What I find among some friends and acquaintances who are not Catholic is that their view of Catholicism is often a caricature of reality. It is only when they do a little homework that they realize their perception is not reality.
I was reading a recent speech by Fr. Federico Lombardi, former spokesperson for the last three popes, about Pope Emeritus Benedict’s commitment to truth and transparency during the sexual abuse crisis and was struck by these words: “It was necessary to recognize the truth even when it is extremely painful, to go deep into the truth before God and men. To not be worried about the ‘image’ first, or concerned about ‘saving face’. Of course, we must wish that our image be good, but only if it corresponds to a good reality. If not, it is a deception.”
It seems we live in a culture of ‘perception is reality’ these days. The truth seems to hardly matter when persons are fighting to have their ideas or self-interests rule the day. It is a great temptation for all of us to form or conform a narrative that fits our bias. We read and watch news sources that lean the way we lean and readily believe stories that confirm our convictions rather than hearing from a wide variety of sources and investigating the truthfulness of their claims. We quickly forward emails and share news on our Facebook feed without doing the homework necessary to discover their veracity. We too readily believe politicians when they make unsubstantiated claims, particularly when they are from the party we favor.
When I was in seminary, I raised my hand in class and asked my professor of Christian Ethics, “What is the most important thing we can do when we get out in the parish?” He said only three words: “Tell the truth.”
This applies to all of us in any context. We serve no one’s best interest, particularly ourselves, when we don’t seek and tell the truth. It begins with a strong self-examination, like we do before confession, and it leads to doing our honest best to find out the facts and, as the First Letter of John says, “test the spirits.”