Teaching the truth in love, even when it’s difficult

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Bishop Ricken

Lately, I have been reflecting on the words “truth” and “love” and the relationship between them. These two short words are rich in meaning, yet often misunderstood in our modern world. As Christians, understanding the correct meaning of truth and love is essential if we are to live as disciples of Jesus. In my role as teacher of the faith for the Diocese of Green Bay, I want to share a bit more about the meanings of these words and how they relate to each other.

A common misconception in our world today is that the truth is whatever a person makes it. We hear people speak of “my truth” and “your truth,” but this reveals a fundamental misunderstanding. You and I don’t get to decide the truth; it has been revealed to us by God. As children of God, our responsibility is to seek the truth, to embrace the truth and to live in the truth, even when it’s difficult. As Jesus says in John’s Gospel, “the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32). The trouble is that sometimes knowing the truth hurts like “you know what.”.

There is likewise a common misunderstanding today of the word “love.” Many people associate love with a feeling, but the Christian understanding is that love is an action, not a feeling. To love is to will or desire the good of another person, to put their good before our own. Loving in this way is difficult because it requires us to put someone else’s needs before our own.

The mistaken notions of truth and love lead to another common misconception in our world today. Some people believe that sharing a difficult truth with another person is not loving. After all, they might say, how can upsetting or hurting someone be good? While it’s understandable that we don’t want to hurt those who we love, by failing to share the truth, we are actually putting our own good before theirs. Imagine a mother who refused to tell her young son to keep his hand away from a hot stove because she knew saying “no” would upset her child. Would this be a loving thing to do? Of course not. As you can see, sometimes we need to share the truth with others because failure to do so could lead to their harm.

Two recent events illustrate the importance of understanding the relationship between truth and love. Last week the Holy Father, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), reaffirmed the church’s teaching that same-sex unions cannot be blessed by the church. The statement made clear that all people are to be welcomed by the church and are loved by the church. Still, the church cannot bless that which is spiritually harmful to an individual or a couple. To do so would be to fail to authentically love that person. Love is always truthful, which means love is sometimes difficult.

At the same time, when we share difficult truths like this, we have a responsibility to do so with love. One of the ways we can do this is by walking closely with others through their difficulties. This is the example that Jesus modeled for us in his life. Jesus does not withhold the truth from us, even when it is hard to hear. Yet, he also loves us, even when we reject the truth. He continues to offer himself to us, inviting us back into relationship with him, knowing that when we embrace the truth, we will be set free. In the same way, the church has a responsibility to walk with people who are struggling to understand and embrace the true meaning of marriage as established by God.

I am grateful for the Holy Father’s clarity on this question and the expression of care that the church continues to affirm for individuals with same-sex attraction. Along with the Holy Father, I pray that this witness to the truth of the human person by the church may be a grace that challenges all of us to live more deeply in the love that Christ brings to the world.

The second situation has to do with a proposed bill currently before the U.S. Senate called the Equality Act. The purpose of the bill is to protect people experiencing same-sex attraction and gender discordance from unjust discrimination, which is a worthy purpose. However, the bill would require people of faith to accept as true some teachings about gender and sexual orientation that go against their deeply-held religious convictions. In doing so, the Equality Act poses a threat to our religious freedom and undermines the Christian understanding of the human person.

While difficult, we have a responsibility to speak the truth in love in the face of this legislation. I encourage everyone in the diocese to learn more about the Equality Act and to defend the faith by reaching out to your senators. Please go to gbdioc.org for more details on this legislation and how you can act in truth and love.

Friends, loving in truth and telling the truth in love is difficult, especially given the misunderstandings of these words in our world today. As your bishop, it is my responsibility to teach the truth in love, even when doing so is difficult. May each of us turn to our loving Father that he may teach us how to truly love and lovingly tell the truth!

Follow Bishop Ricken on Twitter, @BpDavidRicken.