Thursday, March 20, 2008


In the narrative of the Passion of our Lord in the Gospel of St. John (which is read in the liturgy of Good Friday), there is a scene where Pontius Pilate asks Jesus the question, “What is truth?” Quid est veritas? (Jn 18:38) Unfortunately, in obvious bad faith—that is, without wanting to know the answer—Pilate turns away before our Lord could give a reply, thus depriving us of what would surely have been a perfect definition.

Still, since it is intolerable that such a fundamental concept should remain unarticulated, it can be said that “truth” is the agreement (conformity, correspondence) between the thing and what it is in itself (ontological truth); between what we know and what is (logical truth); and between what we express and what we know (moral truth). “Ontological truth” (Greek, ont-, “being”) is the truth of the thing in itself; or better, what it is in the eyes of God. “Logical truth” (logos, “word”) is the agreement between what is in the mind and what is in reality. “Moral truth” refers to the conformity between what we express and what is inside us, where we could speak of the virtue of truthfulness (sincerity)—the habit of telling the truth—which is correlative with the hearer’s right to know.

Beyond the epistemological considerations, John Paul II teaches: “All human beings desire to know, and truth is the proper object of this desire.” (Encyclical Letter Fides et Ratio, No. 25) Indeed, the human intelligence, reason, is ordained by nature to understand the truth (as the human free will, voluntas, is ordained to choose, to love, the good). Eventually, this orientation to truth becomes a desire for the knowledge of things according to their ultimate causes (philosophy, “love of wisdom”).

Yet, man’s thirst for truth can only be quenched by the fullness of truth, God: “It is the nature of the human being to seek the truth. This search looks not only to the attainment of truths which are partial, empirical or scientific; nor is it only in individual acts of decision-making that people seek the true good. Their search looks towards an ulterior truth which would explain the meaning of life. And it is therefore a search which can reach its end only in reaching the absolute”. (FeR, No. 33)

Since God transcends human nature (and, for that matter, all creation), our natural reason alone would be inadequate to know God as we ought (much less to know God as He Is). Our reaching God (which would find definitive fulfillment in eternity) is possible only because God reveals Himself to us—in His Word-made-flesh—through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

“Faith” is man’s acceptance of, our assent to Divine Revelation. The supernatural virtue of Faith is itself a gift which enables and firmly inclines us to believe everything that God has revealed (because revealed by God Who can neither deceive nor be deceived).

Thus, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves”. (FeR, Preamble) “Just as grace builds on nature and brings it to fulfillment, so faith builds upon and perfects reason" (Id., No. 43). Faith alone can easily degenerate into superstition or mythology. Reason alone will fall short of our ultimate end. Authentic Christian faith is, therefore, faith seeking understanding.

Jesus, perfect God and perfect man, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity become Man, the Word of God made flesh, is the Truth. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn 14:6).

“In the Incarnation of the Son of God we see forged the enduring and definitive synthesis which the human mind of itself could not even have imagined: the Eternal enters time, the Whole lies hidden in the part, God takes on a human face. The truth communicated in Christ's Revelation is therefore no longer confined to a particular place or culture, but is offered to every man and woman who would welcome it as the word which is the absolutely valid source of meaning for human life. Now, in Christ, all have access to the Father, since by his Death and Resurrection Christ has bestowed the divine life which the first Adam had refused (cf. Rom 5:12-15). Through this Revelation, men and women are offered the ultimate truth about their own life and about the goal of history. As the Constitution Gaudium et Spes puts it, 'only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light'. [GS, No. 22] Seen in any other terms, the mystery of personal existence remains an insoluble riddle. Where might the human being seek the answer to dramatic questions such as pain, the suffering of the innocent and death, if not in the light streaming from the mystery of Christ's Passion, Death and Resurrection?” (FeR, No. 12)

St. Josemaria writes: “We are to be pious, then, as pious as children, but not ignorant. Insofar as possible, each of us should study the faith seriously, rigorously—all of which means theology. Ours should be the piety of children and the sure doctrine of theologians.” (Christ is Passing By, No. 10)


Wednesday, March 5, 2008


“The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.” (CCC, No. 2447) Traditionally, there are listed seven spiritual and seven corporal works of mercy.

