“For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice” (Jn 18:37-38).
By Virginia Fraguio
8 October 2018
Repeating the words of Pontius Pilate as he reacts to Jesus’ compelling witness, too many of our contemporaries ask: “What is truth?” As current events and people challenge our innermost beliefs, we feel compelled to search for answers about our human existence and the ultimate meaning of it all – the truth. As God wove our being in our mother’s womb, He planted that primal desire for truth in us which is designed to unfold and bloom as He reveals himself to humanity from the beginning up to the present day. He did this with one transcendental purpose: to gather in love all of us, his children, to himself – to unite us in Truth and in communion with Truth itself.
As God incarnate confronts a skeptical Pontius Pilate in his decisive hour, He also strongly convicts us today. He became one of us (except for sin) in Jesus Christ, who lovingly bore witness to the truth in his life, death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven. All of this was done by Him for our sake and in order to provide the answer to all the questions we grapple with in our present day, leading us to His Kingdom.
Thus we read in John’s Gospel how Jesus, knowing turbulent times were coming for his disciples because of his impending Passion, says: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me” (Jn 14:1). And shortly after He reveals himself as the Truth responding to Thomas: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6).
In his analysis of John 14:6, Fr. Ignace de la Potterie in his article “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” expresses a most interesting point that rejects the idea of Jesus identifying himself as “the truth” as a mere “functional Christology.” These words of Christ, in the Belgian theologian’s view, are actually a revelation of the pre-existing person of Christ. He believes that this must be seen in a more complete and profound sense. The word “truth” implies the revelation of a mystery. The Trinitarian life is the truth for mankind as long as it reveals itself. To say that Jesus is the truth does not mean only that human beings find religious truth without discovering anything of its transcendence.[i]
Therefore, for him to speak of “truth” accurately, according to the Johannine theology and terminology, the Logos in God is not yet “the Truth” independent of all Incarnation. “We can only speak of Christ-Truth in the immediate context of the Incarnation. For St. John, only the Incarnate Word, the man-Jesus, the Son of God among mankind, can truly be called ‘the Truth’ of God. [ii]
The profound reality stated above gives us an important and comforting hint about the human struggles and dilemmas of our times. Our Lord incarnate is in the midst of them, more than we realize. Why is this important? Because His incarnation brought the union of the divine, all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-healing with the human vulnerable, suffering and humbled (though impeccable) witness of Truth as the answer to resolving corruption and sin. How did He give witness to the truth? Jesus Christ emptied himself totally in truth and love giving his life for us, showing us how we should also bear witness to the truth in love here and now. On this central point, Pope St. John Paul II wrote:
He was Teacher of the truth which is God. He bore witness to this truth unto the end, with the authority which came to him from on high, or we could say, with the authority of one who is king in the realm of truth. In the end, when he completed on the cross the work of redemption whereby he achieved salvation and true freedom for men, he brought his revelation to completion. For he bore witness to the truth, but he refused to impose the truth by force on those who spoke against it. Not by force of blows does his rule assert its claims. It is established by witnessing to the truth and by hearing the truth, and it extends its dominion by the love whereby Christ, lifted up on the cross, draws all men to himself. [iii]
The Pope is clear and gives us the good news: the solution to all the challenges we face is Jesus Christ, only Him! And the good news is that He is near us, revealing himself daily, persistently, without ceasing. He is God, and He shows us the Father, and leads us to Him, and gives us his Spirit. He does this each and every day, here and now, “revealing the thoughts of many” (Lk 2:35). He gave up his life on the Cross, and in so doing He revealed to us the Truth — the truth of who God is, who we are, what is evil, and most of all, how to deal with evil and chaos — with love, truth and goodness. In His revelation, Jesus Christ is the sign of the times and the sign of contradiction across the ages. As Christian Catholics, so are we.
In March 1976, then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla gave a Lenten retreat to Pope Paul VI and his co-workers. In it, the theme of truth and the sign of the times were preponderant. At the end of the first day of retreat, the Compline recitation of the Liturgy of the Hours was utilized by the Cardinal as the link to the prophetic hymn of Simeon in order to utilize these words as the “connecting thread” of the retreat meditations:
Behold, he is set for the fall and the rising of many in Israel, and as a sign of contradiction; and for your part a sword will pierce your soul, so that the thoughts of many hearts may be laid bare” (Lk 2:34-35).
