The Difference between Love and Hate Is Truth
A few days ago I received this email message:
I for one am a Roman Catholic who favors gay marriage. I know my Theology, I know my conscience, and I’m comfortably sure Jesus would embrace gay couples. I've met many gay people who are far holier than many of our supposed clergy, religious and other catholic bigots who are so against human love. God bless my gay Catholic brothers and sisters who survive in the love of Christ despite the repression and hatred of the fanatics! And I know you HATE opposing views—because ultimately it will frighten the shit out of you to see who surrounds the loving Christ in his glory in heaven!!!
This message is even more striking in that it purportedly came from a Sister who signed herself “a future ordained woman priest”. I hope this is not true, but I have no reason to doubt it, especially considering the known views of many religious in the dying female religious orders and the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, both of which have been recent subjects of much-need Apostolic visitations.
In any case, this writer presents an all-too common vision of Christian love based on a complete misunderstanding. I am referring to the notion that the imitation of Christ consists chiefly in warm and sympathetic feelings toward others.
This attitude is always a potential danger when we emphasize the law of love. As Augustine said, “love and do what you will.” But the problem is that often we do not know how to love. It was an important purpose of Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) to demonstrate that love is inseparable from truth. Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) made the same point, famously beginning with the rich young man’s question: “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”
The way I tried to explain this to my correspondent was as follows:
You may know “your” theology, but apparently you don’t understand the first thing about theology—namely that it must be an inquiry into Revelation. And apparently you either do not know or do not accept the Catholic Faith, which is based on that Revelation, and which is defined through the only institution to have infallible authority to determine its contents.
Her response was predictable: “My faith is fine, my prayer life is fine, my relationship with Christ is quite fine, thank you, you judgmental fool.” I may, of course, be a fool. But the key to this whole discussion is that we must make judgments about the truth if we are to love authentically—that is, if we are to will the good of another. If we do not know what the good is, then we cannot support and assist others in reaching it. Our love will be reduced to a mere feeling with the same effects as hatred. It will do terrible harm to others by either confirming them in evil, or leading them into it.
God’s Way, Not Ours
This question has nothing to do with “welcoming gays” on the one hand or “Catholic bigots” on the other. Christ loved everyone and invited everyone to respond to his call, but it was a call of repentance: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mk 1:14-15). Similarly, when the crowd asked Peter on Pentecost what they should do, Peter said: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Then he warned: “Save yourselves from this crooked generation” (Acts 2:40).
The point is that there is a specific content to Revelation. There are specific truths to be accepted, grasped, and internalized. Insofar as we assist others in living more fully in the truth, we love them; insofar as we make up our own “truth” and encourage others to do the same, we fail to love them. We may find ourselves more comfortable, more at home in the world. But when we love what the world loves, we hate.
Our Lord Himself, who gave us one sign after another to authenticate His Revelation of the Father, dealt quite severely with this refusal to recognize a need for repentance and conversion in the Truth. He even mentioned Sodom, where acting on homosexual inclinations was the besetting sin:
Then he began to upbraid the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it shall be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you. (Mt 11:20-24)
The Christian message requires a specific commitment, a commitment to live in the truth. Our Lord’s priestly prayer on Holy Thursday, offered for all of His disciples in all times, stressed this very theme:
I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth. (Jn 17:15-19)
To make up our own truth is not to love, but in fact to hate. Understanding this is the first step in theology, just as it is the first step in prayer. Apart from truth, we cannot possibly love and then do what we will, because we cannot love at all.
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Posted by: Randal Mandock -
Oct. 04, 2016 9:58 PM ET USA
I developed the habit as an apologist 20+ years ago of referring to non-Catholic Christians who become Catholic as entering into full communion with the Catholic Church. This is the language of the Church and is safe to use in all contexts.
Posted by: SueFelix2644 -
Apr. 12, 2013 8:14 PM ET USA
Vocal dissenters of the faith aren't just the religious, they are our fellow parishioners who serve in the liturgical ministries, as catechists, as parish council members, and in other leadership positions. They frequently hide their hostility; they have pleasant personalities and attract people to "their side" with honey and of course with an air of authority. Orthodox Catholics who are spurned when they try to speak up with the truth can easily feel demeaned, helpless and hopeless.
Posted by: -
Apr. 12, 2013 3:23 PM ET USA
It's amazing to me, Dr. Jeff, that this lady calls herself a Sister, but engages in name calling and scatalogical language. I just can't help myself, That's no lady, that's a nun.
Posted by: AgnesDay -
Apr. 12, 2013 12:54 PM ET USA
I wonder what prompted this lady to e-mail you with such ferocity. You didn't mention the situation to which you were responding. We should pray for her. Apparently her poor abused conscience is giving her some prodding.
Posted by: jg23753479 -
Apr. 10, 2013 9:02 PM ET USA
What is truly sad here is that your correspondent may indeed be a nun. I know of a similar case, a nun who taught me in 2nd grade and whom I admired for years. Recently, though, I discovered she had embraced a nihilistic approach to the Church and truth similar to what we read in this nun's message. I sometimes wonder if these women realize what they have lost along with their habits, the respect and admiration of those they once taught? How predictably silly their bizarre notions seem to us?