The seven spiritual works of mercy are: (1) to admonish the sinner, (2) to instruct the ignorant, (3) to counsel the doubtful, (4) to comfort the sorrowful, (5) to bear wrongs patiently, (6) to forgive injuries, and (6) to pray for the living and the dead.

The seven corporal works of mercy are: (1) to feed the hungry, (2) to give drink to the thirsty, (3) to shelter the homeless (to welcome the stranger), (4) to clothe the naked, (5) to visit the sick, (6) to visit the imprisoned, and (7) to bury the dead (cf. Mt 25:31-46).

These listings are not exhaustive, of course, but are addressed to what may be considered the most basic needs of the individual human person. Nor are the corporal and spiritual categories exclusive of each other.

Indeed, since our Lord enumerates only the corporal works of mercy (the first six of the above-listed) in His discourse on the Last Judgment, He probably intended them to embrace, as well, the spiritual good of people.

Thus, to feed the hungry could also refer to spiritual food: doctrine and sacraments. To give drink to the thirsty could also refer to man’s thirst for truth in general. To clothe the naked could mean protecting other people’s dignity or good reputation, “covering” their “nakedness”, as did the good sons of Noah (Gen 9:23). To shelter the homeless or welcome the stranger could mean bringing people into the Faith, into the Church. To visit the sick could also involve spiritual comfort for spiritual suffering. To visit the imprisoned could refer to the relief or liberation of those under spiritual enslavement (i.e., to sin, vice, sinful relationships, sadness, worry, etc.). To bury the dead could also refer to forgiving and forgetting injuries inflicted on us by others. In addition to these, the traditional listing of the seven spiritual works of mercy serves to highlight the greater importance of spiritual works.

While both spiritual and corporal works of mercy are necessary (because man is spiritual soul and material body), St. Thomas Aquinas points out that the spiritual works of mercy are more important, since spiritual things are more noble. (2 Faith Seeking Understanding, ed. by Fr. Charles Belmonte, p. 133)

Because of our wounded human nature (and the resulting disordered inclinations), we do have a tendency to be “materialistic”, i.e., to confine reality only to what can be perceived by the senses or to give excessive importance to material things. We need to correct this tendency in us and, as far as we can, among those whom we encounter, in our surroundings. “True development concerns the whole man. It is concerned with increasing each person’s ability to respond to his vocation and hence to God’s call.” (CCC, No. 2461)

It is the human spiritual soul (not the human material body) which has, by nature, an eternal destiny (the “resurrection of the body” is a supernatural phenomenon). Unlike matter, spiritual substances are not composed of parts that could disintegrate; hence what is spiritual is by nature indestructible. It is also the human spiritual soul, or our principal spiritual faculties—our intellect and free will—that should lead us to our ultimate end, our highest good, which is union with God—sanctity, holiness, perfection—in His eternal happiness. To help others in this spiritual movement, which means, conversely, “to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth” (CCC, No. 863), is apostolate. This is the greatest service we can do for others. Indeed, we know we truly love our fellowmen if we are concerned about their eternal happiness, which is “the one thing necessary”. (cf. Lk 10:42) Thus, St. Josemaria writes: “Charity with everyone means, therefore, apostolate with everyone (Friends of God, No. 230).”

On the other hand, since man is the union of spiritual soul and material body, fraternal charity requires due regard for the material good of others. In many instances, a minimum of material well-being would be needed for persons to turn to God.

The works of mercy should fulfill the commandment to love God above all else for His own sake and to love others as oneself for the love of God (cf. Mt 22:34-40; Mk 12:28-34; Lk 10:25-28). Love of God and love of neighbor—prefigured by the “two tablets” of stone given to Moses (Ex 31:18)—form the unity of the new law of charity.

Pope Benedict XVI reminds us: “The saints—consider the example of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta—constantly renewed their capacity for love of neighbour from their encounter with the Eucharistic Lord, and conversely this encounter acquired its realism and depth in their service to others. Love of God and love of neighbour are thus inseparable, they form a single commandment. But both live from the love of God who has loved us first.” (Deus Caritas Est, No. 18)