Monday, October 7, 2013

Francis: Love needs truth

Francis didn't even use the word dogma, but "love over dogma" was the take-away summary of the secularist press of the Pope's first interview. Catchy and pithy, the phrase does the job of calling attention to the centrality of love in Christianity and in the thinking of the recent Popes.

However, it can lead people to think the Pope is throwing away dogmatic truth. Francis in his more precise teachings has actually said: "love needs truth". He stressed that "If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time."

These he said in his first and most important teaching, the Encyclical Lumen Fidei, the Light of Faith:

Most people nowadays would not consider love as related in any way to truth. Love is seen as an experience associated with the world of fleeting emotions, no longer with truth.

But is this an adequate description of love? Love cannot be reduced to an ephemeral emotion... love aims at union with the beloved. Here we begin to see how love requires truth. Only to the extent that love is grounded in truth can it endure over time, can it transcend the passing moment and be sufficiently solid to sustain a shared journey. If love is not tied to truth, it falls prey to fickle emotions and cannot stand the test of time...

Without truth, love is incapable of establishing a firm bond; it cannot liberate our isolated ego or redeem it from the fleeting moment in order to create life and bear fruit.

The phrase "love over dogma", although missing in the actual text, brings forward a key strategy of effective leaders: First things, first. The essentially first truth of Christianity is love. God in his innermost life is love, and his project is aimed at leading his creatures to become like him: love incarnate. Truth and dogma are for this one goal of the universe. "The whole concern of doctrine and its teaching," the Catechism teaches, "must be directed to the love that never ends."

Francis knows this full well, and acutely understands that to help people open themselves to the essential and central truth of Christianity people have to experience God's love through the Pope's own attitude -- an experience of mercy, understanding and healing. And, by his example, he wants more people to experience the same through us.

Love the sinner, hate the sin is an ancient but timeless aphorism that bears its order of application. Thus Francis has been timing --and balancing, as he says -- his reminders on demanding truths. Only after he talked about mercy and healing, not judging and not condemning (all basic Catholic moral teachings), did he blast away at abortion. Nobody cares how much you know, said one wise man, until they know how much you care. And thank God, it seems to be working.

We can further understand the relationship between love and truth from the angle of the two great conflicting political ideologies of our time. These pervading biases have colored people's way of reacting to Pope Francis. "Liberals prioritize personal freedom. Conservatives prioritize objective truth," said Peter Kreeft with some over-generalization. "Liberals absolutize persons and see truth as relative to persons. Conservatives absolutize truth and see persons as relative to truth. (Both are right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny. Both persons and truth are absolute.)"

"If love needs truth, truth also needs love," preached Pope Francis. "Love and truth are inseparable."

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