“You Can’t Handle the Truth”

“You can’t handle the truth!” Jack Nicholson growls at Tom Cruise in one of the most well-known movie scenes from A Few Good Men.

I don’t remember much about the movie but do remember that particular line. There was something about the malevolent delivery, mixed with the truth of the words, which made it seem applicable to just about everyone.

Can any of us really handle the truth?

Do we seek it?

Do we welcome it when it arrives?

Or do we avoid it?

Do we do our utmost to see things the way we want to see them—ignoring it to our own peril?

I’m halfway through the book The End of the Present World by Father Charles Arminjon — available from the CE store — and Nicholson’s words keep ringing in my ears. I can see why St. Theresa of Lisieux said: Reading this book was one of the greatest graces of my life.

At this point, my copy is nothing but yellow highlights — I find the book that powerful. In particular I keep reading and re-reading pages 94 and 95. The topic is St. Thomas’ testimony on the last judgment and the three theological reasons for the universal judgment are being explored and explained.

I read in the words on these pages that reality of which Nicholson speaks when he barks at Cruise: You can’t handle the truth!

I, too, am struck by what St. Thomas says in regards to why man must experience both the particular judgment and then the universal judgment.

In our particular judgment, which occurs immediately upon our death, our life’s actions are judged. The sum total of decisions we’ve made, words we’ve used and courses of actions we’ve taken will be on the table: Each will be rewarded immediately after death in accordance with his works and faith — Catechism of the Catholic Church #1021

Beyond the particular judgment, St. Thomas gives three reasons why the general or universal judgment is necessary and these are examined in The End of the Present World beginning on page 94. The first of the three very compelling reasons is this:

Yet this judgment [the particular judgment] cannot suffice, and it is essential that it should be followed by another public judgment, in which God will not examine the actions in isolation and taken in themselves, but will examine them in their effects upon other men, in the good or evil deriving from them for families and peoples—in a word, in the consequences they produced and which those who perpetrated them ought to have forseen.


It is so easy for us to consider our actions in isolation (or justify them so that they don’t need to be considered at all) but when we mull over their “ripple” effects, we get a better, clearer picture of how our life is connected to all others. Factor in the immense reach we have with the Internet and our impact may well be far beyond what we bargained for with ripple effects taking on the magnitude of a tsunami.

Then, when we consider that those ripple effects will become part and parcel of our general judgment, we are given a truth that many of us might not be able to handle.

Although not a betting person, I would wager that very few of us really understand or know how some of the simplest things we do or say impact others. I am convinced that, if queried, an inconsequential amount of people would believe that something they’ve done or said has caused another person harm or anguish. Let alone rippled along enough to become something that will surface during general judgment!

And yet it is certainly so.

This makes me want to pointedly ask everyone…if you’ve been dismissive or hurtful or downright mean to someone—whether you know them personally or just in the rapidly expanding world provided through the Internet—would you want them to tell you?

Is it a truth you can handle?

I would want to know. I would want to have a chance to make things right before I face my Creator.

In fact, isn’t it actually a blessing to let someone make amends while they still have a chance?

And if someone has been dismissive or hurtful or downright mean to you, do you think you have an obligation to say something? Especially based upon the fact that this may be their one chance to hear and respond to the truth before they are judged?

What are our obligations to one another as Catholic Christians in regards to sharing such truths? We apparently have a lot of power to help one another see the ripple effects set in motion by things said, choices made, and actions taken.

Should we be that honest?

Can we handle the truth?

[Get your copy of The End of the Present World today from our online store.]

Cheryl Dickow


Cheryl Dickow is a Catholic wife, mother, author and speaker. Cheryl’s newest book is Wrapped Up: God’s Ten Gifts for Womenwhich is co-authored with Teresa Tomeo and is published by Servant (a division of Franciscan Media); there is also a companion journal that accompanies the book and an audio version intended for women’s studies or for individual reflection. Cheryl’s titles also include the woman’s inspirational fiction book Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage. Elizabeth is available in paperback or Kindle format. Her company is Bezalel Books where her goal is to publish great Catholic books for families and classrooms that entertain while uplifting the Catholic faith and is located at www.BezalelBooks.com. To invite Cheryl to speak at your event, write her at Cheryl@BezalelBooks.com.

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  • Cooky642


    Thanks for the heads-up, Cheryl.

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  • Warren Jewell

    It is the one mark of the fine converts to Catholicism – Mark Shea and Mary Kochan coming to mind here, the Hahns, Marcus Grodi and Peter Kreeft, etc., beyond Catholic Exchange – that their search for truth brought them all the way Home. They did not flinch from the search in the long run, but pushed to have the truth. In response to finding the greatest truth short of heaven, they exhibit a keen enthusiasm for Mother Church, a joy to be settled in freedom as in the truth.

    They are heroes, champions, to me, a cradle Catholic, because of their powerful dedication to having the truth. Maybe, every pastor ought to have his local ‘resident convert(s)’ to help teach evangelization, fire up the pastor’s pastoral roles and give his homiletic skills a memorable catechetical polish. And, truth be served to God’s glory.

    I can see Mark Shea giving an assured grin and head shake at such as Nicholson’s character’s challenge. I can hear Mary Kochan come back, sharp as a whip, “You think not, huh, Buster?”

  • patti

    A very powerful article–one that should make us all stop in our tracks and consider how even small sins have big consequences. It has me thinking, that’s for sure.

  • Joe DeVet

    This may indeed be a significant part of Purgatory–to have it revealed how my sins hurt other people. Especially painful will be the hurt visited on our loved ones. And in that context, if it is truly Purgatory, a step toward heaven, my loved ones will comprise everyone!

    Lord, have MERCY!

  • What a thought-provoking article, Cheryl! I’m putting this book on my Amazon wish list. I’m also going to try especially hard to consider the far-reaching effects of my words and actions. This is something everyone should think about before Confession as well as during a (hopefully) nightly examination of conscience.

  • I was so excited to see an article about Fr. Arminjon’s book. I had looked for it after rereading Therese a few years back to no avail, and then finally found it in English last summer – what a gift! I am ashamed to say that I did not recall this passage though; thank you for bringing it to my attention. This book is so packed with challenging material that it deserves more than one pass.

  • If we love the Lord and follow Him, then we CAN handle the truth, and we have no need to fear his judgment, even though we’re sure to be accountable for many sins. He judges all with mercy and justice. For myself, I frankly can’t wait to see how my little life turns out in the end.

  • dlapointe34

    Great article and certainly very helpful for me to try to understand how my words and actions affect others. But I want to throw out a thought. I understand the idea behind telling others that they’ve been hurtful, but I believe there are many saints (St. Theresa and/or Teresa, St. Faustina, St. Padre Pio, and other I’m sure) who quietly endured this kind of suffering – and not to mention the unmatched suffering that Christ quietly endured. Aren’t these examples for us not to confront those who have hurt us? It’s not that I can’t take the truth, I would want to know, I’m just torn by these examples. I don’t know the answer, but it’s just a thought I had. God bless!

  • “…I would wager that very few of us really understand or know how some of the simplest things we do or say impact others. I am convinced that, if queried, an inconsequential amount of people would believe that something they’ve done or said has caused another person harm or anguish.”

    It can be very subtle — like misjudging someone’s motivations, and refusing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Friendships can easily be derailed this way … can’t they?

    Thought-provoking article.