Tuesday, January 26, 2021



 Many people have written, phoned, stopped to chat when I am out walking – chatting six feet apart through masks is weird – expressing their stress trying to sort through the tsunami of information as to what is actually, objectively true and what is not. This is not a new phenomenon in human communication but in this oddly ‘new normal’ there does seem to be more intense confusion. Only Christ our Light can disperse the shadows of confusion, Only Christ is our hope and peace. This essay is an attempt to look at the issue of truth and non-truth, through Christ who is always with us, walking with, listening to, comforting and teaching us as He did with the disciples on the road to Emmaus. [Lk.24:13-35]

“What is truth?”

St. John 18: 38 Pilate asks that question of Jesus, yet he remains so disinterested in the answer he does not bother to pay attention to reality.

Most acutely since the pandemic, be it about politics, the virus, climate, gender identity, Church teachings, science, etc., etc., we seem to be stuck in a daily whirlpool of excessive information, with little communal agreement on what is factual truth and what is not.

It is fundamentally relativism, and no little fear mixed with anger, run amok. Relativism being the individual decides what is true subjectively, not objectively. The fear-anger is we live in a time when uncertainty from day to day terrifies, for more than ever we are experiencing how little control we have over most things, experiencing our vulnerability and powerlessness. So, when gathering information, trying to make some sense of things, there is a tendency to seek that which confirms our preconceived notion of how things out to be, thus, paradoxically, while that may momentarily give a false sense of reassurance, if we can find information that confirms our notion, eventually, inevitably, the reassurance dissipates like mist in the morning sun and morphs into fear-anger, because there is no communal consensus to support us.

Ultimately truth is not some piece of information, much less an opinion, nor is it what the majority with power or the minority demanding some right insist it is.

Truth, first, now, always, is a Person, the Incarnate One who is the way, the truth, the life. This is Jesus who is with us: St. John 14:1-31. Jesus, and the Holy Spirit who enables us to cry out: Abba! Father! It is the Holy Trinity who gifts all grace needed for us to discern in our own lives, and within the communal life in time and history, what is of truth and what is not.

This can be a painful process of facing the truth about our wounded selves, so we take heart and hope in St. Paul’s: ……Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong. [2 Cor. 12:7-10]

 God the Holy Spirit IS the Spirit of Truth. We should constantly ask, when checking any source of information, for prudence and discernment before accepting the information at face value.

…the Logos, the truth in person, is also the atonement, the transforming forgiveness that is above and beyond our capability and incapability…..Yet the yoke of truth in fact became “easy” (Mt. 11:30) when the Truth came, loved us, and consumed our guilt in the fire of His love. Only when we know and experience this from within will we be free to hear the message of conscience with joy and without fear……Truth is controversial, and the attempt to impose on all persons what one part of the citizenry holds to be true looks like the enslavement of people’s consciences. The concept of “truth” has in fact moved into the zone of antidemocratic intolerance. It is not now a public good, but something private. It may perhaps be the good of specific groups, but it is not the truth of society as a whole. To make this point in other terms: the modern concept of democracy seems indissolubly linked to that of relativism. It is relativism that appears to be the real guarantee of freedom and especially of the very heart of human freedom, namely, freedom of religion and conscience. [1]

Satan is the father of lies, the seducer with untruth, like a snake spewing venom he spits disinformation. Too often we narrow our understanding of St. Peter’s warning about the devil seeking whom he may devour [1Pt.5:8] to vigilance against being tempted to obvious sins: avarice, judging others, lust, etc., and are less vigilant about temptations which can poison the mind, destroy relationships, wreak havoc in the heart of families, parishes, society in general: Preventing and identifying the way disinformation works also calls for a profound and careful process of discernment. We need to unmask what could be called the “snake-tactics” used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike at any time and place……The strategy of this skilled “Father of lies” [Jn.8:44] is precisely mimicry, that sly and dangerous form of seduction that worms its way into the heart with false and alluring argument…..there is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects. [2]

