Let’s talk about speaking the truth, and, at the end, do it in relation to the scandals in the Church. In the future, I hope to apply this to racism and transgenderism, and everything else where there’s debate.
[Listen to Fr. Justin’s homily here.]
[Watch Fr. Justin’s homily delivery here.]
We’ve talked about self-censorship a few times now, how I personally hold back certain truths which I think you may not be able to accept. I wonder today: Will some of you get angry, leave, and never come back? Will I say what is true but still be misunderstood? Talking to many of you, I know you’re hesitant about sharing certain truths. You may lose relationships, people may insult you, and people are getting more aggressive in attacking each other online.
Jesus’ words in the Gospel today are very encouraging, because He wants and demands us to speak the truth, and gives us four reasons not to be afraid to do so.
1) He says, “What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops” (Mt 10:27). The context of these words is Jesus’ sending out the Twelve Apostles on a mission and preparing them. He’s telling them that everything they have received from Him in private must be shared. “The Gospel is meant to be the public property of all people and not the personal possession of only a few” (Daniel Mueggenborg, Come Follow Me, 206). All of His personal love, teaching, and formation are gifts and not just for themselves, but for everyone.
In the same way, we’ve received God Himself, Jesus Christ, and we’re meant to share Him with others. We’re supposed to ‘proclaim from the housetops’ these truths and insights. And what’s proclaimed from the housetops will fall on open ears and deaf ears. But if we don’t tell people about Jesus, no one will and they’ll never have a chance to accept Him.
2) Jesus adds: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt 10:29-31). What does it mean to kill the soul? It means to turn it to evil. The human soul is immortal (CCC 366, 1022), so it doesn’t die in the sense that it stops existing. It dies when it turns to evil. A person is truly alive when they’re doing what is morally good, but is dead when they choose what is morally evil. Jesus says not to ‘fear those who kill the body,’ which can be anyone. But, ultimately, there is only one person who can kill your soul: you. So, He’s telling the Twelve: If you don’t fulfill your mission and speak the truth, you will lose your soul, your very self.
You know that expression, ‘To sell your soul’? It means to do something bad in exchange for a benefit, to be liked and accepted by the crowd. We sell our souls in a partial way whenever we lie or don’t speak a truth that needs to be said.
Consider this: Actions form habits, and habits form character. A person who repeatedly tells the truth builds up the habit/virtue of honesty, and becomes an honest person. Their repeated actions form their character, their identity. But a person who repeatedly lies builds up the opposite characteristic, the vice of lying, and, if done repeatedly, to varying degrees, that person will become a liar; lying will be part of who he or she is. We become what we do! This idea works with every moral choice we make. People who take one small but brave step to speak the truth perform a courageous act, and, if they do it again, and again, will eventually grow in courage and become courageous. But, if we go along with the crowd when we know it’s wrong, stay silent when our conscience is saying, “This isn’t right,” then we commit a cowardly act, and, over time, we become cowards.
Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychologist, speaks a lot about telling the truth and this has resonated worldwide. In response to the question, what’s the best way to protect yourself from doing horrific things as happened in Communist countries, where people went along with the crowd, he said, “The way you fight them is you don’t lie… about anything ever… The entire [Soviet Union] was pervaded by lies. One-third of the people were government informers. You could never say anything that you believe to be true. And… it doesn’t start by people directly lying, it starts by people muffling themselves because there are certain things you can no longer say. You demolish your character… through sins of omission and you get weak. And as soon as you’re weak, people can manipulate you like mad”.
He says you can even observe if you’re telling the truth physiologically: You can feel it in your solar plexus. When we lie, we feel ourselves coming apart. But, when we tell the truth, we feel ourselves coming together and being strengthened!
3) Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Mt 10:29-31). A sparrow was the cheapest meat one could buy, and a penny was 1/16 of a daily wage (Mueggenborg, 207), so, if God cares about such insignificant things, how much more will He care for us who are trying to speak the truth.
All my worries, and yours, about speaking the truth and what might happen fail to account for the fact that God’s in control of our situations. He will bring good out of difficulty. In fact, when we follow Jesus and speak the truth, good will come of it (Cf. Rom 8:28)! This is encouraging!
