We Are All Liars
With the many sufferings afflicting our Church in the past several years, we have all experienced certain emotions: outrage, indignation, anger. And for many of us it is difficult to see past our anger and resentment. Yet, the Church is no stranger to internal corruption and division. So how have the saints of the past kept their focus on personal holiness amid a flood of distractions? They stopped putting their faith in men, and instead put their faith in Christ. Why? Because all men are liars.
We Are Nothing in Comparison to God
St. Teresa of Avila, in Interior Castle, spends a good deal of her energy on the exposition of one truth: we are nothing in comparison to God, and it is this knowledge, rather than our activism (or preoccupation with current affairs), that will lead to our salvation and the salvation of others.
Self-knowledge is the key to a higher state of being, but not in any Cartesian sense. True knowledge of self lies in exploring our own nature in relation to the nature of God. The conclusion: we are nothing compared to the completeness, the infinite fullness that is God. This knowledge of what we are versus what He is allows us to be humble in the face of the Divine Majesty. And this leads us to behave in such a manner as to lead us to a greater intimacy with Him; a literal ascendancy to a greater Good.
“I said in my alarm, ‘All men are liars.’ ”
When the reality of God’s relationship to man is realized, so also is man’s relationship to man. Because of the terrible imperfection of man, we learn to place our trust not in man, but in God.
Can any mere man assure our salvation? No. Those legitimate shepherds that God gives us can be of great assistance with their wisdom and counsel, but they cannot assure salvation.
The ability to save resides in Him who is Truth. By comparison to God, then, all a man can be is an imperfect shadow of that truth. As St. Teresa points out, it is this awareness that prompts David to speak the words “all men are liars” (Ps. 116:11).* If God is the infinite fullness of truth, than all men by comparison are liars.
To Whom Can We Turn?
So we should put our trust only in our heavenly Father. However, this does not mean that the Church has no role in our salvation; in fact, it has a very critical role. The life of the Christian in his journey towards eternity is eased by the sacraments and the ministry (on different levels) of holy men and women. The road to heaven, in which lie the steps of humility, is emblazoned with trail markers set in place by the invaluable wisdom of the Church’s teachings.
In these things, we do not rely on the man who gives the message. We rely on Christ who speaks to us directly through these instruments. We must be aware that our Faith should not be based on human relationships. Our Faith is not based on our love for our spouse, children, spiritual director, priest, bishop, or even our Pope. We might love all of these persons—as well we should! But if we cannot imagine retaining our Faith if our spouse should die, or if one of our children should leave the Faith, or if our bishop and Pope should turn on us—then it is time to reconsider the basis of our Faith.
A solid relationship with Christ needs to be the first and most defining characteristic of all human relationships. In marriage, for example, we act to please God, and in doing so pray that we may also please our spouse. So must it be in all relationships.
Even if all else should fail, we may still rely upon our love for Christ (and His for us) and the service that we render Him in accordance with His teachings.
Keeping Our Eyes on the Road
Today’s distractions are many. For some, the temptation is to allow ourselves to become mired in the despair of our current situations. For others, our desire is to drop everything in our daily lives so that we can embark on the task of righting the wrongs and bringing justice to sinners.
The answer to both temptations is a greater attention to personal sanctity, an endeavor that must definitely precede an attempt to reform others.
It may seem like we will never achieve our goals for a speedy conclusion to our current problems. When so much is wrong in the world, it can seem an exercise in futility to waste time on an “introverted” pursuit of holiness. What role can a pure pursuit of humility have in a time when the humble are being buffeted from all sides; when we want to stand on a podium, point the finger at our leaders and shout: “Liar!”?
We are all liars. I am the first person I should be humbling.
It is a tongue-biting, difficult task for all of us. But if our eyes are cast down in humility, at least we can see the road by which we are traveling.
* The translation of this psalm is from a prominent translation of Interior Castle by St. Teresa of Avila. Some other translations render it “No man is dependable” (NA) or “Men are all a vain hope.” I cannot speak as to which translation is the most accurate.
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