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