Serve Jesus. Serve Truth.

By Chris Sparks

There's an old saying of unknown origin that goes: “A lie can travel around the world before the truth has got its boots on."

I spend far too much of my time on social media. It’s a bad habit, one that I intermittently try to break. But honestly, it’s hard when so many of my friends and family are thousands of miles away. They post their news to social media, and I keep tabs on birthdays with Facebook’s reminders, and somehow it all seems so indispensable.

One of the things I’ve noticed, though, as I’ve gone deep into social media, has been the prevalence of fake news. It flies around the internet, running the gamut from mistaken reporting to confident ignorance masquerading as insight into the way things really work. There’re a ton of unfounded or erroneous conspiracy theories about all sorts of things — people, organizations, and so on.

Now, we live in a time where any number of very real scandals have hit the news, where the sins and the crimes of the great and the apparently good have rightly shocked consciences and led many people to asking some hard questions about whom to trust. I’m not condemning anyone for following the truth wherever it leads, or for being dedicated to seeing justice served after the abuse scandals of 1992, 2002, and 2018, or more secular scandals such as the terrible revelations of the Jeffrey Epstein case, and so on.

But there’s a subtle and important distinction between following the truth wherever it leads and chasing scandal.

To follow the truth is, in some sense, to follow Christ, for He is “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). We are meant to bring light into dark places, after all, and hunger and thirst for righteousness. We are supposed to serve truth in the face of the lies of hell.

But we are also meant to love our neighbor, to desire their ultimate good. We are not permitted to wish ill on our enemies, even when they deserve it. No — we are commanded by Christ to love our enemies and to pray for them (see Mt 5:44).

When Christians run after conspiracy theories, believe the worst, spread pernicious interpretations of others’ words and deeds, we give scandal to the world. We are meant to be apostles of truth and Divine Mercy, models of charity and love. Proclaiming and living the truth must be our priority, not announcing the sins and the lies of others.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths. But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardship; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 4:1-5).

It’s bad enough when we neglect spreading the Gospel in favor of our preferred scandal of the day. It’s even worse when we spread calumnies and falsehoods. We are supposed to be worshipping Truth in Jesus Christ. We are supposed to let others know we are Christian by our love. Given that sin always hurts the Mystical Body of Christ and our neighbor, there’s no such thing as a harmless bit of conspiracy theorizing that falsely attributes monstrous motives, actions, or desires to public figures, organizations, or others. The Catechism of the Catholic Church has some strong teaching about this:

Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury.278 He becomes guilty:

- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor;

- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;279

- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.280

Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity (2477-2479).

Saint Faustina knew personally the harm that rumors and falsehoods can do to a person. She wrote:

I have already been judged from all sides. There is no longer anything in me that has escaped the sisters’ judgment. But it seems now to have worn itself out, and they have begun to leave me in peace. My tormented soul has had some rest, and I have learned that the Lord has been closest to me in times of such persecutions. This [truce] lasted for only a short time. A violent storm broke out again. And now the old suspicions became, for them, as if true facts, and once again I had to listen to the same old songs. The Lord would have it that way (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 128).

As Ewa Czaczkowska recounts in her biography of the saint, Faustina: The Mystic and Her Message, St. Faustina was the subject of much gossip throughout her life, enduring the murmuring of her fellow sisters and offering it all up in union with Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross for the salvation of souls. The cruel gossip and falsehoods spread about her constituted one of her greatest crosses, in fact, just as Jesus, the Divine Mercy Incarnate, suffered most at the hands of the scribes and the Pharisees because of their malicious lies.

Truth matters. In fact, it ought to matter more to Christians than it does to those around us because we worship Truth in Jesus Christ. And so we have a multi-faceted call.

  • We are called to tell the truth in charity, governed by the duties of our state in life, by prudence as to the time and place of that truth telling.
  • We are to live according to the truth that Christ has revealed to us through human reason and supernatural faith, acknowledging in sacramental Confession our failures to do so and allowing the knowledge of our own fallibility to give us patience and charity with the failings of our neighbors.
  • We are to be a light in the darkness, truly being prophetic witnesses even when those truths are inconvenient or unwelcome to the rich, the powerful, or to our neighbor.
  • We are to prioritize mercy, knowing that Jesus is the Just Judge and we are not; that God sees clearly and knows with certainty, while we suffer from the consequences of original sin, including from darkened intellect.
  • We are to be charitable toward others, hearing them speak and observing their actions with the best possible interpretation, according to right reason and wise discernment.
  • We are to earnestly endeavor to learn the truth, seeking out primary sources, fact checking claims before we spread them, and serving the truth at least as well as the secular folks do.

Above all, we must resist the temptation to become gnostics, recklessly pursuing hidden wisdom into the evils of the world rather than abiding in the truth and grace of the Gospel. We shouldn’t attach more importance to knowledge than to life, as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. Divine Mercy calls us to base our lives on trust in Jesus, not on secret knowledge or understanding the works of the enemy.

Worship Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, and the light will shine in the darkness.

Pray for me, that I may practice what I preach. I’ll pray for you.

Jesus, I trust in You!

Chris Sparks serves as senior book editor for the Marian Fathers. He is the author of the Marian Press book How Can You Still Be Catholic? 50 Answers to a Good Question.

Photo by ROBIN WORRALL on Unsplash.

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