Speaking Truth in Love

Over at Whispers in the Loggia, the hard-working Rocco has an interesting post on Cardinal Wuerl’s most recent article on the issue of civil discourse, “Speaking Truth in Love”, noting that the cardinal’s high-profile (and, as head of the Archdiocese of Washington, unique) position in the American Catholic Church makes his thoughts on the matter particularly significant:

While each of us can claim a unique identity, we are, nonetheless, called to live out our lives in relationship with others — in some form of community.

All human community is rooted in this deep stirring of God’s created plan within us that brings us into ever-widening circles of relationship: first with our parents, then our family, the Church and a variety of community experiences, educational, economic, cultural, social and, of course, political. We are by nature social and tend to come together so that in the various communities of which we are a part, we can experience full human development. All of this is part of God’s plan initiated in creation and reflected in the natural law that calls us to live in community.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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What does this have to do with toning down our rhetoric? Everything! No community, human or divine, political or religious, can exist without trust.

The discussion of civility (or lack of it) has been much in the news of late, with vastly differing opinions as to how much we have (or have not) fallen away from it in our public discourse. And while I suspect there is significant room for disagreement over how to best balance the “truth” and “love” sides of the equation, the cardinal’s point about the essentially communal setting in which we must practice it seems worth noting.

While the article itself is likely to raise a few of the familiar hackles, it’s a good reminder for us all (individually) to strive for a bit more civility — a reminder that will never be amiss, even for those of us who have found ways to completely absolve ourselves from any whiff of incivility.

But beyond its undeniable value in that regard, I was struck by the way in which the cardinal’s point about community explains why we keep having this conversation, and why we will continue to have it for the foreseeable future (at the very least). If each of us were speaking/writing/pontificating in a vacuum, there would be no need for communicating the truth in a loving way. Anything we said would just be true or not. End of story.

But as soon as we step out of our vacuum and attempt to communicate that truth, the people with whom we are attempting to communicate become an inescapable part of the equation. And while the effort to express our opinions in love should never be allowed to come at the expense of truth, I think it is dangerous for us to set them up in opposition to one another unless we are very, very sure such a dichotomy is absolutely necessary.


  • Joseph Susanka

    Joseph Susanka has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since his graduation from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. Currently residing in Lander, Wyoming — “where Stetsons meet Birkenstocks” — he is a columnist for Crisis Magazine and the Patheos Catholic portal.

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