Discernment or “What is Truth?”

The procurator stared at the man before him, the itinerant preacher whom he just had scourged.  Blood was streaming down his face.

“What is truth?” he asked.

Silence met his query.  The truth was standing right in front of him, but Pilate didn’t have the eyes to see it.

Jesus before Pilate -Rembrandt
Jesus before Pilate                       -Rembrandt

 

This is how the Evangelist, John, tells the story in his great Gospel. (Ch. 18:33-38)  We who do “have eyes to see” have come to believe that Jesus is the Truth.

“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.  No one comes to the Father but through me.”   -John 14:6

Nowadays, truth is whatever the individual thinks it is.  It is not objective.  It is not verifiable.  Facts?  Who needs ‘em!  Worst of all,  it’s absurd…no, it’s close-minded, to believe that facts matter, or that there’s such a thing as objective truth

“I have my truth and you have your truth.”

….has effectively replaced the more accurate,

“I have my opinion and you have yours.”

Language is important.  The latter statement is a much more acceptable way to represent differences in thinking, than the former.  However, the first example has become a kind of standard response when people’s ideas conflict.

Changes in our language, in our politics, indeed in every arena are under inspection in the new book, “The Death of Truth.  Michiko Kakutani, Pulitzer Prize winner, offers her analysis of how this came to pass.  I was persuaded by her cogent arguments and her literary references.  She cites Orwell, especially 1984, Huxley, and a number of contemporary authors, in making the case that the “death of truth” didn’t suddenly happen because the current resident of the White House has a loose relationship with facts.  She chronicles with erudition, the development of the predominant mindset that has been called  “post-truth.”

Post-truth?    What on earth does that mean?

“The Death of Truth” gives an insightful overview of how our culture became divorced from the concept of truth.  It’s not an optimistic book, but neither is it drearily pessimistic.  What this book can do is cause you to re-think your own relationship to truth.  How  important it is that we seek it!

Seeking truth.  I just have to “google” it, right?  Wrong!  Kakutani reveals just how corrupted the internet has become, and how it has contributed more obscurity and harm to the world of ideas than light and clarity.  She reviews the current investigation of Russian interference in our 2016 election, but she doesn’t confine her probing intellect to that alone.  If you read the book you will learn things you will never see on TV or hear on most radio stations – and certainly not find on Facebook, Twitter, or Google!

So where am I going with all this?

Before becoming Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Ratzinger preached in St. Peter’s Basilica and coined the phrase, “the dictatorship of relativism.”  With prophetic insight, he saw clearly what an enormous obstacle to evangelization, indeed to Christian life itself, this “dictatorship” can be.  In other words, at the highest level of the Church, the Holy Spirit was alerting us to something that cries out for our attention.

More recently, Pope Francis has given us a stunningly beautiful Apostolic Exhortation, “On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World,” (Gaudete et Exsultate).  Promulgated on March 19, 2018, it is both accessible and challenging.   He begins with this invitation;

” ‘ Rejoice and be glad’ (Mt. 5:12) Jesus tells those who are persecuted and humiliated for his sake.  The Lord asks everything of us, and in return he offers us true life, the happiness for which we were created.  He wants us to be saints and not settle for a bland and mediocre existence.”   -#1

This got my attention! He continues;

What follows is not a treatise on holiness… my modest goal is to re-propose the call to holiness in a practical way for our own time, with all its risks, challenges and opportunities. For the Lord has chosen each one of us ‘to be holy and blameless before him in love.'(Eph. 1:4).”  -#2

Using the Beatitudes as his guide, the Holy Father suggests many simple, yet profound ways to live out this seminal teaching of Jesus.  Near the end of this document, he asks;

“How can we know if something comes from the Holy Spirit or if it stems from the spirit of the world or the spirit of the devil?  The only way is through discernment, which calls for something more than intelligence or common sense. It is a gift which we must implore.”   – #166    (boldface font mine)

This I have been doing ever since I first read his words!

“If we ask with confidence that the Holy Spirit grant us this gift, and then seek to develop it through prayer, reflection, reading, and good counsel, then surely we will grow in this spiritual endowment.”  – #166

It’s no accident that our Jesuit Pope focuses on this spiritual gift, which St. Ignatius made foundational in his teachings, especially the Spiritual Exercises.  Long before him, it was the Apostle, Paul, who wrote to Corinth about the “discernment of spirits”(1 Cor. 12:10).

"Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect." -Romans 12:2
“Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” -Romans 12:2

 

Thus, this gift of the Holy Spirit has ancient antecedents which Francis brings to our attention in this, our so-calledpost-truth” era.

Under the subtitle, “An Urgent Need,” the Pope warns;

“The gift of discernment has become all the more necessary today, since contemporary life offers immense possibilities for action and distraction, and the world presents them all as valid and good… …Without the wisdom of discernment we can easily become prey to every passing trend.”   – #167

I urge you to obtain Gaudete et Exsultate, or go to this link and read it for yourself.  When Francis speaks of “listening prayer,”(#29 & 172), he offers essential, inspired guidance for all who seek to follow Jesus Christ.  Woe to us if we ignore this exhortation!

As is only appropriate, Jesus has the last Word about the truth;

“I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now.  But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.  He will not speak on his own, but he will speak what he hears, and will declare to you the things that are coming.”   – John 16:12-13

 

"...Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the folly of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength." -1 Cor. 1:25
“…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the folly of God is wiser than human wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” -1 Cor. 1:25

To Confront or Not to Confront

Next time you watch a movie, pay attention to the first image you see.  This is called the “central image” and should give you a key to understanding the main character and their journey.  A “central question” about this character is also posited,  i.e. “Will Dorothy find happiness in her drab, Kansas existence?”

If I were a movie character, my central question would be, “How do I deal with conflict?”  You might find this surprising since I’m a fairly gentle person and yet, I’m a sinner who encounters other sinners.  “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  (Rom 3:23)  Thus, conflict occurs.  And the question of how to deal with the conflict also arises.   “Welcome to the human race,” you may be thinking.   But seriously, I’ve encountered a series of strong characters from a young age.  And thus, I’ve pondered this question from a number of angles.

I’ve had many life experiences – living, studying, or serving as a missionary in Ireland, England, and Bolivia.  My ongoing question in life has been, “How would Jesus handle this?

I went to counseling in my twenties and realized that I was walking away from relationships because of unresolved conflict.  When confronted with fight or flight, I usually flew.  But sometimes, I’d find myself more lonely or disconnected.  So I began to deal with interpersonal conflict in a different way.   Oftentimes, I write people how I feel, but sometimes, I talk things out with a person.  I still find the latter way scary and continue working on skills in this area.   I’m very grateful to family and friends who have listened to my feelings, apologized and expressed care for me!

I try to care about others in the same way I’d like them to care about me.  Glenn and I consecrated ourselves to the Blessed Mother and I’ve felt her maternal love soften my heart.  I want to work things out more, maintain relationships, and care more about someone’s feelings than justify why I’m right, aka, let pride rule my actions.

Sometimes, the way I’ve viewed how Jesus might handle a situation has made it harder for me to confront others.  I thought He didn’t get angry and to get angry was – not exactly a sin – but not the best thing either.  The phrase, “turn the other cheek,” is not easily understood.  My husband, Glenn, (and my own Bible reading) has pointed out more places to me where Jesus did get angry or confront; such as when he drove the money changers out of the temple shortly before Passover and His crucifixion (Matt. 21:12).  He wasn’t getting angry to blow off some steam but rather, to protect the sacredness of His Father’s house.  And often, His confronting was calm and measured, as in the case of the woman caught in adultery.  Jesus protects the vulnerable by simply stating the truth; that all have sinned and none have the right to sit in judgement (Jn 8:1-11).

One fear I’ve had is:  where will the conflict lead?  Sometimes, it works out fine.  Other times, it leads to death, as in the case of our dear Jesus.  I’ve seen conflict turn ugly and as a sensitive soul, have felt the painful effects of anger.   Anger comes out in many ways.  Sometimes it’s helpful – we get in touch with our feelings or make needed changes.  Unfortunately, it comes out in many ugly and hurtful ways: tone of voice, dirty looks, sarcasm and cynicism, snapping, yelling, violence, etc.

Jesus didn’t confront because anger had hurt him personally, the way it does with us.  Jesus confronted sin because it hurt the person committing it, or it hurt someone else.  In a sense, He had to confront sin by the very virtue that He defined himself as “the way, the truth and the life”  (Jn 14:6).  Sin is an untruth, in that it violates God’s natural law and when we commit sin, we’re not being our truest selves.  Yet, much of the time, Jesus confronts sin gently.  We don’t know we’re sinning and need it pointed out to us softly.  It’s the devil who points the finger at us.  After all, the name Satan means, “the accuser.”

