibility–that all men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth.” (no. 2)

(5) We must strive to live the truth.

“They are also bound to adhere to the truth, once it is known, and to order their whole lives in accord with the demands of truth.” (no. 2)

(6) God’s law is written on the human heart.

“The highest norm of human life is the divine law–eternal, objective and universal–whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community by a plan conceived in wisdom and love. Man has been made by God to participate in this law, with the result that, under the gentle disposition of divine Providence, he can come to perceive ever more fully the truth that is unchanging. Wherefore every man has the duty, and therefore the right, to seek the truth in matters religious in order that he may with prudence form for himself right and true judgments of conscience, under use of all suitable means.” (no. 3)

(7) The truth must be sought freely.

“Truth, however, is to be sought after in a manner proper to the dignity of the human person and his social nature. The inquiry is to be free, carried on with the aid of teaching or instruction, communication and dialogue, in the course of which men explain to one another the truth they have discovered, or think they have discovered, in order thus to assist one another in the quest for truth.” (no. 3)

(8) We must adhere to the truth.

“As the truth is discovered, it is by a personal assent that men are to adhere to it.” (no. 3)

(9) Personal and societal harm comes from suppressing the free exercise of religion.

“On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious. The reason is that the exercise of religion, of its very nature, consists before all else in those internal, voluntary and free acts whereby man sets the course of his life directly toward God. No merely human power can either command or prohibit acts of this kind. The social nature of man, however, itself requires that he should give external expression to his internal acts of religion: that he should share with others in matters religious; that he should profess his religion in community. Injury therefore is done to the human person and to the very order established by God for human life, if the free exercise of religion is denied in society, provided just public order is observed.” (no. 3)

(10) Religious freedom applies to religious communities and groups (i.e., the Church), and not just individual believers.

“The freedom or immunity from coercion in matters religious which is the endowment of persons as individuals is also to be recognized as their right when they act in community. Religious communities are a requirement of the social nature both of man and of religion itself.” (no. 4)

Winning Souls, Not Arguments

10 Jan

ecumenismAfter our Christmas hiatus, we continue this series on the documents of Vatican II with some reflections on the 1964 Decree on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratio, or “Restoration of Unity”).

Ecumenism, or the building of unity among Christians, was one of the pastoral priorities of Vatican II. It’s not surprising, then, that an entire conciliar document would be devoted to this topic. The emphasis on ecumenism is brought home in the opening paragraph of the Decree on Ecumenism:

“The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. Christ the Lord founded one Church and one Church only. However, many Christian communions present themselves to men as the true inheritors of Jesus Christ; all indeed profess to be followers of the Lord but differ in mind and go their different ways, as if Christ Himself were divided (1 Cor. 1:13). Such division openly contradicts the will of Christ, scandalizes the world, and damages the holy cause of preaching the Gospel to every creature.”

Since Vatican II, Catholics at all levels have grown in our ecumenical sensibilities. As Blessed John Paul II noted in his 1995 encyclical on the subject (Ut Unum Sint, or “That They May Be One”), ecumenism “is not just some sort of ‘appendix’ which is added to the Church’s traditional activity,” but rather “an organic part of her life and work” that “must pervade all that she is and does” (Ut Unum Sint, no. 20).

I think most Catholics instinctively “get it,” but it doesn’t always play out very well in our encounters with non-Catholic Christians. There are a couple reasons for this.

First, in my opinion, we tend to treat ecumenism and apologetics (the art of explaining and defending the reasonableness of our faith) as mutually exclusive or even opposing disciplines. I’m sure we’ve encountered an approach to ecumenism that so emphasized principles such as “unity,” “charity,” and “communion” that real doctrinal differences were overlooked—either out of ignorance or to avoid perceived conflict.

We’ve also encountered an approach to apologetics that promoted doctrinal correctness in a harsh or unattractive way—hardly a recipe for “Christian unity.”

The problem is that we sometimes put too much emphasis on the argument rather than the person. When that occurs, apologetics is reduced to winning arguments and ecumenism is wrongly viewed as avoiding or even conceding arguments. Rather, the goal must always be to lead others in truth and charity into full communion in the Catholic Church, the Family of God.

Truth (apologetics) and charity (ecumenism) are opposite sides of the same coin!

Further, in his encyclical on ecumenism, Blessed John Paul II rejected doctrinal compromise as incompatible with fidelity to the Gospel. So clearly apologetics has its place, and its renewal in recent years has had a positive influence on the Church. Apologetics done appropriately advances authentic Catholic unity by (a) removing unnecessary stumbling blocks, (b) clarifying misconceptions, and (c) demonstrating the reasonableness and consistency of Church teaching (cf. 1 Pet. 3:15).

When it comes to both ecumenism and apologetics, we also tend to put too much emphasis on our own efforts. In ecumenical discussions, we implicitly think, “if only I’m nice enough, tolerant enough, or open-minded enough.” Meanwhile, in apologetic discussions, we implicitly think, “if only I’m smart enough, prepared enough, or convincing enough.”

