There were two major news items in the United States last week. Maryland was experiencing violent demonstrations following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. Though the details surrounding his death were still being fleshed out, there was rioting and destruction of private and public property. Then, there was the story of the US Supreme Court hearing oral arguments for and against the legalization of what is called same-sex marriage in the country. On the one hand, we had violent and destructive demonstrations though the full truth surrounding the victim’s death had not been ascertained. On the other hand we are apparently not sure anymore about the truth of marriage, an institution that existed long before the creation of any state.
But what is the connection between these two incidents? What has this evident confusion about the truth about marriage got to do with the violent riots in Maryland? The point is that where there is no truth, there can be no peace or unity. Reflecting on St. Augustine’s definition of peace as the tranquility in order, i.e. order within ourselves, order with others, and order with God, we see that truth is much more than a statement of fact, or that which corresponds to reality. On a deeper level, truth is what defines and shapes our relationship with God and with others; it is the principle of our mutual connectedness as a society. If we as a nation cannot perceive and respect the unchangeable truths about marriage as an institution, truths stamped into the being of each person by our Creator God who calls a man and woman into in a faithful, exclusive, and life-giving marital union for life, truths that order society, then we have no basis to hope for any semblance of peace or unity in our land.
We have a glimpse of St. Paul’s vocation story in today’s First Reading. A self-righteous St. Paul on his zealous mission to crush the infant church in Damascus came face to face with Jesus Christ, “the way, the truth and the life.”(Jn 14:6) After he had “seen the Lord and spoken to Him,” St. Paul was enlightened to realize for the first time that he too was a sinner in need of conversion, forgiveness from our Savior Jesus Christ, and full communion with the Church he had earlier sought to destroy. He acted on this difficult truth and sought communion with a church that was still skeptical of his intention. In the midst of opposition and threats, St. Paul continued to “speak out boldly in the name of Jesus.” On her part too, the church had to face the truth of his conversion and accept their former persecutor in their fold as a brother in Christ. What was the result of this openness to truth? They enjoyed an abiding peace because truth prevailed over falsehood: “The church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace.”
In the Second Reading, St. John teaches us that true love is neither sentimental nor merely expressed in speech; but authentic love must also be grounded on truth: “Children, let us love not in word or speech but in deed and truth.” Love is neither merely spoken nor felt; it must be shown in action that is guided by truth. It is God, who is love, and not the constantly changing affections and inclinations of our hearts that is the ultimate source of truth: “For God is greater than our hearts and knows all things.” If we are going to love authentically, then we must show that we “belong to the truth” by “keeping His commandments and by doing what pleases Him.” We journey into peace and unity when our love moves beyond mere speech or sentimentality towards being impregnated by the truth of who we are, who God is, and what our relationship with Him demands from us.
In the Gospel passage, Jesus shows us that our relationship with Him is one of complete dependence: “I am the vine, you are the branches…without me you can do nothing.” This relationship of dependence begins with dependence on Him for truth: “You are already pruned because of the word that I spoke to you.” Jesus Christ is the truth who does not just reveal facts to us; but in a much deeper way, what He reveals to us brings us into a more authentic relationship with the father and with each other through grace: “To all who received Him, who believed in His name, He gave power to become children of God.”(Jn 1:12) We depend on Him also for efficacious prayer: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask for whatever you want and it will be done for you.” All these begin with His truth.
Our refusal to live by His words is to reject His union with us, forsake His offer of peace to us, render our prayers ineffective, and wound our unity among others. Rejecting His words in this relativistic age, we lose peace and unity because we begin to see others not as brothers and sisters but as rivals and threats to us. All these happen because we lose the sense of order and connectedness with others that His truth brings to us. When truth is rejected, blurred, or not proclaimed with boldness, the order and tranquility that binds us diminishes to the point that even the infant in the womb becomes an aggressor and adversary to be eliminated. But we participate in His own peace and unity with the Father and others when we depend completely on His words, not just believing in them, but allowing the grace in His words to shape our hearts and move us to proclaim His words with boldness.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in our weakness, we stumble and fall as we strive to live by the truths of the Gospel. As we draw closer to Jesus, we shall see the truth about ourselves more clearly, that we are sinners and sinful, constantly in need for a savior to enlighten and strengthen us. But at the same time, we will see how deeply we are loved by Him and called to participate more fully in His own life. We shall begin to experience the power of His grace to change us and to lift us up and keep us going. Let us take refuge in the words of St. John’s prologue, “The law was given through Moses; but grace and truth came to us through Jesus Christ.” (Jn 1:17) The last thing that we should do is to feign ignorance of His truth or pretend we can change His truths for any reason and still hope for peace and unity.
Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, desires this peace and unity for us all: “May they be one as we are one.” (Jn17:21) He became one like us born of the Virgin Mary and taught the truth throughout His life by His words and actions so as to bring us into a relationship with the Father: “Whoever sees me has seen the One who sent me.” After His Resurrection that reconciled us with the Father, He offered us the peace He had won for us: “Peace be with you.” He comes to us in this Eucharistic celebration to enlighten our minds to the true path to peace and unity and to infuse His grace into our hearts so that we can indeed belong to Him who is the truth.
If we want this peace and unity to reign in our hearts, homes, family, church, country and world, let us remind ourselves of what truth really is – a reality that shapes our relationship with God and with others. We have no right to pray for peace and unity when we dismiss or disregard His truth. But if we humbly receive His words, be conformed to these words to us, and speak His words with boldness like St. Paul, we will have a peace and unity that this world cannot give or take away from us.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!