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Truth and Power – A Reflection

March 1, 2020

As we walked this afternoon in the windy and chilly outdoors, I couldn’t help but think of the struggle between Power and Truth. I was listening to a recording of a lecture that Thomas Merton offered to the Novices at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane where he was the Novice Master.

With all that is going on in the world today, the struggle is very real. From politicians spinning yarns and stretching the truth to the breaking point to lies on the battlefield, it is small wonder that truth has become so distorted. In his 1962 lecture on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception Merton was addressing this struggle as the world faced a potential nuclear Armageddon. It was a few months after the Cuban Missile Crisis. It all went back to the struggle between truth and power. The following is a part of that lecture.

One of the great deficits, weaknesses &/or problems of society is the weakening of the sense of truth. What has weakened the sense of truth is the struggle for power. The unrestrained will to power which is characteristic of our age today. The will to power where will suppresses truth instead of following truth. We live in an age where men (people) manufacture their own truth. What’s not important is truth but the favorable image is what makes other people’s will go in the direction of your power.

As Jesus stood before Pilate, they had the following exchange in John‘s Gospel: Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him.” (John 18:33-38)

Just what is truth? Is it the spin offered by media and politicians? Is it warped by the lust for power? Have we truly become individuals without the gift of Critical Thinking? Today, as in Merton’s day and in other times down through the ages, we need to discover and claim the truth which Jesus offered. He fulfilled the Law and the Prophets. What was the summation? “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” — Matthew 22:37-40

This is the truth that power cannot corrupt or pollute. This is the sort of truth which breaks down barriers that have been put up in the name of power.

  1. In this confusing and complex world of ours, we need truth more than ever. Thanks!

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