Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Love is Truth, Truth is Love

This being the case, can Christian faith provide a service to the common good with regard to the right way of understanding truth? To answer this question, we need to reflect on the kind of knowledge involved in faith.

Here a saying of Saint Paul can help us: "One believes with the heart" (Rom 10:10). In the Bible, the heart is the core of the human person, where all his or her different dimensions intersect: body and spirit, interiority and openness to the world and to others, intellect, will and affectivity.

If the heart is capable of holding all these dimensions together, it is because it is where we become open to truth and love, where we let them touch us and deeply transform us. Faith transforms the whole person precisely to the extent that he or she becomes open to love. 

Through this blending of faith and love we come to see the kind of knowledge which faith entails, its power to convince and its ability to illumine our steps. Faith knows because it is tied to love, because love itself brings enlightenment. Faith’s understanding is born when we receive the immense love of God which transforms us inwardly and enables us to see reality with new eyes.
Lumen Fidei 26

Reflection – So this is picking up on yesterday’s post, which I suggest you read first if you haven’t already. I think the Holy Father (and in this paragraph, I wouldn’t be too sure if it’s Benedict or Francis writing this – it sounds like both of them really), is hitting the nail on the head with considerable skill and beauty here, if nails can be hit beautifully.

The claims of truth and love do seem to be in conflict in our world today—it is clearer and clearer all the time that to simply make a truth statement, no matter how carefully and kindly it is couched and qualified and explained, will get you labeled a ‘h8r’. Meanwhile the only path recognized as ‘love’ is to approve of whatever choice another person makes unconditionally.

I would point out, and this is a bit of a digression, that I had a hard time wording that last sentence. There is something a bit odd, isn’t there, in the seeking of approval from other people as some kind of necessary proof of love? Why does it matter whether or not ‘x’ approves of ‘a and b’ getting married, or ‘c and d’ living together, or ‘e’ choosing to end her pregnancy? After all, there are all sorts of people who think religion is all a pile of nonsense and Catholicism especially so, and I presume such people don’t exactly ‘approve’ of my being a Catholic priest… but why on earth would that trouble me again? I’m pretty sure I made a right choice in that particular matter, my many and calamitous failures in life notwithstanding.

There is something  very telling in the constant need to have one’s questionable moral choices approved and validated at every level of social and personal life. I believe the moral law is written on the human heart, and those who have chosen to walk away from that moral law in a fundamental way have, therefore, a deep unease that expresses itself in this constant seeking of approval.

Meanwhile, back to truth and love. It is faith, then, that brings these two elements that seem to be in tension together. It is faith that makes truth not some weapon I can use to hit you with, or some steamroller that is running all of us over, but an encounter with a Person who loves us. And with faith, love is given content—no more a mere sentimentality, but a relationship with a Person who is transforming us day by day into the pattern of His own being.

This is why, as I have said before, we cannot successfully engage the great questions and controversies of our times, especially around the most painful and sensitive topics of human sexuality and sanctity of life, without evangelization. Unless there is a merciful God who is the author of the moral law, and who both teaches us this law as an act of love, and who is waiting to bind us all up when we all fail to live it, whose forgiveness is ready and whose mercy heals, we cannot bear the weight of truth, and love will indeed diminish to that weak sentimental form of ‘tolerance’.

These are deep matters, and a blog post can only be so long. I realize that I have not addressed every angle or explored every complex aspect of these matters. But there it is for today, and I have to get ready for my retreat master duties here in Long Island now – see you tomorrow.


