13 May 2009

Truth-telling is a dangerous business

[NB. For the life of me, I can't finish this homily. Maybe it's b/c I don't feel well. . .for whatever reason. . .it's not complete. . .but I pray it touches someone out there who needs it.]

5th Sunday of Easter: Acts 9.26-31; 1 John 3.18-24; John 15.1-8
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Truth-telling is a dangerous vocation. If you are called to tell the truth about those in power—to those with some power over you—it can be a deadly vocation. The stark clarity of the undisputed fact, the sharp focus of a truth told with a convicted tongue—these pierce the intended confusion of a lie, slice through the chaotic twists of nuance, obstruction, deceit, and expose the tumorous heart of falsehood: the drive, the compulsion to hate. Such a violent passion, based as it is on the desire to love, is not lightly angered. To stir up hatred with the white light of truth is an act of courage—knowing fear, you tell the truth nonetheless. And like a patient who bucks against the pain of surgery, or an animal caught in a trap that bites at its owner in blind fury, a liar cannot bear for long the furious pain that truth causes. He will bite back. Truth-telling is medicinal, liberating, and ultimately salvific for both the speaker and the hearer. But what must both have in order to benefit from the truth? What must be present in each for the truth to settle, flourish, and bear good fruit?

For the speaker, an honest tongue speaking without pretense. For the hearer, open ears ready to listen and obey. And we can even reverse that: a speaker with ears ready to listen and obey and a hearer ready to speak without pretense. The point being that there is no difference between hearing the truth spoken and speaking it yourself. There is no difference between speaking the truth and hearing it spoken. He Who is present in the hearing and the speaking is the same One who is Truth both spoken and heard. The lie derails the truth when the speaker pretends to speak something else and when the hearer pretends to hear something else. The only reason for derailing the truth is hatred. The hearer, the speaker wills evil for the spoken to and for the one who speaks. The branch is cut from the vine. The vine is cut from the root. The root is pulled from the ground. And the whole plant dies. How is this disaster avoided? The ground in which truth thrives must be firmer than our desire for truth. In other words, that which motivates our love for truth must be stronger than our awareness that truth is necessary. It is not enough that we long for truth. It must be the case that we die without it…and that we know this.

The truth will set you free. Not: the truth will make you happy. Not: the truth will please you. Not: the truth will confirm your prejudices. The truth will liberate you; set you free; release you from the lies of sin; show you the gates of divine obedience and dare you to open them; the truth will set you free and piss you off; you will be freed and angered…for no other reason than that your notion of freedom is so tiny, so limited, so restricted and cramped. Do you think “freedom” is about making choices? Or about “choosing options”? Really? Do you seriously believe that your freedom…your eternal freedom in the Word made Flesh is about picking A, B, or C? And having that choice honored as “just as good as any other”? Really? Is that the gospel? Is that what Christ died for?

Listen again: “You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you. Remain in me, as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.” A branch cannot bear fruit on its own. How many branches have you seen floating out in space near a fruit tree? You cannot, I cannot, none of us can bear the truth of the faith floating out in space away from the branch, away from the Body. We must have as a core-foundational element of our very being a commitment to the gospel rooted in obedience, the Good News that transforms the world by its very declaration: the proclamation of Truth Himself.

What happens when the Word of Truth rings out over human history, over just one nation, one people, even just one person? A choice is made: live free in the truth, or die chained to a lie. If you choose life, you will flourish even as you are hounded, persecuted, and possibly killed. Your choice will enrage the worshipers of death. The chains they wear sparkle like jewelry in their eyes. They count their freedoms with the chain-links from the stake to the yank of the choke-collar. If you choose life and preach the good news of life in Christ, the death cultists will mark you as an enemy of liberty. And only the right to choose to kill is more sacred to them than the limitless absolutes of moral license. If you choose death, you too will flourish; you will flourish as a minister of death, preaching the gospel of moral rot, diseased reason, extolling death’s greatest act of mercy: the necessity of killing the unborn, the disabled, and the elderly for no other reason than that these bothersome accidents tend to cause the most unfortunate inconveniences to your standard of living. Having accepted that the death of another person is no real problem for your peace of mind, it is a simple thing for you to conclude that it is in fact much better that someone should die than it is for you to risk that even the shortest life might inconvenience you. When killing is the solution, no problem is too small. And since the last killing is much easier than the first one, it is simply better to get on with it.

Paul debated the Hellenists and they tried to kill him. This fact alone bore sufficient witness to the veracity of his ministry that the disciples in Jerusalem accepted him as an equal. The best testimony to Paul’s power as an apostle was given by his enemies.

