How to Tell the Truth

‘Tis not enough, your counsel still be true;
Blunt truths more mischief than nice falsehoods do;
Men must be taught as if you taught them not;
And things unknown proposed as things forgot.
Without good breeding, truth is disapprov’d;
That only makes superior sense belov’d. ~ Alexander Pope

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Finding Wholeness Apart from the Multitudes

St. Paul tells us that “many” (multi) “walk” as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Worshipping “their belly” (desires), they “mind earthly things.” Though they “glory . . . in their shame,” we do not do well to follow them, for “their end is destruction.”

If we would do better, our conversation must be “in heaven, from whence also we look for the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ.” In Latin, Savior (Salvator) derives from salvus: “whole.” Our Savior is the one who makes us whole by fulfilling our deepest desires.

When we see the crowd chasing after “earthly things,” it is hard to believe so many could be so mistaken about something so important as the source of happiness. Yet how can anything that is passing away make us whole? Only Christ, who “is able to subdue all things unto himself,” can “reform the body of our lowness” from its multiple and inevitable corruptions; only he can make it “like to the body of his glory”—a glory that is true, and everlasting.

Jesus frequently spoke to crowds, but what he taught them was not to follow the crowd. This is particularly evident in the case of a double healing about which St. Matthew tells us.

While addressing “the multitudes,” Christ is approached by “a certain ruler.” This man, though he can himself command multitudes, ignores the masses and prostrates himself before the Lord. As Jesus departs to lay a hand upon the man’s dying daughter, a bleeding woman cuts her way through the crowd to touch “the hem of his garment.” Just as the ruler knows that the touch of Christ restores life, this woman knows that to touch the garment of Christ is to be made whole (salva).

As Christ approaches the young girl, now dead, he is met by another “multitude,” this one making a “tumult.” When he declares that the girl is “not dead”—not to his divine power—they laugh him to scorn. In response, Christ teaches us how to deal with multitudes hostile to the truth: he has “the multitude . . . put forth” before raising the maid to life.

Those who seek genuine wholeness rather than popular substitutes must be prepared to endure mockery, and worse. Though we love each of its members, we must learn to bar the multitude and its errors from our hearts, and grasp instead the hand of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Wondrous Sound the Trumpet Flings!

I possess precious few words for describing music, yet I marvel at the ways composers can bring a text to life, helping us to ponder its significance.

The aforementioned Dies Irae is a perfect example. One verse in particular may help to illustrate my point.

Tuba mirum spargens sonum, per sepulcra regionum, coget omnes ante thronum.”

“Wondrous sound the trumpet flings; through earth’s sepulchers it rings; all before the throne it brings.”

The wonderous sound is of course the voice of our Creator, and its power is that of our Judge—and Redeemer. It is a power capable of summoning the dead, and of offering them eternal life.

In Mozart’s version, the line is delivered in less than a minute, but its power is unmistakable.

Something similar and uniquely beautiful happens in this Requiem by Jan Dismas Zelenka (1679-1745). Zelenka is a Czech composer who produced a plethora of sacred works of exquisite beauty. Listen to how he evokes the trumpet of eternity:

The entire Requiem is well worth listening to!

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Day of Wrath? Or Day of Mercy?

It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins.

2 Mac. 12:46

Sacred music can play an important role in helping us to digest the wisdom contained in sacred texts. By evoking passions befitting the truths of faith, music can help the intellect gain a better grasp of these principles, and assist us in regulating our passions (and hence our lives) in accordance with right reason.

During the month of November, the Church urges us to pray for the souls of the faithful departed. The supreme form of and model for such prayers is the Requiem Mass. From Gregorian chant to Mozart’s unfinished but justly celebrated masterpiece, Christian culture has given us many musical aids to the fulfilment of this holy and wholesome duty.

Praying for the dead, we are reminded that “all flesh shall come to thee, (O God)” (Ps. 64:3). At the heart of the traditional Requiem Mass is the Dies Irae, a liturgical sequence that prompts us to reflect at length on our own inevitable demise.

In recent times, the Dies Irae has been rejected on the grounds that it “overemphasize[s] judgment, fear, and despair.” Meditation on the text itself rebuts this claim.

The hymn indeed begins with a depiction of Judgment Day as a “day of wrath.” As the world we know dissolves into ashes, the earth quakes and a miraculous trumpet awakens the dead to face their Judge. Confronted with a book in which each of our hidden deeds is recorded, even the just soul is at a loss to defend himself before this fearsome King of majesty.

