The past 2 weeks we’ve been discussing the 8th Commandment which says “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” It’s all about speaking the truth. But, sometimes speaking the truth can be hurtful.
Our Catechism teaches witnessing to the Gospel “is an act of justice that establishes the truth or makes it known (CCC 2472).” But witnessing the truth of the Gospel can be very difficult, even dangerous. Many Christians have chosen martyrdom rather than reject the truth of God. But what if speaking the truth can harm others? What if giving my truthful opinion leads to hurt feelings, animosity, or break up a relationship?
Jesus showed us the pursuit of truth must include the virtue of charity. That means speaking the truth in a humble and loving manner. St Paul told the Christians in Ephesus to speak “the truth in love”- with sincerity, compassion, and understanding (Ephesians 4:15.) We witness the truth in sincerity and love in 3 key ways: by taking up a matter with someone privately with great delicacy and diplomacy; by simply acting in a manner consistent with our intentions (don’t say one thing and do another); and acting with sincerity and humility (be aware of our own faults when pointing out the faults of others.) No matter how we speak the truth, we must make sure our own pride does not make us eager to point out the faults of others.
Our Catechism says charity and respect for truth should dictate our response to every request for information or communication. That includes those times when we must not divulge the truth – like keeping a secret to protect someone or being held to a professional oath of confidentiality. The Catechism says it’s OK to withhold the truth, or use discrete and evasive language to avoid it especially when the good and safety of others, respecting privacy, and the common good are involved. No one is bound to reveal the truth to someone who has evil intentions if the truth is known or has no right to know it (CCC 2489.) St Raymond said in situations like this, if our conscience justifies lying to protect someone, then we may do so. St. Augustine wrote that if our mind justifies a lie is the best answer to give in these situations, then we are not in violation of the 8th Commandment. Of course, both would say for a very good reason. An obvious good reason would be lying to the Nazi SS squads while hiding Jewish families in the attic during WW2.
We must always remember the Truth is Sacred; and Christ, who is the truth, expects us to testify to him by the truthfulness of our lives, our actions, and our words. We do this by being His humble, sincere, faithful followers; always showing mercy and compassion for others. In short, we do what Jesus would do; and treat others the way we would like to be treated.
Adapted from an “Introduction to Catholicism” by Father James Socias