This is why it’s better to tell someone, “that hurts my feelings,” or “when you do this, I feel this way.”  My dad uses the example of telling someone, “you’re stepping on my toe,” which they probably don’t realize they’re doing.  When we accuse or point fingers, the other person feels angry, defensive and hurt.

This past year, I found myself in a tough situation where I was on the receiving end of a lot of anger.  I had a supervisor who didn’t communicate well.  I could read frustration on her face and hear increasing irritation in her voice.  I tried asking questions and sometimes got answers but more often, annoyance.  Then, a co-worker who had been supportive began expressing strong anger for seemingly minor things.  I increasingly felt anxious, angry and hurt – and a sense of dread on Sunday nights.

A friend asked if God might be trying to purify me of my own sin.

This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.  (Zec 13:19)

I don’t enjoy this part of the spiritual journey but I know God needs to prune me and help me to grow.  In light of this, I tried practicing more humility, patience and acts of charity toward my co-workers.  At times though, I felt angry at God for allowing me to be in this difficult situation.   Another friend sent a helpful book,  The Christian Employee.  Things got better or at least held steady.  But then, they both expressed their anger towards me in ways that were so hurtful.

I had prayed a lot during the year and although I hadn’t received a direct sign, a few scripture verses were very helpful.  Glenn and I often prayed them together.

For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”    (Rom 8:15)

 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your kindness be known to all. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
(
Phil 4:4-4:7)

It’s good if one can find small ways to address the situation or assert.  Believe me, I work at this but it’s not always easy for my heart and mouth to connect.  Some people use a tone of voice or put up boundaries or communicate in subtle ways that what a person is doing is not acceptable.  I admire this.  Boundaries is a good book that helps with these skills and I’ve tried to apply them to my life.

Around this time, we heard a talk by Sr. Miriam Heidland, SOLT.  She’s delightful and the talk was informative and empowering!  Based on a book, Be Healed: A Guide to Encountering the Powerful Love of Jesus in Your Life by Dr. Bob Schuchts, she proposes that underlying the seven sins are seven wounds.  One of the wounds was powerlessness.  I’ve struggled with this at times, in part because of my own makeup and also, because I simply don’t know how to respond to meanness.  And although I’m hurt or angry, I don’t want to sin against the person in turn.  This feeling of powerlessness is something that Jesus has been healing in me for a LONG time.

Granted, people don’t set out to be mean.  They’re frustrated, having a bad day or have been parented in a certain way.  Lately, I’ve heard it described as a “character flaw.”  They may or may not realize their behavior hurts others.  And sensitive people like me may take it more personally.   To be able to correct or address others’ trespasses, while respecting their dignity, is a skill that few have.  It takes a lot of love, wisdom, patience and self-control.

Around this time, I relayed the current situation to the friend who had asked if God was purifying me.  This time, she commented that  we all have an inherent dignity as sons and daughters of God and mine wasn’t being respected.  I was hearing the Lord’s call to make a change in this situation whereas, I hadn’t previously been sure of His will.

So I made a change  that I’d been very afraid to make.  It was a small workplace and I feared people’s reactions.  A strong supervisor helped me to make the change so that I spent much less time in my current situation and more time working with other children.  It was scary, awkward and bumpy at first.  But as the days and weeks went on, it got better. I emailed one co-worker some of the things she had done that had been hurtful.  She didn’t address the email but our relationship improved.

I’m very grateful to God for being with me in this situation and for the love and support He showed me through Glenn and my family and friends!  Confronting is hard but sometimes necessary.  Some situations have to get worse before they get better.

I’ve heard homilies that challenge people to forgive but don’t mention communicating feelings or standing up for oneself.  It’s always God’s way to forgive but so is honesty.   I’m trying to understand better the difference between being assertive and being aggressive.  I believe we need much more encouragement, especially since verbal violence has become more acceptable in the public sphere.  We can try new ways to express ourselves,  be patient as we grow and forgive ourselves when we’re not perfect.

Another resource is the book, “Don’t Forgive too Soon: Extending the Two Hands that Heal.”

Some people may have a different system of values or not value who you are.  Yet, God loves us and ALWAYS wants us to walk in the light and knowledge that we’re sons and daughters of a Father who loves us dearly and wants wholeness for us.  (See my post, “Our Deepest Identity,”  from Oct. 17, 2016).

The “movie character,” Maeve, is understanding each day that she can stand up for herself and others.  She can communicate directly, as Jesus did.

I often ask the Holy Spirit to guide me in each situation.

I welcome any insights, ways of communicating, or resources you might have in this area.