  1. Hello & blessings Father Denis....I never post comments on blogs but the second last paragraph today is fantastic on so many levels, not to mention how very Ratzingerian it is, that i felt compelled to respond. Unless the 'logic' of the faith is presented in its entirety our present situation will only get worse. Unless we above all else present to the world the One who both created and redeemed us we are guaranteed in my opinion to not get a hearing. Neither a scolding moralism or an 'i am ok, you're ok' squishiness is an answer. Only the fullness of the truth of Trinitarian love and its implications for who we are is an answer for any era and particularly ours. Thank you

    1. Thanks so much. Well, I am a Ratzingerian through and through, I guess. I wasn't consciously imitating the man, just expressing my own thoughts, but reading it, I do see that my thoughts have been shaped by this beautiful man's vision. Praise God.

    2. There are those who interpret this differently, and I have to believe you are aware. So, the statement 'those who have chosen to walk away from that moral law in a fundamental way have, therefore, a deep unease that expresses itself in this constant seeking of approval" is perhaps too easy a dismissal.
      This particular passage continues an almost "obcessive" focus (some have said) that has dominated the thinking of Ratzinger: this is the argument that modernity combats dogmatic truth, and the primary obligation of the Catholic church in its connection to modernity is o fight back, to assert dogmatic truth claims in the face of modernity claims, with its emphasis on the autonomy of the subject, the use of reason to understand the world, and its penchant for human rights and democracy. Ratzinger (some have argued) has difficulty accepting one of the most cherished themes of modern thought: the autonomy of the subject and its use in the light of reason. Ratzinger sees it as a way to replace the light of faith.
      It is this obsessive focus on truth which has caused the "unease". For many has interpreted this- as so speak as if- truth somehow eclipses love in the Christian tradition: as if the primary obligation of the believer is to pursue and speak the truth, and not to love. This is extremely problematic to those who hear the gospel message of love- who hear clearly from the gospel the primary focus of the Christian life is love, not truth with its concomitant obedience.
      For Ratzinger love itself must submit to the truth, without which the 'isolation of the ego" cannot be overcome. (#27). However, we know that love has its own reasons and obeys a distinctky different logic, without being contrary to the truth. Love cannot see reality clearly but it sees more deeply. For Ratzinger love "the experience of truth " (#27) and faith without truth does not save (#24)
      This whole idea is problematic in theological terms since the whole tradition (especially the councils) have stated hat only truth (faith) that is informed by love (fides caritate informata) saves. Without love, truth is insufficient for salvation. In pedestrian language one would say that what saves is not truthful teaching but effective practices.
      So, I do agree with you about the need for evangelization if this is the case. The fact that this encyclical on faith addresses those already in the dogmatic circle of faith dogmatic circle, accenting truth at the expense of love- assures that it will have little value to others seeking faith outside the catholic community. It does not address the crisis of faith of human beings today: Where was god in the tsunami that decimated thousands of lives, or at Fukuskima? How does one believe after the torture/massacres of thousand of indigenous peoples at the hands of Christians thru our history. How do you still have faith after the Nazi death camps? It does not address the struggle to maintain a faith (a struggle which many catholics are now involved) in a church that seems all to frequently to ignore Jesus central teaching on the indispensability of love for the Christian life it hammars over again its central dogmatic truth.

  2. From 1st anonymous...a couple of points in response to 2nd anonymous.
    - I don't think putting distance Benedict/Ratzinger and St Paul is tenable. I don't know if that was your intention but that was my reading of your post. My reading of the previous Holy Father is that the positing of an opposition between love and truth is to create a false dichotomy.

    -In this layman's understanding of Ratzinger, love without truth would not be love and truth without love would not be truth, properly understood. To conceive of his understanding of truth to simply be a list of dogmatic propositions to be accepted is to misunderstand his entire life's work. The point of it all is to point to the One who is Love and who said of Himself; I am the way, the truth, and the life. As an aside, Ratzinger's liturgical thinking needs to be understood in this light as well, it seems to me.

    God bless you

    1. Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth. Present everywhere and filling all things,.Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, Come and abide in us, And cleanse our hearts from every impurity, And save our souls, For you are good and love all people"

      Father Sharkey used to pray this prayer all the time, I remember. I think it is a good prayer for all of us.


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