This article is adapted from a reflection given at a pre-inauguration gathering sponsored by the Catholic Democrats.
“If you make my word your home, you are truly my disciples; then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8: 31–32)
“The Spirit of Truth will lead you into all truth.” (John 16:13)
We gather on the cusp of new beginnings with the inauguration of a new U.S. president and vice president. Beginnings are a time of looking back with sober insight, and looking ahead with new resolve.
Looking back, one of the most powerful lessons we’ve learned over the past four years is that words matter. Truth matters. Not only the truth about an election—a truth affirmed and reaffirmed through dozens of court decisions and ballot recounts. But deeper truths.
Truths, such as the foundational truth of Catholic social teaching, namely, the truth of the equal sacred human dignity of every person because they are created in the image of God. A truth that was debased when migrants were described as “infestations,” when U.S. citizens of color were told to “go back where you came from,” when developing nations were demeaned as “s-hole countries,” when multiracial peaceful protestors were denounced as “thugs,” while overwhelmingly white riotous insurrectionists were called “patriots” and “special.”
Truth matters. The truth of the Catholic conviction of inalienable human rights that flow from our God-given dignity. Not only the right to life, but also the rights to those things necessary for its full flourishing, such as food, shelter, access to healthcare, quality education, a healthy environment, and the protection of one’s rights under the law. A truth compromised when voting access is impeded. A truth mocked when callous indifference leads to more than four hundred thousand COVID deaths. A truth undermined by words we’ve heard too often: “I bear no responsibility.”
Truth matters. Words matter. The truth of the option for the poor and vulnerable, a truth grounded in the wisdom spoken so often by Mother Theresa of Calcutta: “It is our Christian conviction that we encounter Christ in the distressing disguise of the poor.” A truth undermined by calling immigrants “rapists,” the poor “parasites,” and deceased soldiers “losers and suckers.”
Truth matters, a conviction powerfully affirmed by Pope John Paul II, who declared that “truth is the basis, foundation, and mother of justice.” Without a respect for truth, without a dedication to the truth of the equal sacred dignity and worth of every human being, life together is endangered, compromised, even impossible.
The “big lie” that has duped so many of our people is not about a so-called “stolen” election. No, it’s the lie that those who don’t look like us, talk like us, think like us, worship like us, or love like us are not worthy. Not equal. Not human. The fear of the stranger, of the “other,” is at the root of our nation’s collective delusions and public lies. The opposite of living in truth is living in fear.
“If you make my word your home, the truth will set you free.” We’ve learned painfully, tragically, how much words matter. And we’ve witnessed the catastrophic consequences that follow when truth is debased, denied, and dismissed. Truth matters.
Yet beginnings are also times of looking ahead with new resolve. Jesus tells his disciples, and assures us, that we are not alone. We are not orphaned. Jesus sends the “Spirit of Truth to guide us into all truth.” We are not alone.