The question which Pilate asked Our Lord before having Him scourged is perhaps more relevant in today’s world than when it was originally asked. In our own day, however, the question is no longer, “What is truth?” (as in, which proposed truth is correct) but rather the much more blind, “What is truth at all?”. Indeed, many people today have lost or have never received any concept of objectivity. This past weekend I was talking to a very good friend of mine who happens to be Presbyterian, and one thing led to another and by the end of it I said quite directly what I believed: “My religion is true, yours is not”. Rather than responding with an equally objective claim about the truth of Presbyterianism, however, my friend said, “Well, no, they’re all true, but they’re true in different ways”. After the March for Life this year, the crew at the Detroit-based Church Militant.TV interviewed a score of Catholic teens and asked them whether the Catholic Faith was superior to other religions, and most of them gave a murky, confused answer that ultimately resulted in “no, it’s not”.
I can’t count the number of devout, well-intentioned Catholics who refuse to bring up differences in religious beliefs on the grounds that they cause division or are opposed to Our Lord’s prayer that all may be one as He and the Father are one. Back when the new translation of the Novus Ordo Mass was promulgated, there were many who grieved over the loss of the (quite frankly laughable) previous translation since it was a supposed blow to ecumenism. Catholic churches with no trace of Catholic identity and removable altars are built so they can be shared with Protestant denominations, Catholics are told growing up that there are no differences between their Church and others, and people put COEXIST bumper stickers on their cars as a way of quietly saying, “Oh, do be quiet with all your differences! Can’t we all get along?”
Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and one of my favorite modern theologians, spoke about this in April 2005, just before being elected Pope. “Today,” he said, “having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labelled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’ (Eph. 4:14), seems to be the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires” (Homily at the Mass for Electing the Roman Pontiff, April 18, 2005).
“Having a clear faith-based on the Creed is often labelled as fundamentalism”—it doesn’t take much to see how correct those words are. Whether it was the examples I mentioned at the beginning of this post or the example of a very holy priest I once knew who, after mentioning other religions, quickly followed up with, “….and that’s not to say other religions are bad”, people today either willfully refuse to see that there is objective truth or honestly don’t see it. I really do hope, for their souls and for the sake of charity, that it is the latter.
But we must get ourselves out of this lethargy. The catechisms used before the Second Vatican Council were exceedingly clear about the existence of objective truth and the falsity of non-Catholic religions. Even the Council itself, argued by some as being far too vague, made a statement about the Catholic Faith rarely, if ever, heard nowadays and which is still sufficiently clear for the purpose of establishing the truth of Catholicism:
This is the one Church of Christ, which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd . . . which He erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’. This Church, constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him (Lumen Gentium 8).
And even if the quote from the Council itself gives some amount of leeway by using the verb “subsists in” rather than simply “is”, the Credo of the People of God by Paul VI supplies any clarity lacking.
Do we have to go out into the streets and preach the truth of the Roman Church? No, not necessarily. But we must live our lives in a way that communicates the Catholic Faith, we must keep and spread the Faith, and we must pray for non believers. How do we start? I’d suggest we begin by doing what was suggested by Fr. Dwight Longenecker: be bold with your Catholic vocabulary. Don’t just say, “Real Presence”, which is used even by some Protestants, but instead say, “Transubstantiation”, which definitively communicates the total disappearance of bread and wine and the total presence of Christ in the consecrated elements. Rather than merely calling it the vague term “liturgy”, call it the “Sacrifice of the Mass”. Instead of saying simply, “Mary”, say “Our Lady” or the “Blessed Mother”. Instead of simply “Jesus” or “the Lord”, try “Our Lord”. These types of things are non-threatening ways of communicating a distinctly Catholic faith, and though they may feel awkward at first, they soon become second nature, and the people around you might find themselves following your lead (and please be aware, I’m not saying there’s anything sinful about not doing them; it’s up to you in the end, but it’s highly worth it). Only by a resurgence of Catholic identity will a recognition of Catholicism’s objectivity be able to take hold in the minds of the faithful, and only then will they bother evangelizing the non-Catholics around them. There aren’t many different truths where we have an option of picking the one that suits us best. There is one truth, and Our Lord died for it, so let us pray that He will give us the grace to recognize and hold firmly to it.
“If you continue in My word, you shall be My disciples indeed, and you shall know the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
May the Holy Trinity bless you, and may Our Lady keep you under her protection.