There is an unfortunate tendency in our times to confuse or equate kindness with charity. There is the tendency to prioritize never offending or upsetting others, over proclaiming the truth. And while it is true that kindness and not intentionally hurting other’s feelings or causing offense is a  good thing, it is not so good that the truth should be suppressed in order to accomplish it.

But, it is a sadly common today. Consider a priest, who, in order not to give offense or cause others to be upset, does not preach important aspects of the Gospel or the moral law. Consider the strange modern phenomenon of parents who want to be their children’s a friend and almost seem to feel fear of their children’s anger,  so they do not discipline, they do not correct. Consider a family gathering when one or  more of the members around the table are involved in serious and unrepentant sin, yet in order to “keep the peace,” instructions are given not to mention such unpleasant things, or to do or say something about it since it might upset someone.

Yes, many people mistakenly equate charity with kindness and refuse to insist on accountability, to warn of sin, or to distinguish error from truth. Yet these things are a necessary part of true charity. In so doing, some feelings maybe hurt.  And while upsetting people is not directly intended, it is sometimes a necessary component of fraternal correction.

Without such necessary correction, one’s feelings may be spared, but ones soul may in fact be lost!

Consider a medical analogy. What if a patient went to the doctor, who, observing the test results could see that the patient had a very serious cancer that needed immediate attention. But what if that Doctor were to say to himself, “I don’t want to upset the patient. I don’t want to cause him grief.”  And so the doctor either says nothing, or even lies and says “You’re fine go home, rest assured.”  We would say that this doctor is guilty of malpractice.  The charitable thing to do is speak the truth to this person, along with reassurance and proposed solutions,  or at least ways to ameliorate the problem.

And yet when it comes to spiritual or moral truth, it is precisely malpractice that many Christians exhibit.  We would not call the lying doctor charitable, or even kind.   He is simply guilty of malpractice.

So it is with God’s prophets who are called to speak the truth. We are guilty of malpractice if we don’t speak it in love. Priests who do not teach their congregations on critical moral issues or warn sinners are guilty of malpractice, they are not charitable, they are not even kind, though they may get credit for it. Neither are parents who do not discipline their children or insist upon the truth. Likewise for any Christian who walks through this hell-bound sin-soaked world and says little.

We may all get credit for being nice, and popular, but to suppress the truth is neither charitable nor is it kind.  Frankly, it is a form of cruelty.

It is true, that we ought to look for the best opportunities to speak to others, simply blurting out the truth without charity, might be ineffective.   And truth without charity really isn’t truth. We may also look for and ponder ways of speaking that will not cause undue grief or anger, we may understand that some issues are more important deal with first, before others etc.

But we cannot endlessly delay what must be done. To fail to speak the truth is not love, it is not charity, it is not kindness. It is really just self-serving and its ugliness is compounded by the fact that we so easily congratulate ourselves for being tolerant, kind and nice. But none of these notions should be confused with holiness or Charity. They are more about “me” and protecting and advancing “me” and steering clear of unpleasantries. Never mind that some people I am being “nice” and “kind” to may go to Hell for my silence.

Jesus, who is Love, who is charity, often said things that shocked and provoked. Indeed, he incited enough anger to get killed.

We need to be careful about expressing our anger (unlike Jesus). Two days ago there was a lot of unholy and unnecessary nastiness in the combox. This post reminds us to speak the truth, and not equate mere kindness with Charity. However, it is not a license to be nasty, harsh, personal and mean. Truth spoken without love really isn’t truth. For, instead of serving truth, it harms it and makes it seem odious.

But that said, we have diverged from the virtues and mistakenly equated kindness with true charity. Jesus was not “kind” by any modern standard. He was, like any prophet, plain spoken and did not hesitate to pierce to the root of every human heart

Evil triumphs when the good remain silent. Too easily are the words fulfilled which say, The best lack all conviction, while the worst  Are full of passionate intensity. (Yeats). Love and charity do not exempt us from speaking the truth.

20 Responses

  1. Pamela Hinojoa says:

    Thanks for writing this Truth in Love! We need to be reminded of this! Did you mean to write in the last line…Love and Charity do Not exempt you from speaking the truth? I am assuming it was a typo that left out the NOT.

  2. Tailler Heuws says:

    Let us also remember that the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus into a rash response when they brought before Him the “woman caught in adultery.” He could have spoken the truth according to the “law” but His response was one of Divine clarification based in absolute authority. Instead of “stone her” it was “sin no more.” This “truth” invoked (or provoked?) a proper response.

    Also, the father of the prodigal son could have forcefully criticized that son for his foolishness, but the Lord taught us that he did not, and see the response? And then there was the lady who tearfully anointed the feet of Jesus, having been forgiven a great debt of sin.

    Truth and charity require balance, the recipe for which the Lord is the Expert.

    Personally, I’ve been quiet because I’m waiting on the result of all of my prior labors while I “clean up” what was left undone in the process (licking my wounds). Also, I have been waiting on God to inspire me into action. I suppose that is going to happen now. :-)

  3. Michelle says:

    Wow, Msgr. Pope, thank you for yet another powerful reflection. This was, as it so often seems to be, just what I needed to hear today.

    I’m looking very forward to that book you spoke of earlier this week!

  4. Tom says:

    There is, of course, a beautiful and holy kindness which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5). This kindness builds humility since it seeks to be gentle and considerate of others even when they may be hostile to us. Father Faber has a wonderful essay on kindness is his Growth in Holiness book.

