By William Sequeira, SJ
Bitter Truth: Writing from Taloja prison, Fr. Stan Swamy asked, “Why has truth become bitter, dissent so intolerable, and justice out of reach?” But he asserted that “Truth must be spoken…” His incarceration was the price he paid for his telling truth to power. (I Am Not a Silent Spectator, Stan Swamy)
But sadly today truth has become a relative word devoid of its objective meaning, as we are living in a ‘post- truth’ political culture, even though the Upanishadic mantra that our country adopted as its national motto proclaims, ‘Truth alone triumphs’ (Satyameva Jayate). Truth nowadays is said to be an opinion, a belief, or a point of view. Truth is thus distorted, twisted, denied, or proclaimed as fake news. Worst of all, truth has become even dangerous, as it endangers those who speak it. Stan and a number of others like him, because they dared to tell the truth, became the accused and the victims.
Truth sets you free: We hold on to the Christian faith, because we believe that our faith is based on truth – the eternal truth revealed by Jesus Christ. Jesus declared: ‘Truth will set you free” (Jn. 8/32). We know this from our concrete experience of the sacrament of reconciliation, where we open our hearts and speak the truth of our sin and sorrow and return experiencing freedom. When we go to a spiritual guide for spiritual direction, we speak our truth, and come back, feeling light, free, and enlightened. All the helping professions like counselling, and therapy are founded on sharing our inner truth. All branches of science and research are built on the same principle of finding and sharing the truth.
Self-awareness is nothing but being in touch with the truth of one’s life, both bitter and sweet.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius speaks about the nature of prayer. He says it must be akin to: ‘friend talking to a friend’ (SE.54). In other words, prayer is telling the truth of one’s heart, at times joyful, other times sorrowful, sometimes embarrassing or distressing. Only then it becomes authentic prayer. His autobiography is an honest narration of his pilgrim journey, truthfully articulated with all its pitfalls. (Testament and Testimony)
Truth & Journaling: The Jewish teenager Anne Frank found a way to safeguard her physical and mental health over two years. while she and her family were hiding themselves from the Nazi forces. She kept a personal diary where she scribbled every day the truth of her heart: her fears and anxieties, worries and tensions, hopes and aspirations, faith, and doubts. (The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank) That brought her deep inner peace and calm.
Therapists, counselors, and even healthcare professionals today recommend ‘journaling’ to their clients as a therapeutic tool. Journaling is nothing but putting down in writing the truth of one’s heart, one’s feelings, thoughts, worries, tensions, stresses, strains, preoccupations, all that causes inner churning and disturbance to the person with honesty and sincerity which results in inner peace and freedom.
Knowing the truth of our lives: In fact, ‘Truth sets you free’ is a truth that has been practiced from the time of Greek thinkers who said: “Know Thyself’. Knowing oneself is being in touch with the truth of one’s life, with all its sweetness and bitterness. Today we call it ‘mindfulness’ or ‘constant awareness’.
Isn’t this what Jesus tells repeatedly in the Gospels: “Be awake, be watchful, be alert”. These words are a wakeup call to be in touch with the truth of our life here and now. He is warning us not to take life and life processes for granted, but to be in touch with the precious truth of our life, all the time.
Jesus and truth: In fact, ‘truth sets you free’ is a partial statement. The full saying of Jesus is: “If you make my words the truth of your life, then you will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8: 32). The words of Jesus spring from his vision of life, founded on his Abba experience. In that momentous event Jesus discovered God as the loving father and mother of the entire human race and that he is the beloved son together with all the sons and daughters of human family. It was etched in his consciousness that the entire humanity belongs to Abba’s family.
Thus, it follows that there is no place for any discrimination. All are children of God. Everyone has inviolable rights, simply because they are human. This earth and its products belong to all. Hence, they are to be shared with all. There is no scope for monopoly or hoarding, there is no ‘mine and thine’, but all is ours. Abba wants us to be happy by living a life of sharing and caring. This is the core truth flowing from Jesus’ Abba experience. Hidden behind is the element of relatedness. So, Pope Francis rightly says that Christian truth is a relationship. (Fratelli Tutti). In fact, all the religions profess this foundational truth that declares that God is our father (or mother), and all men and women are brothers and sisters. It is this faith-perception that made Stan Swamy assert that Adivasis too are God’s beloved people, they too have human rights, the right to live in the forest land they have been living in for ages, right to fair and adequate compensation if their land is taken away. Happily this is affirmed by the Indian Constitution.
Consequences of untruth: If truth sets us free, the untruth enslaves us. It creates insecurity, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, doubt, causes divisions, hatred, violence, and destruction. Ultimately it leads to one’s own downfall, including that of the nation. We have several examples in history. Hitler (Germany) built his political career by propagating lies. So did Stalin (Russia), Mussolini (Italy), Pinochet (Chile), Francois Duvalier (Haiti) and several others. Gandhiji, on the other hand, followed the path of truth (Satyagraha) and ahimsa. Great leaders like Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela, did the same. They experienced inner freedom and deep joy and peace within. These have become great icons in history whom we should emulate.
How Truth helps us:
- Knowing the truth of our life helps us in our integral growth, i.e., physical, mental, psychological, spiritual, social and all the other dimensions
- Truth challenges us to examine ourselves and go for course correction.
- Truth is a bridge builder. In the exercise of reconciliation truth must be articulated. ‘Truth and Justice Commission” instituted in South Africa is a concrete example.
- Knowing the truth constantly through self-awareness is the key towards health, healing, and wholeness.
- Truthful conversation builds people, cements ties, deepens friendships.
- Knowing the truth all around us: social, political, cultural, economic puts us in touch with the painful situation of the world today and spurs us into constructive action.
- Truthful media, both electronic and print, do a great service to humankind through highlighting the truth about the problems people face. This way they promote justice and peace.
- Truthful living in the final analysis is the key to enjoying peace and joy, the result of living the values of the Kingdom. (Gaudete Et Exultate)
Challenge of Truthful Living: Truthful living is not easy. It’s very challenging as the following story illustrates. Once there was a ‘Truth Shop’ that was selling truths. One gentleman became curious. He went to the counter and asked for the truth. The man at the counter inquired whether he wanted full truth or partial truth. The man replied that he wanted full truth. He was directed to another counter. The man at that counter threw at him the same question: ‘Do you want full truth or partial truth?” The gentleman insisted that he wanted full truth. The seller warned him, ‘In such a case you will have to pay a heavy price”. The gentleman said, ‘I am ready to pay any price that you quote”. The seller said: “In such a case it will cost all your security, nay, even your life”. The gentleman got scared. He went away sad. (Anthony D’ Mello)
William Sequeira, SJ (KAR) has been a Jesuit formator all his life. He has served as Director of Pre-Novices, Novices, and Juniors. He served also as the Rector of Mount St. Joseph and Director of Dhyanashrama Retreat House. For the past few years he has been a Tertian Instructor.