Sunday, June 10, 2012

What Is "Truth"? My Reply to a Seeker

Last year, my little netbook (which was my primary computer at the time) suffered a catastrophic melt-down of the type that for a time basically left me without my own personal computer. All my files and projects became inaccessible and were, for the most part, gone for good (Wah!). I have since then learned the error of my ways and am backing up all my important data.

Recently, I ran across a draft of a blog entry that I was composing at the time my netbook crashed and that I had presumed was gone forever. It was a reworking of an e-mail that I sent in response to a dear relative several years ago who was considering foregoing the Catholic Church for the religion of a friend (ironically, the relative was also experiencing computer problems at that time). We exchanged a few e-mails on the subject, and the question came up, "How can I know the truth?" Below is my answer (slightly edited) which I thought I'd share here:

Well, I'm afraid I can’t help you with your Windows Explorer-- I’'ll defer to others on that. But you also asked the question: how can a person know the truth?

Well, I hope you really want to know, because one of the reasons it took me so long to answer is that I wanted to think it over and give you MY best answer and not just send you another article. So here goes:

How do you know the truth? That’s a good question and one that almost everyone asks themselves sooner or later. Socrates said that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Confucius tells us that “the aim of the superior man is truth.”

In the Bible, Jesus tells us if we listen to him “"we are truly [his] disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." (John 8:31-32), and that "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6). The Catechism of the Catholic Church (which I very highly recommend you have a copy of) says: “Man [and of course this includes women] tends by nature toward the truth. He is obliged to honor and bear witness to it: "It is in accordance with their dignity that all men, because they are persons . . . are both impelled by their nature and bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth. They are also bound to adhere to the truth once they come to know it and direct their whole lives in accordance with the demands of truth." (CCC 2467). 

Many of the really important things we come to know or to believe are usually a result of a serious search, examination and reflection. A lot of intangibles like love and acceptance, responsibility and commitment, we learn by experience. These things are real, but are personal and hard to really explain. Truth, on the other hand is actually more tangible; it is something that can be identified and recognized when seen, and can be explained and shared with someone else. 

The first thing to do is to pray. This is also the last thing, but a lot of people tend to look on prayer as only a tactic of last resort, when in fact what makes more sense is that you want to invoke God's assistance and guidance before (and during) your search for Truth as well. Even if you aren't at the place yet where you even believe there's a God who hears and answers prayer, a simple prayer such as "God, I don't know if you are even real, but if you are please guide me to you and to the Truth" is a perfectly good one.

At this point you can start asking questions-- serious questions with the intent of really wanting to know the answer. We could start with a dictionary definition of truth: “Conformity to fact or actuality; fidelity to an original or standard; reality, actuality; a statement proven to be or accepted as true; sincerity, integrity.” By this it follows that, whatever the opposite of truth is, is not the truth. Based on this, we can further say what the truth is not. Truth is not

· Our feelings or emotions or personal preference 
· Whatever seems true for one situation and not another 
· Whatever seems true for one person (culture, group, etc.) and not another 
· Whatever seems true for another time and place, but not another 

In other words, Truth is not subjective, nor is it relative. Authentic Truth cannot be one thing for me and another for you. Either something is true, or it is not.

Is what someone is telling you the Truth-- really the Truth? Maybe, maybe not. What is important is to hold what you hear to an objective (true) standard to which it can be measured. 

For example, let’s now briefly take up the issue you had before you recently: is someone telling you their church believes one thing, but you are told by someone else that is not the case? Both statements cannot be true, so in that case you must do one of two things: believe the person or source that you trust the most, or research the issue yourself. 

If you decide to research the issue, you also must weigh the reliability of the materials you use to find your answers. If you take the word of a trusted (not merely likable) person or source over another, you must decide which source or person is more reliable. In this case we are discussing, the question would be: is what the Mormons say is true or is what the Catholic Church says true? Who is more reliable and more likely to possess the Truth? 

This is how I see it, and you can take it for what it’s worth. It is a fact of history that the Catholic Church was founded by Christ himself and that the Scriptures clearly teach that he gave his own authority and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to this same Church to teach in his name until he comes again (I think I have good historical, logical, biblical and experiential reasons for believing this and if you are interested I can send you or direct you towards some further information). As a result, I believe the Church is an entirely reliable source and guide for Truth and has been such for almost 2000 years. On the other hand, it is a fact of history that the Mormon religion was founded less that 200 years ago by a man with a questionable background and motives who introduced teachings that NO Christian has ever believed in the 2000 years of Christian history (again, I have material on this if you are interested). As you can see, this approach is based on reality and reliability. As applied to the overall subject of Truth, this is just one issue, but you get the idea. 

When Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, "What is truth", he didn't really want to know, but was simply going through the motions of being a sophisticated seeker of Truth. If you really want to know what the Truth is, you have to not just ask, but sincerely search for that Truth using your head as well as your heart. And it’s worth the hard work you put into it because it is always better to be in the Truth than not. The Truth makes a person more confident and less anxious and, no matter what their condition in life is, it fills their life with freedom and real joy. This is what I have found in my own life, and it is what I hope for you and everyone else. 

Friday, June 8, 2012

What is Sacrifice, Why is it Necessary, and Why Did Jesus Have to Die for Our Sins?

Hey, remember me? I can't believe it's been something like two years since I last posted something on this blog, but here I am. Other than having too many other irons in the fire and being overly tired by the time I have free time, I have no excuses. It's not for lack of ideas or desire, that's for sure.

What prompted my return to this particular corner of my blogosphere (I have another blog which you might know about, Sunday Scripture Study for Catholics), is the upcoming Solemnity of Corpus Christi (the Body and Blood of Christ) which celebrates the truth that Jesus Christ is truly present upon the Catholic (and Orthodox) altars of the world under the appearance of ordinary bread and wine. I was looking for a blog entry I thought I had done a few years ago in response to young niece of mine who had a question about sacrifice in general and the necessity of Jesus' sacrifice on the Cross in particular. I didn't find it in my blog, so I decided to post it now.

Uncle Vince here!

[Your aunt] forwarded me some questions you had about some things that occurred to you at a recent retreat. These are really good questions, because (a) it shows you are thinking about important things and (b) because the particular questions you asked are important for understanding religion in general and our Catholic Faith in particular. I think I have some answers for you. You’ll need your or your Mom’s Bible for this so I’ll wait here while you run and get it.

Hmm hmm hmmm hmm…

Are you back? Good!

Let’s take the question about sacrifice first: why sacrifice?

The basic definition of a sacrifice is something you give up out of love. People give up many things for the benefit of those they love: parents sacrifice their time and money for their children, soldiers and firefighters may sacrifice their lives for others. This kind of sacrifice is an act of love.

Sometimes a sacrifice is made to make up for something wrong that they have done. Suppose a girl breaks a window with a baseball. The girl is caught and confesses, but the person whose window it is forgives her. However, it is only fair (or just) that the girl work (time) or find some way to help pay (with money) for the window. This kind of sacrifice is known as reparation, or paying what is owed.

But what does that have to do with sacrificing and God?

People seem to have an inborn sense that they should worship and sacrifice to God. If you look in the beginning of your Bible in Genesis chapter 4, verses 1 through 7, you will see the story of Cain and Abel. These were the very first people after Adam and Eve and they are already making sacrifices to God. In ancient times, people usually sacrificed animals because, since they didn’t use money yet, animals like cows and sheep represented wealth, plus the shedding of blood represented life and death.

Also, if you look toward the end of your Bible in Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans in Chapter 1 verses 18 to 23 (also see Wisdom 13:1-9 in the middle of the Old Testament), Saint Paul tells us that all people everywhere are searching for God, but since many of them did not know the God of the Bible, they began to try to worship God the best they could. However, this led to a lot of false religions in the world that, even though they may have had some good about them, led them into wrong ideas about God. Some of these false religions went horribly wrong like the parts of Aztec and other civilizations that had human sacrifice and other terrible practices.

The Christian idea about sacrifice came out of sacrifices of the Old Testament which was the beginning of God’s revealing himself to his people. The Catholic Church teaches us that Jesus Christ came to end all these sacrifices which were only kind of image or preparation for his one, true sacrifice. But why did God choose to sacrifice His only son if He loved Him so much? This is the most important question of all.

Ever since the time of Adam and Eve (the parents and representatives of mankind) and the Original Sin (see Genesis, chapter 3) mankind has been separated from God, not only because of our first parent’s sin but because of all the sins committed by every person who ever lived on the earth. God created us to live with him in heaven forever but since none of us ourselves could possibly make reparation for all this sin that separates us from God (since God is infinitely Holy), God in his great mercy and love found a way.

God loved us so much that that is precisely why He chose his own Son to sacrifice himself on our behalf. Since Jesus was fully man (so he could represent us) and fully God (so that he offer such an infinite sacrifice) he was the only one who could do it. That is why we call him our Savior. All that is left for us to do is to place our faith in him and his sacrifice, be baptized, and follow his teachings everyday. That is why we call him Lord. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

When we go to Mass every Sunday, it is this very same sacrifice of Jesus (not a new one, but the same one) that is being re-presented on the altar under the appearance of bread and wine and which we have the privilege of participating in offering our worship and our daily lives. Just think: we are participating in the greatest sacrifice there ever was!

Sorry this answer is so long, but it is a good and important question and I wanted to give you the best answer I could. Please keep asking those good questions—and I will try to be less long winded!


Uncle Vince