A Vincentian View: The Truth
Last year at this time, I was on vacation and that proves true in this year as well. Last year, I wrote an essay about the Olympics and the political campaign which were both taking place at that time. My theme centered on “giving your best.” Now, the Olympics and presidential race have concluded. The results of most of the sports’ competition have been forgotten; we live with the results of the political one.
One discussion which has claimed my attention during this year has been the one around the “truth.” Have you seen the stories which proclaim that we are in a “post truth” era and that every statement seems to have a “spin” which compromises the truth? “Fact-checking” journalists and websites seem to have proliferated; the assertion of “fake facts” colors many reports. The insistence upon “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” seems to be a value left over from one of those old legal shows or movies.
I am concerned with the value placed upon the truth in our society. I am worried about the way in which it needs to characterize our democracy, but seems to be lessening in importance. Like most people, I think that “a half-truth is a full lie.”
The question becomes, “how insistent are we upon the truth and ready to hear it?” A famous line of Jack Nicholson in the movie “A Few Good Men” comes to mind. As a military officer, he is being vigorously questioned about a situation. The lawyer demands “I want the truth!” and the Nicholson character shouts “You can’t handle the truth!” It is a much-repeated line because, I think, people recognize a reality which it expresses.
We can ask further: How ready are we to hear the truth about living the Christian life and the kind of demands which it places upon us in terms of action and position?
Remember the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus at his trial. Jesus said,
“In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” retorted Pilate. (Jn 18:37-38)
Good question! In another part of the same Gospel, Jesus asserts: “I am the way, THE TRUTH, and the life” (Jn 14:6). Repeatedly in John’s Gospel, Jesus asserts who he is: “I am the resurrection and the life,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the true vine,” “I am the bread of life,” and so on. These statements drive our attention to recognize that our faith is not in a collection of facts or images, but in Jesus himself. We believe what he says—the truth—because we believe in him. And because we believe in him, we take seriously how he models the way in which we live and think and act. It is difficult to put a “spin” on Jesus because he speaks so clearly and directly. How much can one twist “love your neighbor” or “forgive seventy-times-seven times” before it sounds like a lie?
For Vincent, the truth as it connects with honesty would necessarily be wrapped up in humility and simplicity. These virtues are essential to our charism. One speaks the truth and one acts truthfully by being responsive to what one has believed and by serving as one has vowed or promised. Our particular ministry to those who are marginalized defines an essential truth of the Vincentian vocation. In this way we faithfully follow Christ the evangelizer.