……man has a natural right to be respected. He has a right to his good name. He has a right to freedom in investigating the truth, and—within the limits of the moral order and the common good—to freedom of speech and publication, and to freedom to pursue whatever profession he may choose. He has the right, also, to be accurately informed about public events…….Hence, before a society can be considered well-ordered, creative, and consonant with human dignity, it must be based on truth. St. Paul expressed this as follows: "Putting away lying, speak ye the truth every man with his neighbor, for we are members one of another."….. And so will it be, if each man acknowledges sincerely his own rights and his own duties toward others…..[3]

There was a time when the fundamental principle for reporting the news was that the five w’s had to be verified by at least two reliable sources: Who, What, When, Where, Why. Nowadays the main and social media blatantly state, for example, a plethora of reports overusing expressions such as: all scientists agree, the medical profession agrees, economists state, our experts tell us, as if these experts are the sole custodians of what is true, indeed their credentials are often questionable, yet their opinion[s] is/are stated as fact. Hence the whirlpool of information/disinformation spins with all the more vigor, trapping more and more people in, at best, bewilderment, at worst deception.

Within modern society the communications media play a major role in information, cultural promotion, and formation. This role is increasing, as a result of technological progress, the extent and diversity of the news transmitted, and the influence exercised on public opinion. The information provided by the media is at the service of the common good…. Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice, and solidarity: The proper exercise of this right demands that the content of the communication be true and - within the limits set by justice and charity - complete. Further, it should be communicated honestly and properly. This means that in the gathering and in the publication of news, the moral law and the legitimate rights and dignity of man should be upheld…….. The means of social communication (especially the mass media) can give rise to a certain passivity among users, making them less than vigilant consumers of what is said or shown. Users should practice moderation and discipline in their approach to the mass media. They will want to form enlightened and correct consciences the more easily to resist unwholesome influences. By the very nature of their profession, journalists have an obligation to serve the truth and not offend against charity in disseminating information. They should strive to respect, with equal care, the nature of the facts and the limits of critical judgment concerning individuals. They should not stoop to defamation………Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, and justice. One should practice moderation and discipline in the use of the social communications media. [4]

As exhausting as it may be to sort through the tsunami of information from a seemingly ever expanding means of communication, Abba Gregory said, “These three things God requires of all the baptized: right faith in the heart, truth on the tongue, temperance in the body.”  [5] Right faith includes calling upon the Holy Spirit for prudence and discernment, truth on the tongue means not to repeat, verbally or social media-wise anything that is not clearly, objectively true, and in the context of this essay temperance in the body means not to browbeat those who disagree with whatever information we are insisting must be accepted.

To disagree is a matter of freedom. To give into anger or other strong emotions towards the person who disagrees with us is to seek to control the other.

Ultimately satan’s goal is to deceive, disrupt, divide us within ourselves and between us and others: family, friends, fellow parishioners, fellow citizens, nation against nation, religion against religion.

But we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing power may be of God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. [2 Cor. 4:7-10]

Trapped in the whirlpool of deception we will soon forget who we are, persons created in the image and likeness of God: Children of the Father, Disciples of Christ, Living Temples of the Holy Spirit, unless we cry out for freeing and healing light, that we never succumb to deception.

A prayer for the help of the Most Holy Spirit: Spirit of Truth prevail, show me where I am wrong, make of me a real person.


[1] FAITH AND POLITICS, Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI; selected writings; pp. 130-131, 133; Ignatius Press, 2018

[2] POPE FRANCIS, REBUKING THE DEVIL; PP. 53-55; 2019, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

[3] Pacem in Terris, encyclical of Pope John XXIII; paras 12 & 35; April 1963


[4]   https://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM                                                                           paras: 2493, 94, 96, 97, 2512

[5] THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS, The Alphabetical Collection; translated by Benedicta Ward, slg; p. 45; A.R. Mowbray & Co. Ltd. 1981

© 2021 Fr. Arthur Joseph





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