    If we try to think kind thoughts, say kind things, and do kind deeds we will grow in the spirit of holiness and
    purity of heart. See also Fr. Lavasik’s book on kindness.

    Tom

  5. RJ Chavez says:

    Shouldn’t that last line have a ‘not’ in it?

  6. PD says:

    I’d be interested to hear what Msgr. or whomever for that matter thinks of Pope Francis’ recent interview (specifically remarks about obsessing over certain sins or moral issues) in light of what has been presented here.

  7. RichardGTC says:

    I am not even sure if Yeats was a Christian. Often, poets and such confess Jesus at the end of their lives. It is common knowledge that Yeats was influenced by the theosophists. I think it that famous phrase he saying something like this: ‘If you want to be the best, lack all conviction. If you want to be the worst, be full of passionate intensity.’ Of course, I am not disputing the central theme of your post.

    • Mary says:

      Richard, Msgr has quoted the lines as they were written in Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming. You should read the poem -it’s quite brilliant

  8. Bill says:

    Amen and Amen!!

    Sometimes it’s a good idea to “sleep” on it before expressing our concern to another!

  9. DR says:

    I agree completely with this article.

    Can you imagine Pope Francis calling St. John the Baptist on his Jordan River iPhone, and saying, “Listen here, John. I noticed you gave the first homily in the New Testament, and the first word out of your mouth was roared, ‘REPENT!!!’. Do you think you can lighten up for just a little while, and change that first word to, ‘I’m ok, you’re ok’, so you don’t hurt the delicate feelings of those hardened sinners who are speeding on their merry way to hell, at least not till you get to know them much better?”

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says that homosexuals will not inherit the Kingdom of God. If you love and care for a homosexual, you will gently and kindly and charitably let them know that simple truth, before it is too late. (See also the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” paragraph 2357, 2358, and 2359.)

    We should never try to deceive, or to hide the truth that could impact someone’s eternal salvation.

  10. Robbie J says:

    True, so true. As a husband and father I sometimes have to be the “bad guy” in order that things are put right within the family (of course this should be done lovingly; albeit firmly). It might incur some (minor) temporary unpleasantness but I’m looking at the long-term consequences. I personally have witnessed many friends who have doted on their children – giving in to their every whim and wish. It has always turned out badly; both for the parents and their children. Thank you, Msgr. Pope. God bless you!

  11. Jack Gordon says:

    Thank you, DR. I hadn’t thought of what you say here concerning John the Baptist, but it is certainly something worth pondering after this weeks controversy surrounding “The Interview”. Maybe I sensed this connection and that is what has been keeping me awake worrying these last several nights.

  12. TeaPot562 says:

    Do our catechisms for high school age kids need to be reviewed? Since revisions following Vatican II, there seems to be not much, if any, mention of Hell as a real possibility.
    TeaPot562

  13. J Carr says:

    I hope that someday should I be tested, I can can have an ounce of the courage that many of our Saint have shown. Pope Francis has shown this courage in the recent events in Syria. He spoke loudly in the defense of Christians throughout the world and courageously used every method available to show that the Church is a moral authority and is relevant in the world affairs. This Syria episode reminds me of blessed John Paul II when he stood up against mighty Russia and told his Polish compatriots not to be afraid. The truth is that the Popes at least in my lifetime have shown saintly traits including courage that can only come from men that fear God only and nothing else, character, wisdom, amazing intelligence and education that can only come from a discipline that is rare in the world leaders of recent history or at least that I can recall. In light of what I have seen of Pope Francis I am taking a second look at the Jesuit ways. I have always been in awe of their legendary courage. May God, our Almighty Father bless our Pope, his Cardinals, and our Church.

  14. Suzana says:

    Thank you, Msgr Pope. I relish the articles that you write for the Archdiocese of Washington DC. They are so insightful and encourage me to stay the course, which our Lord Jesus lights before us. God bless you and Cardinal Weirl as you sound a clarion call to Catholics… and to all Christians, to let our actions speak louder than our words…yes… but SPEAK. We must not fear to speak the truth, because He who isTruth has called us to be His voice in a fallen, evil obsessed world.
    Also, I wish to thank J Carr for his comment. You ‘speak’ well, my brother in the Faith.

    Closing with the words of Archbishop Fulton J Sheen… who spoke The Truth well.
    “Bye now… and God love you!”

  15. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    Obamacare is the definition of malpractice.

  16. anniem says:

    What does one do when one’s husband refuses to say anything to a son who is living with a woman, no marriage intended on either’s part? Another son is in 2nd marriage and refuses to apply for an annulment though I reminded him years ago he had several “grounds,” and confirmed by a priest in the diocese? A daughter is married civilly. They were all raised in the Faith, received all the sacraments, and two of them attended Catholic high school. We do not hide our Faith nor our practice; All our children know we attend Mass daily, pray together every day, and live as good a life as we know how with God’s grace. Three grandchildren are not baptized either, and we are forbidden to answer any questions about prayer, Church, God, etc. or we will “never see them again!” But we continue to pray for them. It seems nearly EVERYONE in our extended family (brother, sisters, aunts, uncles, in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews) has given up the Faith, do not attend Mass. Religion has no place in their lives. We pray every day for all of them, have Masses offered, but what to say? And how to say it? And when? I have defended the Church’s stand on homosexual practice, and the use of NFP with groups of family members. They seem to only know what they read in the secular papers and magazines. Would like a suggestion on what more we can do-what to say and how to say it regarding “living together.”

  17. Bill Foley says:

    Here is one of the most beautiful things that Blessed John Paul the Greatest ever said: “There is no love without truth.”

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