The Right to Search for Truth

12 mins read
Looking at the spin and misinformation in the world and reflecting on the right we have to truth.

Truth. As something we are capable of knowing, it is also something we are capable of seeking and obliged to share. When it comes to evaluating or questioning, studying, or teaching, we use our God-given ability to know and communicate things. It is an ability we use daily with all the things we encounter. Unfortunately, there some things we encounter that are not entirely truthful. One has the right to question those things because we have the right to be informed truthfully.

In Pacem et Terris §12, Pope Saint John XXIII touches upon man’s natural reason and the rights we have by the natural law. He says, “By the natural law every human being has the right to respect for his person, to his good reputation; the right to freedom in searching for truth and in expressing and communicating his opinions, and in pursuit of art, within the limits laid down by the moral order and the common good; and he has the right to be informed truthfully about public events.”

By natural reason man can know God with certainty, on the basis of his works. But there is another order of knowledge, which man cannot possibly arrive at by his own powers: the order of divine Revelation.1 Through an utterly free decision, God has revealed himself and given himself to man. This he does by revealing the mystery, his plan of loving goodness, formed from all eternity in Christ, for the benefit of all men. God has fully revealed this plan by sending us his beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

CCC §50

There are things we can know by nature and things we come to know through Revelation. With this ability to know the truth comes the ability to know what is not. When something we believe to be true is challenged or contradicted, we ought not to accept it as a matter of another’s opinion, treating truth as something relative. We must practice the right we have to search for the truth when such doubts of the truthfulness of something arise since we ought to have been given the truth in the first place. 

Misinformation or spin even happens throughout Scripture. In Matthew 28:13-14, there is an example when they spun a story claiming the disciples of Christ stole his body to cover up the Resurrection. There should be no surprise when we see people doing this today to prevent others from getting to the truth. Recently someone claimed to be part of the religious left in an interview. She says in that interview that the religious left has always been here (as in why the surprise). It was the same religious sister who refused to answer a question on protecting the unborn. She is not the only example, Fr. James Martin giving an interview where he misrepresents the Pope regarding civil unions. This misrepresentation followed after the Pope was previously taken out of context in a Rome Film Festival documentary. 

What is troubling is the existence of such a thing as a left or a right in the Church. Troubling because there is no right or left of the truth; it is either true or untrue. In our Creed, we profess in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. To consider oneself on the right or left, being in opposition to specific teachings, or spreading misinformation because it favors an agenda goes against the Church’s oneness. In an ongoing catechesis on prayer, Pope Francis adds nicely to this topic of truth as found in those who serve the Church. 

“I ask myself: where is the Holy Spirit there? Where is prayer? Where is communitarian love? Where is the Eucharist?”. Without these four coordinates, the Church becomes a human society, a political party — majority, minority — changes are made as if it were a company, according to majority or minority…”

(Pope Francis, General Audience 11/25/2020)

“To evaluate whether a situation is ecclesial or not ecclesial, let us ask ourselves whether these four coordinates are present: life in community, prayer, the Eucharist… [preaching] how is life developing along these four coordinates. If this is lacking, the Holy Spirit is lacking, and if the Holy Spirit is lacking, we will be a beautiful humanitarian charitable organization, good, good … even an ecclesial party, let’s put it that way.”

(Pope Francis, General Audience 11/25/2020)

These words point to the Gospel (Matt 7:15-20) when Christ says that we will know people by their fruits. Similarly, we come to know the fruits of certain groups or movements that claim to be Catholic by the people who lead them or compose them. We can look to see if the fruits coming from certain groups or people are consistent with the Gospel. In that passage, Christ warns us to beware of those who appear to be good to follow but are wolves or false prophets in disguise. In other words, they might appear to be good or even do some deal of good, but something is still lacking. 

Of the four coordinates Pope Francis lays out, the Eucharist is the most important. As said in Lumen Gentium (§11), it is the fount and apex of the whole Christian life. The Eucharist forms and nourishes us. It is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of communion in the divine life and the unity of the People of God and a culmination both of God’s action sanctifying the world in Christ (CCC §1325). Going further into the Eucharist coordinate are words from St. John Paul II from his Encyclical Letter on the Eucharist in which he explains the communion that is presumed to exist for those participating in it. Participating in the Eucharist celebration presumes that one is in communion with Christ and through the Holy Spirit’s working unites us to the Father. Additionally, it presumes that one is also in communion with the teaching of the Apostles, in the sacraments, and the Church’s hierarchical order. (Ecclesia De Eucharistia §35)

The eucharistic coordinate then means more than just merely showing up for Mass. It means one is in communion with God and the Church in all of their life, consistent with the Gospel and Church teaching. As Catholics in communion, we ought to be forming our lives on the Gospel and Church teaching daily. The more we do that, the more we can spot moments when a group or person misrepresents them.

An example of misrepresenting Pope Francis came from his press conference on the return flight from Rio de Janeiro on 7/28/2013. It was the response of Pope Francis when he said, “Who am I to judge?”. People have run with this as though Pope Francis is making it clear that he is impartial to how anyone lives, as though he will look the other way. This claim is far from the truth. The Pope’s actual quote is this, “If someone is gay and is searching for the Lord and has good will, then who am I to judge him?”. Adding back the missing 75% of the sentence changes its meaning into something different than the one typically used. The truth in that response applies to everyone, regardless of attraction. Notice what words are missing from this quote. Searching for the Lord and has goodwill; two essential elements. Those misquoting Francis would rather have us think that the Pope will turn a blind eye to our moral choices rather than highlighting that he sees no need to make a judgment if one is in communion with God and the Church.

The list could go on concerning misinformation given to us. It happens many times in the Church and the world in general. Needless to say, whatever the example, when people act in such a way, they hurt the communion we should be working for by sowing dishonesty and disunity. We should take the advice from Pope Francis to evaluate certain groups or movements. We should live by those same elements: searching for the Lord, being of goodwill, life in the Spirit, prayer, communitarian love, and the Eucharist. The focus for us should not be if we belong on the ‘left’ or the ‘right’ in the Church; it should be if we are in communion. In that communion, there is no right or left; there are unity and truth.

Let us always work to seek the truth and communicate it when we have found it. May we never shy away from the right to seek truth out nor the obligation to share it with others when the opportunity presents itself.

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