Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila: What is Truth?

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DENVER, CO - APRIL 3: A cross rests on a pillow before being venerated during the celebration of the Lord's Passion on Good Friday at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception April 3, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

By Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila, Denver Catholic, April 6, 2017

Archbishop AquilaAs we approach Holy Week, I am returning to a meditation I have been making in my heart on Jesus’ statement to Pilate, “I came into the world to testify to the truth,” and over the next three days he did just that through his Passion, Death and Resurrection.The Church relives and celebrates Jesus’ testimony to the truth during the Triduum, the three final days of Holy Week known as Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. During these three days, we encounter Jesus in the gift of the Eucharist, his death for us, and his resurrection, in which sin and death are conquered.

Last summer when I was on my annual 8-day silent retreat, I meditated on the Passion of Christ in John’s Gospel and the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus. I often reflected on Pilate’s profoundly skeptical response — “What is truth?” – to Jesus stating that he came to testify to the truth. Pilate’s skepticism and flippant tone capture our own times well.

During my retreat, Jesus’ statement of his mission that triggered Pilate’s dismissive question came alive for me. Christ declared, “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” (Jn 18:37). The words of Jesus struck my heart and have continued to resonate in my heart since the retreat.

In the times in which we live, truth has in many ways been discarded. We live in a time of relativism, when even things that contradict the truth are viewed as “true” if the person believes them. We have become blind to the truth and never want to contradict what a person says or thinks is true, even if the evidence is contradictory.

Some of you may have seen the YouTube video with almost 2 million views that displays this approach to the truth so obviously. In the Family Policy Institute’s video, a 5’ 9” white man asks college students what they would say if he claimed he was 6’ 5” Chinese woman. Seven of the students he interviewed refused to contradict him, even though it was clear he did not fit that description. We see the same phenomenon in the case of people who claim to be genderless, such as Time Magazine’s March 15th cover story. Despite alterations that people might make to their clothes, bodies or behaviors, a DNA test will show that they are either male or female. The test will not show that they have multiple genders or are genderless.

In the past, people who acted in this way would have been considered delusional or irrational, but today, reason and logic are cast aside in the name of tolerance and open-mindedness, no matter how absurd the claim being made is.

Into this confused and lost world, Jesus’ words to Pilate ring out. “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.” The theme of truth runs strongly through John’s Gospel, as we hear at the beginning of the Gospel where Christ is described as “full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14).

But the gift of Jesus is not just that he gives us the truth and is the truth. John’s Gospel also tells us that “the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).

Jesus desires us to come to the truth – to come to him and be free. Only by encountering Jesus in his Word, in the sacraments, in prayer and in others do we come to know the Father and his eternal love for us (cf. Jn 14:6). Jesus is the way, the truth and the life! Every human being is born for the truth and longs for the true freedom that Christ alone gives.

Truth and freedom go together; not the freedom to do ‘whatever I want as long as it doesn’t “hurt” anyone,’ but freedom that is rooted in truth and goodness and directed towards God, who is all good (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1730-1748). Only when freedom is directed towards the true and good can one experience happiness, peace and fulfillment. This is because when we move away from all that is evil and toward the truth of Jesus, he sets us free from sin and guides us to the will of the Father. This is the work of a life-time, yet the more deeply we encounter Jesus as the truth, the freer we become.

As we enter Holy Week, I encourage you, my brothers and sisters, to mediate on the Passion of Jesus and ponder in your hearts the words of Jesus, especially his words on truth. Reflect in your hearts about how you have been influenced by the relativism of our day. All of us are influenced by it, even if we are unware of it. Do you listen to the voice of Jesus or the voice of the world? Are you skeptical and flippant like Pilate in response to Jesus’ words or do you encounter and receive them? Jesus desires that you come to know him so that you may encounter him who is true, who has died and risen for you so that you may walk in true freedom. Open your hearts to that encounter and give witness to it in a world sorely in need of the truth, Jesus, who is our Lord and fills our hearts with joy!

To help you encounter the truth and the mercy of Jesus, I want to remind you to participate in the novena of Divine Mercy that begins on Good Friday, April 14. You can find the novena either in your parishes in a brochure or by simply searching the web for “Divine Mercy Novena.” May you have a blessed Holy Week and may you come to encounter the Truth, Jesus Christ, and his mercy and love for you!


The Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila is the eighth bishop of Denver and its fifth archbishop. His episcopal motto is, “Do whatever he tells you” (Jn 2:5).