The Truth With Charity

At last Sunday’s Angelus, Pope Benedict XVI, reflecting on the Gospel about the sower, addressed his outdoor audience on Christ’s use of parables. God, the Holy Father remarked, does not force us to believe in Him, for He always respects our freedom. Yet His thirst for our souls invites Him to draw us in by awakening our curiosity. The persuasive power of the parables is at once their engaging simplicity and their call for further explanation. What an interesting — and compelling — model for a teaching Church: to propose the saving message through example!
Responding to His disciples’ questioning why He speaks plainly to them but to others in parables, Jesus says parables are not necessary for those to whom “knowledge of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven” have been granted. Those not so endowed, however, may first need a gentle appeal to their intellectual curiosity. In a way, the pope said, Jesus is the ultimate “parable” for He both reveals yet conceals the mystery of God. Indeed, Jesus lived —and died — the truth He taught. Can the same be said of His followers?
Church teaching is and must remain clear, to be sure. Clarity, of definition, however, does not always inspire an acclamation of faith, let alone a conversion of the heart.
Jesus himself delivered sharp, bold statements at times that, confounding earthly habits and expectations, were swiftly rejected. Recall His commands about eating His body and drinking His blood and being born again in water and in sprit so as to have life and enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet He did not limit himself to such pronouncements. He also used engaging, creative examples — sometimes even miraculous signs, though never for their own sake and only to reveal deeper mysteries. Recall how He engaged the woman at the well and the rich young man, but with different results. The one accepted His invitation, becoming herself an evangelizer. The other walked away, unable to let go of his possessions and trust Jesus as his true treasure.
As the Church finds itself engaged in the public arena, addressing a society so confused and conflicted about the value of human life, the meaning of human sexuality, the rights of the unborn, immigrants, the poor and many others who are marginalized, it is helpful to recall the many ways of proposing the saving message. On moral issues, the ability to make reasonable arguments about, for example, the true meaning of marriage, the slippery slope of euthanasia, the tenuous logic of the death penalty offers the Church a more tenable starting point for participation in public debate.
Those who say the Church has no business “imposing” sectarian beliefs on society seem unaware of the very nature of our constitutional guarantees which not only protect the freedom to express one’s beliefs but presuppose an atmosphere in which many beliefs and ideas will be professed and debated in public. Without the presumption of public debate, there would be no need for the First Amendment.
More to the point, however, to propose a principle is not to impose it on anyone. Offering grounds for its reasonability can even be an act of charity in the service of truth which deprives no one of freedom but, on the contrary, respects, if not enhances it.
Recent responses of some outspoken American bishops — such as Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and Bishop Salvatore Cordileone (Oakland) — to attempts to legitimize same-sex unions are right on the money, pointing out the injustice of comparing two fundamentally different kinds of relationships or calling a “civil right” what by no means is a clear subject of constitutional protections. What is guaranteed under the Constitution is the right of such religious leaders to make their case.
That said, the most convincing way to promote a fundamental conviction is to live it. The earliest Christians took a pagan world by storm through the incomparable charity and self-sacrifice revealed by their care for the sick, widows and alienated in unheard of ways.
Throughout the AIDS saga, the Catholic Church has distinguished itself as the largest single care provider for those afflicted, without regard to the human failings contributing to its proliferation.
So, too, can we all love and care for those with whom we disagree, without compromising our commitment to do the truth with charity.