Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Grains of Truth

The question of truth is an important one these days. Not only are we faced with distortions of truth in the media, big business, and government, we have still more important questions concerning truths about ourselves and that which has been revealed by God. On the other hand, many are saying there really is no such thing as truth (in any absolute or objective sense, anyway), that truth is only what seems true for us according to our subjective perceptions or preferences.

The entire issue of truth is far too large and unwieldy to treat adequately in a blog post, so I will limit myself for now to a few words about religious truth, that is, that which God has revealed for our salvation. Truth is embodied in the word of God, and the word of God is found in Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition. Scripture and Tradition together are the foundation of “the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1Timothy 3:15). The Catholic Church, in her self-understanding as the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, has declared in her official teaching (Lumen Gentium) that the fullness of revealed truth subsists within her. Is the Church trying to say that all truth about everything in found in her? No. The Church knows the field of her authority and competence. The Church is simply stating that—since she has faithfully preserved the heritage of Christ and the Apostles—all the means of grace and salvation, and the fullness of God’s revelation to man concerning God, man, and our salvation, is to be found in her.

The Church also states in her official teachings that elements of truth can be found in non-Catholic Christian churches and even in non-Christian religions, and does not deny the possibility of salvation to those who sincerely seek God and strive to live a righteous life, insofar as they know what that means (see Romans 2:12-16). Grains of truth have been liberally scattered all over the world.

But even within the framework of God’s revelation as received and interpreted by the Church, there is room for legitimate variations, emphases, and approaches to the mysteries of God. And here is where we ought to have respect for the various grains within the Church herself. I have read, for example, writings of hermits who insist that prayer in solitude and silence is the only way to God, and I’ve also read writings of activists (in the good sense) who say that solitude and silence have to be set aside for the sake of active compassion and service to the poor and needy, and in this God is discovered. Both possess some grains of the whole truth, but neither has it all, and problems enter in when controversies or even animosities develop between those who insist that their way is the only way. We ought to be working together, supporting one another with contemplative prayer and active labors. We are members of each other in the Body of Christ, as St Paul says, so the full truth is realized when each member contributes his or her unique gifts and talents for the spiritual and material well-being of the whole Church.

Each of us has our own grain of truth to contribute to the whole. We all ought to be willing to be ground and mixed together like flour for the bread of heaven, a Eucharist offered to God in truth and love, grace and beauty, peace and unity. The grain of wheat must die to itself to bear fruit, said the Lord (John 12:24), and our self-sacrifice in charity and mutual understanding will make it happen. This will be the great revelation of the Last Day for all the faithful, but we are called now to embrace truth where we find it, and at the same time to realize that the Church bears the fullness thereof.

There is absolute and objective truth. It comes from the God who is love, who sent his only Son, who in turn said: I am the Truth. And the Church is entrusted with the mission to hand on, interpret, teach, and live the Truth who is Christ. We pray to God in every Divine Liturgy for the leaders of the Church, that they may “rightly impart the word of Your truth.” Amen, let the grains be gathered.