At this point, the song takes a crucial turn. Reflecting that Christ freely (gratis) saves those who are saved, the accused soul reminds Christ that he died on the cross to redeem his soul. Admitting his guilt, and acknowledging God’s justice, the contrite soul finds hope in comparing himself to Mary Magdalen and the forgiven thief.

Far from emphasizing despair, the Dies Irae points us to the precise grounds of our hopes. Though we must strive always for virtue, our own efforts always prove unworthy. Only a sincere confession of our sins, and acceptance of God’s gracious pardon, can win us a place among the sheep as opposed to the goats.

There is one catch to this message of hope: our confession and collaboration with divine grace must take place “ante diem rationis”—before the day of reckoning. To the extent that our modern sensibilities cause us to recoil from the fearful opening lines of this sequence, they also rob us of the cure that can turn that inevitable day from one of wrath to one of mercy.

“And the Light Shines in Darkness”

These are dark times. The public sphere seems dominated by fear, violence, vitriol, cynicism, and contempt for one’s fellow man.

Words of comfort are sorely needed. Words cannot make our troubles disappear, or relieve us of the responsibility of confronting them. They can help us to develop the wisdom to know what is good, the prudence to see what good we can do, and the strength to persevere amidst the struggles and setbacks we will inevitably face in the attempt.

Una Voce is an international federation of lay organizations dedicated to preserving and promoting the treasures of the Catholic faith. One local chapter, inspired by how others are responding to this spiritual crisis, decided to bring a message of peace and hope to our fellow citizens.

Let us pray that this billboard will remind or inform those who see it that Christ has given us his mother as our own. When we turn to her, she opens to us the treasury of her Immaculate Heart, in which is kept all the riches of God’s Eternal Word.

The only true peace is that offered to us by “the true light, which enlightens every man” who receives him, even in a world that knows him not (Jn. 1:9-12).

Delighting in the Wisdom of the Lord

Photo by Wendy van Zyl on

This blog takes its name from Psalm 36, which speaks of the relationship between justice and wisdom. “The mouth of the just shall meditate wisdom,” we read, “and his tongue shall speak judgment (loquetur judicium).”

How can a mouth meditate? Here the mouth is an image of the mind. The words we speak with our tongues originate in our minds. Just as the mouth takes in food and breaks it down for the body’s nourishment, so does the mind receive and process wisdom. Only a mind nourished on wisdom can formulate words that reflect a sound judgment.

Where do we find wisdom? The Psalm begins by warning us not to be “emulous of evildoers.” To emulate is to imitate in hopes of attaining what another has. When we see the all-too familiar sight of a “man who does unjust things” and yet “prospers in his way,” we may conclude that prosperity is the fruit of “iniquity,” and that wickedness is therefore wise. This is the wisdom of the world, whose folly the Psalm exposes.

The world is full of men who “prosper” through various forms of fear, fraud, and exploitation. Though the fruits of iniquity are evident, however, the Psalm assures us that they are of slight value. “Better is a little to the just, than the great riches of the wicked.”

The emptiness of the evildoer’s prosperity is most evident from the vantage point of eternity. For the wicked “shall shortly wither away as grass,” and vanish from his “highly exalted” place in society. Even if he prospers for a lifetime, that lifetime will end. And “the Lord shall laugh at him: for he foresees that his day shall come.”

Does this imply that the wicked enjoy a true if temporary happiness in this world, and that justice entails a lifetime of misery, sustained only by an expectation of otherworldly recompense?

Not so. “Trust in the Lord,” the Psalm bids us, “and do good, and dwell in the land, and thou shalt be fed with its riches.” When we live in hope of entering the promised land, we are already dwelling there in our hearts, and already able to taste its fruits. “Delight in the Lord,” even in this vale of tears, “and he will give thee the requests of thy heart.”

Our hearts truly desire what is eternal and supremely good. The passing things of this world cannot satisfy us. “A little” of the world’s goods is sufficient for the just, because his heart is set on riches far greater than those hoarded by the wicked.

How can we enjoy the riches of heaven while still on earth? If eternal life is to know “the only true God” (Jn. 17:3), then whatever we can know of God now is a foretaste of heaven. Though by faith we see God “through a glass in a dark manner” (1 Cor. 13:12), faith gives us the “substance of things to be hoped for” (Heb. 11:1) by giving us a taste of God himself (Ps. 33:9).

The just man (or the man seeking justice) meditates wisdom so as to fulfill the requests of his heart by delighting in the Lord. He speaks judgment in hopes of sharing the joy that comes from distinguishing true from false riches in this life and the next.

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