The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Dear brothers and sisters,
A few days ago, one of my acquaintances on Twitter posted a poll in which he asked a thought-provoking question: “In your opinion, which of these is the world most lacking at present: goodness, truth, or beauty?” Of the 585 votes he received, 52.5% of them said the world today is most lacking truth. Of the possible choices, truth had my vote, but I was surprised it received so many.
There is an intriguing connection between goodness, truth, and beauty. As the Catechism teaches us, “The practice of goodness is accompanied by spontaneous spiritual joy and moral beauty. Likewise, truth carries with it the joy and splendor of spiritual beauty. Truth is beautiful in itself.” Because of their interconnectedness, goodness, truth, and beauty cannot really be separated, even though we typically think of them as distinct realities.
Goodness, truth, and beauty are what the philosophers and theologians call the Transcendentals because “they not only ”transcend” or exist independently from material things, but when we pay attention and try to detect them in the physical world, our heart and mind can be drawn upwards to God.”
Indeed, God himself is Goodness, Truth, and Beauty and something in this world is only true, beautiful, or good to the extent it shares in the truth, beauty, and goodness of God. Beauty, after all, does not truly lie in the eye of the beholder, but in God.
Here we recall what the Lord Jesus said of himself: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” and “No one is good but God alone” (John 14:6; Mark 10:18). We also remember when the Apostles saw him transfigured, that “his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light;” his beauty was so great that the Apostles “fell prostrate and were very much afraid” (Matthew 17:2, 6). Even as goodness, truth, and beauty can cause some trepidation within us, they remain always attractive to us; we always desire more goodness, more truth, and more beauty because we do not yet possess them in full; we do not yet possess God.
While these three Transcendentals are each found within God, he has only explicitly associated himself with Truth: “I am the truth,” he says, and “if you remain in my word, you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John8:31-32). This is why Saint Augustine said, “True happiness is to rejoice in the truth, for to rejoice in the truth is to rejoice in you, O God, who are the Truth, for you, my God, my true Light, to whom I look for salvation. This is the happiness of desire. All desire this, the only state of happiness. All desire to rejoice in the truth.”
Why do I bring this up today? What does it have to do with the Sacred Scriptures we have just heard? Admittedly not much, but we might say the Nazarenes sought “to hurl [Jesus] down headlong” off the brow of the hill because they did not accept the truth of who he is (Luke 4:29). They refused to conform themselves to the Truth – to Christ Jesus himself – because they were lacking in the virtues of faith, hope, and love (cf. I Corinthians 13:13).
This past week, Pope Francis met with the judges of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota, the appellate court in Rome that handles petitions for declarations of nullity of marriage, more commonly – and incorrectly – called “annulments.” This address caught my attention because one of the roles I have in the diocesan curia is handling petitions for the declaration of marriage nullity.
When he spoke to the rotal judges, the Holy Father emphasized the importance of living in accord with the truth. He said,
Overcoming a distorted view of marriage cases, as if they were concerned with merely subjective interests, it must be rediscovered that all the participants in the case are required to contribute towards the same objective, that of shining a light on the truth of a real union between a man and a woman, arriving at the conclusion regarding the existence or otherwise of a true marriage between them.
What does he mean here?
Very often when a party to a failed marriage seeks a declaration of nullity of marriage – that is, a declaration of the Church that, for whatever reason, a real marriage was never actually entered into by the two parties even though it looked like a marriage – there is an assumption that an affirmative judgment will be given simply because someone has asked for one. Then, when a negative decision is given - meaning a true marriage actually was entered into between the parties and that, consequently, they are not free to enter into a new marriage in accord with Jesus’ teachings on the permanence of marriage – they become upset with the judges or with the Church and seek to live life on their own terms instead of living in accord with the truth (cf. Matthew 19:9).
This is a danger for each of us, not only when it comes to living the truth about marriage, but of every aspect of human life. For example, today there is an especially grave danger for many to chose not to live in accord with the truth of their own bodies. For others, there is the temptation not to live in accord with the truth of their convictions; they condemn one political party for doing what their favored party did last year. Many parents face the temptation of not living in accord with the truth of what it means to be a mother or a father. For all of us there is the temptation not to live in accord with the truth of what it means to be a Christian, of what it means to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus.
Why is it that we fail to live in accord with the truth? The simple and very real answer is sin. Sin darkness our intellects; sin makes us stupid and leads us to choose a false good, something we perceive to be good or beautiful or true but which really is not.
The human heart is a unique reality; it can never be empty. It will always desire and seek after truth, goodness and beauty. Every person in every age and place, whether they believed in God or not, has always strived for, and chosen what they thought was true, good and beautiful.
Making a daily examination of conscience and a regular confession of sins is of vital importance to each of us because doing so sheds light on our sins and illumines our intellect to help us chose what is really good, true, and beautiful; it helps to choose what is aligned with God and so to live in the truth by being authentic disciples of the Master.
Instead of seeking to hurl Jesus out of our lives when we do not agree with him, let us beg him to not only help us discover the truth of life and of our existence – to discover himself – but also to live in accord with the truth in every aspect of our lives. At the beginning of this Mass, we prayed to God “that we may honor you with all our mind, and love everyone in truth of heart.” By our desire for happiness, for joy in truth, may he bring it fulfillment in us, for there can be no love without truth. Amen.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2500.
 Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead, “The Transcendentals,” Catholic Sun, 22 September 2019. Accessed 29 January 2022. Available at https://www.catholicsun.org/2019/09/22/gods-footprints-in-our-world/.
 Saint Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, X.23.
 Pope Francis, Address to the Officials of the Tribunal of the Roman Rota for the Inauguration of the Judicial Year, 27 January 2022.
 Bishop Thomas J. Olmstead, “The Transcendentals.”
 Collect for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Roman Missal.