Remain Rooted in the Truth

Speak from the heart. Bear good fruit!

 Fr. Raymond Lafontaine  March 3, 2019

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln once said: “It is better to remain silent and to be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt!” 

In many ways, this is a variation on the words of the sage Ben Sirach in today’s first reading: “Do not praise someone before they speak, for this is the way in which people are tested.” In fact, the connecting thread running through what seem to be very disparate, disconnected readings today is this notion of integrity: avoiding hypocrisy and hasty judgments, bearing witness to the truth by living a life in which there is coherence between our beliefs and values, our words and our deeds.  This is the way in which our lives become fruitful, a source of goodness for ourselves and for those around us.  Or in simpler terms: “to walk the talk.”

I was sitting next to Bishop Tom last Friday evening at Robert Assaly’s ordination to the transitional diaconate.  Immediately after the conferring of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands and the prayer of consecration, Fr. Bertoli vested Robert in the stole and dynamic, and then Robert came and knelt before the Bishop to receive the Book of Gospels.  Although I have heard the words of that prayer many times before, I was struck by its power and simplicity: “Robert, receive the Gospel of Christ.  Believe what you read; preach what you read here, and practice what you preach.”  

Obviously, this applies not only to priests and deacons, or to those who have received a special mission to preach the Gospel.  Whenever the Gospel is proclaimed, we trace those three crosses upon ourselves, asking that the Lord be in our minds, upon our lips, and in our hearts, as we hear and proclaim and live out his Good News in our own lives.  And as it is said in the Letter to the Hebrews, God’s Word cuts more sharply than a two-edged sword: it has the power to lay open our hearts, to reveal to us deep beauty, but also those signs of contradiction in our own lives, and in the lives of our church and our world, those things to which we need to attend to live fully in Christ.

This certainly applies to the words of today’s Gospel.  On this last Sunday or Ordinary Time before the beginning of Lent with Ash Wednesday, we continue our reading of Luke’s ‘Sermon on the Plain’ (it’s on a mountain in Matthew’s version!) in which Jesus fleshes out for us the implications of discipleship. 

First, Jesus cautions us to choose carefully whom or what we will follow. In a world where so much of what we think and believe is driven by media – whether in the traditional form of TV and newspapers, or the modern versions of blogs, websites, and social media feeds – it is so easy to jump on a bandwagon and be led by the beliefs of the crowd.  When this happens, we are in fact “the blind being led by the blind”, and judgment and misinformation spread. 

In the same context, Jesus cautions us against judging our brother or sister too harshly or too quickly, using the humorous image of a man with a log sticking out of his own eye trying to remove a speck of sawdust from the eye of his neighbour.  Don’t we do exactly that, in so many different contexts?  One of the wisest things my mother ever said was when she told me, many years ago, “Nothing bothers us more than seeing our own faults reflected in someone else.”  When we are quick to judge or condemn or criticize, it is good – if difficult – to ask ourselves that question: what buttons are they pushing that more properly belong to me?  We need to remember that whenever we point the finger at someone, there are three more pointing right back at us – and one up at God! 

We are often quick to judge someone’s character in a sweeping way, sometimes on the flimsiest of evidence.  We would like to know the “pure and simple truth”, and we forget Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism from The Importance of Being Earnest:

JACK: That, my dear Algy, is the whole truth, pure and simple.
ALGERNON: My dear Jack, the truth is rarely pure and never simple.

And yet, however complex and difficult to access, the truth exists.  We are painfully aware of the dangers of living in a world where all news which does not suit our social or political agenda is dismissed as “fake news”, or where we forget that just because we have the right to our own opinions, that does not mean we have the right to our own facts!!  As we have been watching the drama of the inquiry into the SNC-Lavalin case, in which former justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould has now been allowed to speak “her truth” – which seems to differ quite radically from the “truth” as interpreted of the Clerk of the Privy Council, not to mention the PM and his staff – it is worth asking ourselves some questions. 

Who do I believe?  Why?  Do I make up my mind after hearing only one side of the story, only taking in that information which reinforces my pre-existing opinions, or do I take the time to patiently sift through the evidence, maybe even allowing my own biases to be questioned?  We could apply the same tools to the Cohen-Trump investigation, or to the recent accusations of plagiarism against Father Tom Rosica, CEO of Salt and Light Catholic social media foundation, or even the recent conviction of Cardinal George Pell on sexual abuse accusations in Australia.  It is precisely because truth matters, because words and deeds are important, that we not simply jump on a bandwagon for or against people, but to be cautious about judging people or situations too hastily.   Sometimes, our first impressions are right; but they are far from infallible. 

Those of you who follow Church news know about the global summit of bishops called by Pope Francis, and held in Rome last week to address the issue of the sexual abuse crisis:

The gathering began with video-recorded testimony from five different victims of clerical sexual abuse of one form or another, coming from five different part of the world.  The message was clear: this is a global problem that requires a global response.  No one could say “this does not concern me, or my local church.”  In listening to victims, in learning what happened, in hearing the genuine pain and distress, the leadership of the church was encouraged not to go on the defensive, to respond as pastors rather than administrators.  Although canonical and legal and administrative solutions were discussed, what needed to come first was a rending of the heart, an outpouring of compassion, leading to real conversion, moving victims from the periphery to the center of our reflections and our life as a church.  Only then we can speak a healing word from the heart, a word that in turn needs to become flesh, in concrete gestures of justice and mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation, rather than defensiveness or self-protection.  We still await the fruits, and we must continue to learn, to pray, and to act so that the church becomes a safe and welcoming place for all, especially those who are young or vulnerable.

The keywords for each day of the summit are words we might take seriously as we embark upon our Lenten journey this week:  Responsibility …Accountability … Transparency.  This means facing squarely the demons within the church, and not simply pointing out the abuse that happens in the family and in the broader society, but sharing the fruits of our self-reflection and our repentance so that they can become available to help prevent all forms of abuse of power, whatever they may be.

We will gather this Ash Wednesday to begin our Lenten journey. Perhaps we could take as our motto the beautiful words of Psalm 92, which we have prayed together:  

  • To give thanks and praise to God in all circumstances.
  • To root ourselves firmly and deeply in God, like a tree planted in good earth.
  • To trust that if we do this, God will help us bear good fruit, abundant fruit, fruit that will last – as long as we remain rooted in the truth.

Let this be our commitment as we respond to the call to Lenten renewal and holiness!  Amen.