The fact of the matter is that Christian unity, like faith itself, is mainly a matter of grace. For that reason, I want to leave readers with the following excerpts from the Decree on Ecumenism which stress our own personal renewal in Christ as the indispensable key to promoting Christian unity:

“There can be no ecumenism worthy of the name without a change of heart. For it is from renewal of the inner life of our minds (cf. Eph. 4:24), from self-denial and an unstinted love that desires of unity take their rise and develop in a mature way. We should therefore pray to the Holy Spirit for the grace to be genuinely self-denying, humble, gentle in the service of others, and to have an attitude of brotherly generosity towards them. . . .

“All the faithful should remember that the more effort they make to live holier lives according to the Gospel, the better will they further Christian unity and put it into practice. For the closer their union with the Father, the Word, and the Spirit, the more deeply and easily will they be able to grow in mutual brotherly love.

“This change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name, ‘spiritual ecumenism’ (nos. 7-8).”

Catechesis on the Eighth Commandment

19 Dec

In the final post in our series on the commandments we turn to the Eighth Commandment:

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

All people, despite our fallen nature, are naturally drawn to the truth. We were made to seek the truth with sincerity and to live it. We admire honesty, but we are disgusted by hypocrisy, which is nothing other than the disconnect between knowing the truth and a failure to live it.

Christ is the fulfillment of our human yearning for truth. In fact, He identified Himself as “the truth” (Jn. 14:6). His words are the truth that set us free (Jn. 8:31-32).

The Eighth Commandment, then, exhorts us to speak and live the truth.  It calls us to live honest, upright lives as “children of the light” (1 Thess. 5:5), as authentic witnesses of the truth that is Christ.

As Christ came into the world to “bear witness to the truth” (Jn. 18:37), so too as His followers we must bear witness to the truth of the Gospel in every aspect of our lives even, if necessary, to the point of death. The Church has always considered martyrdom as the supreme witness given to the truth of the faith. Indeed, as the ancient saying goes, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

Some of the principal sins against the Eighth Commandment include:

Lying: Speaking or acting against the truth in order to lead someone into error.

False Witness: Making a public statement contrary to the truth, thus compromising the proper exercise of judgment. When done under oath, it’s the sin of perjury, which is also a sin against the Second Commandment.

Rash judgment: Assuming as true, without sufficient information, the moral fault of another.

Detraction: Unnecessarily disclosing another’s faults to someone who doesn’t already know them.

Calumny: Also known as slander or defamation, making statements contrary to the truth in order to harm another’s reputation.

Any sin committed against the Eighth Commandment demands reparation if it has caused harm to others. Often this might entail not only issuing a private apology, but also setting the record straight.

The Eighth Commandment requires respect for the truth, but it also calls forth the exercise of prudence and charity when it comes to imparting information to others. The commandment requires us to respect the privacy of others, and to exercise the utmost discretion in respecting confidences and secrets that have been confided to us.

The Eighth Commandment applies in a particular way to the use of modern means of social communication. The media serves the common good by providing information that is truthful and presented fairly, in keeping with the moral law and the legitimate rights and dignity of the person.

The truth is beautiful. Therefore, artistic works can be expressions of truth. Sacred art that is true and beautiful brings alive the mystery of God made visible in Christ. It leads to the adoration of God, the Creator and Savior who is the surpassing, invisible Beauty of Truth and Love (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 526). Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI has identified sacred art as being a more compelling witness to the truth of the Catholic faith than verbal arguments and explanations (Ratzinger Report, pp. 129-30).

For more on this commandment, check out Catechism, nos. 2464-2513.

Handling the Truth

6 Feb

Many of us who uphold the Church’s teachings, especially in questions of morals, have been told we’re not “compassionate.” How dare we tell couples they shouldn’t live together before marriage, or that they shouldn’t contracept, let alone abort their children, once they’re married? How dare we tell those with same-sex attractions to avoid acting upon these urges? How dare we bring up uncomfortable truths on a whole range of issues, from capital punishment and just wars to honesty, the rights of workers, and the Sunday obligation?

In other words, for many, truth is a hindrance to their conception of compassion and love. Yet truth and love are opposite sides of the same coin!

I’ve been to Confession many, many times in my life (good thing, too!). I have had confessors mechanically mete out an absolution and penance, perhaps in the process reminding me just how evil the sins I committed were. I’ve had other confessors tell me that nothing I mentioned was a sin, that I was a “good man,” and that for my penance I should “lighten up” and “do something just for me.”

The first type of confessor tried to communicate the truth about sin, while the second type tried to communicate “compassion.” While the grace of the sacrament is always present, my most fruitful experiences of Confession have brought together both elements. The priest affirmed the truth about sin, but also in a tangible way communicated the peace, healing, and mercy of Christ. Continue reading