Thursday, September 13, 2012

Truth or Dare

Feast of St John Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor

By Revd Permanent Deacon Dr Sherman Kuek OFS

Being a former Protestant, I'm acutely aware that the year 2017 will be, for our separated brethren, a year of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I was wondering if I should, perhaps, join them in this celebration as an act of solidarity. But Cardinal Kurt Koch, the President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, has decided that the Church will not participate in this celebration. He says a commemoration is fine, but not a celebration. His given reasons: "We cannot celebrate a sin."

In the past few days, we have spoken of many types of sins... societal sin, historical sin, political sin, even ecclesial sin. But there is one sin we seem to have left out: the sin against truth; sin against the cross.

The first reading today speaks not only of the importance of truth, but also of understanding the very subtle nuances that distinguish truth from deception. This is very crucial, as any delusional hermeneutic of truth can potentially cause defenders of truth to be construed as evil villains, while dissenters of truth can be mistaken as persecuted underdogs in a world governed by subjective hermeneutics and the tyrany of relativism.

Was St John Chrysostom a hero or a villain? Anti-institutional liberators might take pride in the fact that this saint smuggled valuable ornaments out of his palace in Constantinople to be sold off for the sake of the poor. But this very same patriarch loved his Church and would have defended the sanctity of this institution to his death, especially against assaults on divinely revealed truth. This makes him a man of the establishment. Hero or villain?

Is the Church our enemy? How can this be? She is our Mother, in whom we find refuge "when the waters have risen and the severe storms are upon us" (to use Chrysostom's words). She is the Bride of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit who guarantees that the truth which she communicates in all ages and in all places is the one faith, the Good News of Jesus and not the bad news of Man. How then could the Church be our enemy?

The gospel reading obliges us to identify who our real enemies are. It reminds us that human beings are not our enemies, and we should not hate them. We should love them and pray for them. The real enemies of today are ideologies, found without and within the Church that threaten to tear the fabric of its two-thousand year kerygma and replace it with the dictatorship of relativism.

What is most disturbing about the current onslaughts on truth is not so much that the black and white have been made grey, but rather, that the black has become white and the white becomes black. Heroes are actually villains, and villains are but misunderstood heroes. I remember a German Lutheran Professor from Tubingen University once confronting me with this question, "What is tuth? Is there even such a thing anymore?" I think even Luther would have flipped in his grave had he heard this rhetorical question from his Lutheran descendant.

If there is no objective truth that exists beyond the clutches of subjective hermeneutics, then let us humanise Jesus and fashion him according to our own desired image, and intellectually name this academic project "the search for the historical Jesus". To celebrate the culmination of human reason as the arbiter of truth, let us sit around Eucharistic altars in self-adulation while singing "Kumbaya".

What does the cross require of us? Eusebius, the historian of the Council of Nicea, records how the Council Fathers entered into the meeting with lost limbs and scars of torture. He called this a meeting of the "confessing Church", perhaps in words used in this retreat, the Church of the cross.

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