[. . .]


  1. Scott W.9:55 AM

    Humble suggestion: touch on application to daily life. One thing some good Catholics are confused on is our duty to the truth. As I read it, uttering things that you know are false in order to deceive is intrinsicly wrong. Meaning it is never acceptable even with a good intention or dire circumstances. The Catechism talks about how some people do not have a right to the truth, and some have confused this with a license to lie. At best, it permits silence or even evasive language, but not outright uttering known falsehoods.

  2. Flambeaux10:28 AM

    Wow. Just what you have thus far is powerful. I will continue praying that you are able to complete it.

    It's like drinking from a fire hydrant.

    I'd like to share this with some homeschoolers I know.

    Thank you.

  3. Fr. Philip, this has fueled my writing for my Mass of Thanksgiving next Sunday. Thank you so much!

  4. 'Piggybacking' Scott's initial suggestion...

    And yet, sometimes, the very large uncompromised picture needs to be put on display or even in-your-face, as it were - unencumbered and unclutterd by yet someone else's application and example - so that one's own personal puny view and application can more thoroughly and meaningfully align itself with that bigger uncompromised and uncluttered view.

  5. Anonymous12:18 PM

    Much needed!
    Where I get in trouble though is distinguishing when to say it and the fact that some who are not open to it, can be ignored (pearls to the swine?).

  6. One passage that puzzles me is when the Lord says, "You have already been pruned..."

    Does this apply specifically to the Apostles? Does it apply to all of the baptized? It seems that if you are baptized, then you are certainly connected to the vine, but are you also pruned? If not, when does "pruning" apply to us? It seems like a bit of a stretch to say that this Gospel prefigures the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but I'm not sure what other facet of the life of a contemporary Christian might be said to correspond to the pruning that the apostles underwent by virtue of listening to Jesus.

  7. Our Choices

    If you had a choice, right now, to choose to be with Christ Jesus in heaven, would you choose to do so? Being human and having the power of choice, can we choose to ask God to grant us a wish? You see, there are three realms, earth, heaven, and hell. We live on the earth in the now, and we believe, as Christians, that at some point Christ will return to the earth and judge us in the final days. Many of us will go to hell and the rest will live in heaven with Christ Jesus, our heavenly Father, and the Holy Spirit.

    Christ said: "And all things whatever you ask for in prayer, believing, you shall receive."
    What if, we asked God to stop this game, that is being played out on earth, and grant us the one wish of living with him in heaven. What if, we choose to not allow Satan any more control over our lives and our future and made the decision to ask God to end this game, right now. What if we, as human beings, with the power of choice; made a conscious decision to choose Christ Jesus, right now, over the day to day challenges and temptations that Satan offers.

    Say, in 2015, 9 billion, or 8 billion or 5 billion people, Jews, Catholics, Baptists, Protestants, Jahovah Witnessers, Lutherians, Episcapalians, Muslims, Buddists, Hindu's, and every other worshiper, got together on an Easter Sunday and prayed to God, asking him to bring on the end of days. We can asked Jesus Christ to come, bring us home to his kingdom in heaven, so that we can stop playing this earthly game. Would that become a challenge?? Is this a challenge to you??

    Christ has said in the Bible: "And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; and he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks it shall be opened." Billions of people, acting as one, crying out to our heavenly Father, "Take us home." OH GOD, take us from the land of the Pharaohs!!! Take us from the hands of evil and bring us home to your kingdom!!! Can we ask strong enough?? Can we ask hard enough??

    Christ has said: "And in that day you shall ask me nothing. Amen, amen, I say to you, if you ask the Father anything in my name, he will give it to you. Hitherto you have not asked anything in my name. Ask, and you shall receive, that your joy may be full." Do we want to be filled with eternal joy??

    Can you imagine how we can make this happen?? Can you understand the power that God has given us in order that we may choose our own destiny, right now. We don't have to wait until tomorrow, while Satan tricks and traps millions more souls into the fires of hell!!! The decision is ours. Can we choose?? Can we make this happen?? Can we start a holy movement around the world and set the date of our going home???

    Christ said: " I say to you further, that if two of you shall agree on earth about anything at all for which they ask, it shall be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together for my sake, there am I in the midst of them."

    Take the poll! Express your belief! Give a contribution! Donate to this cause! Make it happen! Pass this message on to your friends and family and see what they say. Do they believe??

    Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love.


  8. There is so much here. How do we remain in Jesus Christ? By not allowing ourselves to be deceived about our own nature, we are only branches, or the world's.

    We have this terribly elegant society full of nuance, that cannot recognize evil or good, because it prefers that neither be actually discernable.