When we read the above words addressed to Mary (the archetype of the Church) in the light of 2018 state of affairs, the reflection below by Karol Wojtyla resonate in own hearts aching for our suffering world and Church:
Don’t these words, spoken at the sight of a little child, in a wonderful synthesis bring together all that has the most profound impact on us and unceasingly perturbs us? Are they not a sign of our own times, or at least the key to understanding the various symptoms displayed by modern life, symptoms with which the Second Vatican Council concerned itself, and the Synod of Bishops too, and which are of continual concern to the Holy See and all bishops together with the People of God? Might not these words be a distinctive definition of Christ and his Church? The sign of contradiction. [iv]
As that clear and unsettling truth is revealed, He also reminds us that the Church, the Body of Christ has been entrusted with the Truth and spreading it through His grace throughout the world, as a sign of contradiction. We need His Church to elucidate and spread the Truth, to also find the way and receive his life. We need His Bride in order to meet the ordeals at international, national, ecclesial, familial and individual levels. Christ made it clear that He did not do anything on his own, but only within the communion of the Holy Trinity. In the same way, we must follow his example to the end within the community of His Mystical Body the Church rooted in the light of his Truth:
Jesus Christ, the ‘light of the nations’, shines upon the face of his Church, which he sends forth to the whole world to proclaim the Gospel to every creature (cf. Mk 16:15). Hence the Church, as the People of God among the nations, while attentive to the new challenges of history and to mankind’s efforts to discover the meaning of life, offers to everyone the answer which comes from the truth about Jesus Christ and his Gospel. [v]
Let us now turn to St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century Church, to receive his enlightened philosophical and theological insight on Christ as the Truth and how it is operative in us in a practical way. He expresses the fullness of truth as found in the person of Jesus Christ who sent the Holy Spirit stirring our innermost being to seek the truth in love:
The Holy Spirit leads to knowledge of the truth, because he proceeds from the Truth: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” For, in us, our love of the truth follows upon our grasping and considering it, so also in God, love proceeds from the Truth conceived, who is the Son. And as proceeding from the Son, He leads us into knowledge of the Son… To manifest the truth that belongs to the personal property of the Holy Spirit. [vi]
Dominic Legge in his work The Trinitarian Christology of St. Thomas Aquinas, completes the explanation of the previous writing by the Angelic Doctor on the Triune God, setting his eyes on the role of the Spirit, and how the love of the truth is a seed planted by God in each and every human being:
As for the Holy Spirit, His mode of teaching [the truth] is that of Love. He disposes the disciples to receive Christ’s teaching through love, giving them a pure heart and hence a sense of divine things; and the Holy Spirit, as Love, moves the disciples to know Christ, since love implies impulsion, motion. This has a great spiritual significance. The Holy Spirit does not merely give us facts about Christ. As Love in person, he infuses into us a love of Christ that permits us to seize upon the deepest mysteries of Christ’s identity as God made man who has come to save us… All this is indispensable if one is really to know Him as He is – as the Word made flesh, from the Father, who breathes forth Love. And, thus the Holy Spirit’s illuminating action is essential to Christ’s mission… [vii]
Turning to Our Lord for guidance, as we face this tremendously decisive hour, let us pray we follow the example of his Blessed Mother Mary by keeping only Him as the source by pondering His Truth in Love. May we find consolation in Truth and bear witness to Him in Love. Our prayer echoes again the words of retreat master Cardinal Wojtyla in his Lenten retreat to Pope Paul VI:
In the days … ahead of us we shall try to bring ourselves face to face with all these words, face to face with the truth they contain. And may “the light that shines for the gentiles” be with us in this spiritual undertaking of ours. May this light give us strength and make us capable of accepting and loving the whole truth of Christ, of loving it all the more as the world all the more contradicts it. [viii]
[i] Ignace de la Potterie, SJ, “Je Sui la Voi, la Vérité et la Vie,” Nouvelle Revue Théologique/ 1966 / 1582 / 88-89, p. 942. < www,nrt.be >
[ii] Ibid, p. 940.
[iii] Pope John Paul II, Catechesis, General Audience, Wednesday May 4, 1988.
[iv] Karol Wojtyla, Sign of Contradiction, New York, NY: Seabury Press, 1979, p. 7.
[v] Pope John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/ documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html
[vi] Thomas-Serge Bonino, O.P. M. Dauphinais and M. Levering (editors). “The Role of the Apostles in the Communication of Revelation according to Lectura super Ionnem of St. Thomas Aquinas”. Reading John with St. Thomas Aquinas. Theological Exegesis and Speculative Theology, Catholic University of America Press, Washington, 2005, p. 320. (Ioan, I, lect. 8, n. 188; I, 3, n. 102; I, 10, n. 207)
[viii] Karol Wojtyla, Sign of Contradiction, New York, NY: Seabury Press, 1979, p. 8.
Photo Credit: Statue of Jesus Christ by sculptor Lorenzo Ghiglieri (Semfield Memorial Study Garden, Main Campus of St. Thomas University, Houston, TX). Photo by Claudia Aracama.
Virginia Fraguio is a Secular Discalced Carmelite pursuing her Master of Arts in Theological Studies at the University of St. Thomas at St. Mary’s Seminary in Houston, Texas. She is passionate about the truth, spreading the Catholic faith and spirituality, going on pilgrimages, and the international dimension of the Universal (Catholic) Church. Virginia was born in Argentina and grew up in Japan. After living in Brazil for some years, she was brought to the United States by her U.S. employer twelve years ago.