4) The following words of Jesus are challenging: “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven” (Mt 10:32-33). Jesus says that He is the truth (Jn 14:6), so when we acknowledge the truth, we acknowledge Him. But when we deny truths that must be spoken, He will deny us. Why? Because He won’t force us to be with Him. I’ve always found this very motivating. I’m afraid of some of your reactions. But I should be more afraid of His reaction, not because He’ll hurt me, but because I don’t want to separate myself from Him.
So let’s apply telling the truth to scandals in the Church. I chose this issue because, before we critique the sins of the world, we must critique our own (Cf. Mt 7:3-5). We must clean up our own mess before helping others clean up theirs.
But I’ll prepare you: What we do here in speaking the truth will probably be very palatable to all of us. My question for you is, when we come to speaking the truth about issues that challenge your world view, will you be able to do it? Speaking the truth with regard to scandals in the Church is considered socially acceptable, but societally, we don’t have the same freedom to ask questions with regard to racism, transgenderism, etc. We are under pressure to be politically correct rather than speak the truth.
One problem in the Church is that there is still an instinctual but very harmful reaction among many bishops, priests, and lay Catholics to protect the Church’s reputation whenever there’s a scandal, or to downplay it. Not only does it kill our credibility, because people wonder why we are ready to critique moral failings of the world, but slow to critique our own moral failings, but it kills our soul. For the reason that if we in the hierarchy can’t admit our own faults, we become weak, and lose all moral courage to speak out against sins in our world. And, if we lie, we become a shell. We’re nothing. Here are some examples:
The trustworthy reporter, John Allen, wrote that, on May 1, six Vatican employees, including three clerics, were fired because they were all “suspects in a land deal in London in which the Vatican’s Secretariat of State used $225 million from the annual Peter’s Pence collection to buy part of a former Harrod’s warehouse,” and then the deal went bad. Allen notes that “the reasons for the firings need to be explained… [And] if parish priests around the world are supposed to stand in front of their congregations and appeal for support for Peter’s Pence [on Oct. 4], they too are owed an explanation of what happened”. Listen also to “Sex, Money, Power: The Challenge of Church Reform”. “Most Catholics believed Peter’s Pence was designed to support papal charities, and they may be less inclined to give if they think their money will instead end up in speculative land deals”.
Another example: The Canadian priest Fr. Raymond De Souza wrote a factual column entitled, “We Used to Believe Bishops Told the Truth. What Happened?” Among different cases, he mentions that Cardinal Wuerl of Washington said in 2018 that he knew nothing of ex-Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual abuse of people. But 14 years before, Wuerl had already heard formal complaints against McCarrick and informed the Apostolic Nuncio. Wuerl explained this discrepancy as a lapse in memory, but no one believes him nor should they.
We should not be afraid of calling these cover-ups cover-ups, and calling these people to account. It’s the right thing to ask for answers online, sign petitions, and talk about it, because once it’s more public, then there’s a healthy pressure to improve. Healing will come when we acknowledge the truth and atone for the wrong. We will regain our soul.
When it comes, for example, to the truth regarding the Church’s involvement in Canadian residential schools, we need to acknowledge that a tremendous amount of evil was committed by priests, brothers, and sisters. Not only was there physical and sexual abuse, but the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called residential schools a central element in cultural genocide, doing their part to wipe out people’s institutions, language, culture, and religion. Admitting the truth will set us free.
As Catholics, this shouldn’t shake our faith in Jesus or in the Church. There have always been Judases who betray Jesus. Our faith isn’t based on them, but on Jesus, and the Catholic Church is still Jesus’ family. Please watch the film In the Spirit of Reconciliation, and you’ll see people who were abused at residential schools still have faith in Jesus and the Church.
And to admit this isn’t to say everyone in the Vatican is mishandling money, or that every bishop is lying, or that every missionary at residential schools was evil. It is to say that we must take the log out of our own eye first before taking the splinter out of our neighbour’s eye.
Simply by admitting our communal fear of speaking out and talking about the virtue of telling the truth, we’re already stronger morally and spiritually. Jesus gives us four reasons not to be afraid: 1) We cannot keep Jesus and the truth to ourselves; He must be shared; 2) If we don’t speak the truth, then we’ll lose our soul; 3) God will bring good out of evil when we challenge what’s politically correct; 4) If we deny Jesus, He will deny us. Because of these four reasons, we’re overcoming our fear of speaking the truth.