Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

The Truth Hurts

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We’ve all heard the refrain, and we all know deep down inside that it’s false. Words have an incredible power in our lives. They have the ability to change us for the better or the worse. When you think of the positive impact of words, you might think of Lincoln at Gettysburg, Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech, or Neil Armstrong as he descended to the surface of the moon. These words fill us with pride or spur is on to good actions. Words can also move us to profoundly evil emotions and actions. The genocide in Rwanda which killed up to 1,000,000 people was in part brought about by government propaganda that repeatedly accused the oppressed Tutsis of being roaches, of subhuman dignity. Because words are so important and powerful, telling the truth is as equally important and powerful an action. Today’s readings highlight the importance and necessity of proclaiming the truth.

In the first reading we encounter the prophet Jeremiah, who is one of the more colorful Old Testament figures. God choses him to be a prophet, to proclaim the truth to Israel. Jeremiah wants none of it. He knows he’ll be persecuted for it, and he’s not up to the task. Basically, he’s like any one of us: “God, don’t choose me, I can’t do; I’m not the one for the job.” But in a very powerful passage, Jeremiah recounts, “The Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘behold I have put my words in your mouth.’” From then on, no matter how much Jeremiah wants to keep silent and not speak the truth, he’s almost forced to do so. At one point Jeremiah complains, “The Word of the Lord has brought me nothing but shame, criticism, and ridicule. If I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak anymore in his name, there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.’” The prophet Jeremiah, regardless of consequences, was compelled to speak the truth.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is in the same boat. He comes to his hometown of Nazareth, where he preaches in the synagogue, The Gospel tells us, “all spoke highly of him and all were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” But Christ knew that the people’s hearts weren’t in the right place. They were looking for signs and wonders, but didn’t want to go through the hard and necessary process of repentance. So Jesus reads their hearts—he’s God, so he can do that—and tells them the truth. Now imagine how much that must have hurt him, on a human level, to do so. He had been enjoying nothing but fame and adoration up to that point. In addition, these were the people he grew up with and knew intimately. These supposed friends and neighbors go from speaking highly of him to trying to kill him in a paroxysm of fury. Jesus, like Jeremiah, is driven to tell the truth, no matter what the personal consequences. Telling the truth has huge implications.

At our baptism, each of us was baptized into Christ. That means we take on Christ’s role (and Jeremiah’s, who prefigured Christ) of prophet. That doesn’t mean we go around reading palms or telling people that the world’s going to end in 2012. No, in the biblical sense a prophet is simply one who preaches the truth, consequences be as they may. We are witnessing a great example of someone living out his baptismal call to be a prophet with the great college quarterback, Tim Tebow. During the Super Bowl next Sunday, he will appear in a commercial that defends the sacredness and dignity of life from the moment of conception. The commercial, because it implicitly shows the evil nature of abortion, is being protested by many groups. Tim Tebow is in a real sense, a prophet; one who can say with Jeremiah, “there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.” If God lives in us through grace, my brothers and sisters, shouldn’t he also speak through us?

Parents have a unique and privileged role in standing up for truth. The Church teaches that parents, and not teachers or other authorities, are the primary educators of their children. It falls squarely on the shoulders of moms and dads to pass along the truths of the faith and important values to their children in the midst of a very confusing culture. This is no easy task in our society, but it is nonetheless necessary. Parents, you have a special advantage in educating your children, though, precisely because you love them more than anyone else.

It is this all-important love that St. Paul extols in the second reading. St. Paul was no shrinking violet when it came to proclaiming the truth. He wrote, “Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel!” But he also realized that preaching the truth was fruitless without love. In today’s second reading he says, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy, but do not have love, I am nothing.” The mistake that we make so often is teaching, admonishing, or correcting without love. A person is converted, or comes to the truth, not through our brilliant arguments or flawless reasoning, but through the love that accompanies our profession of the faith. Jesus says, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

All of us have areas of our life where we don’t live the truth fully. We should examine our relationships with our spouse, our parents, or our friends to see where lies, sometimes so hidden but dangerous, are rooted. It would also be beneficial to examine how well we have lived our baptismal calling to be prophets-to stand up for the truth, regardless of the consequences. So often, I think we will find, we are more than comfortable just going with the flow. But, my brothers and sisters, Christ is constantly calling us to more. He calls us to live in the splendor of his truth and in the deep impenetrable bond of his love. Christ said to his disciples and he says to us, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

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