Our work and civic responsibilities are rooted in human dignity and the common good
The 34nd installment of Supreme Chaplain Bishop William E. Lori’s faith formation program addresses questions 503-520 & 531-533 of the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Experience teaches us that "honesty is the best policy." A moment's reflection reminds us of the importance of honesty and integrity in our personal lives, our work and our relationships. When our word is our bond, we build trust, engender cooperation and serve the common good.
Truthfulness, of course, is not just a matter of words; it is a way of life. St. Paul speaks of "living the truth in love" (Eph 4:15), and Pope Benedict XVI aptly named his encyclical on the Church's social teaching Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth). True to the vision of Venerable Michael McGivney, we must seek to live the truth in charity and charity in truth.
By contrast, experience teaches how destructive deception can be. How many marriages, careers, businesses and institutions have been tarnished or ruined by a lack of honesty? Deception complicates life and undermines a person's good work. Yet, in a highly competitive and self-centered culture often marked by greed and fear, it is easy for people to fall into the habit of telling lies.
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church helps us see that each person has a duty to sincerely seek the truth and to live according to it.
HIDE NOTHING FROM GOD
We know that Jesus is "the way, the truth, and the life" (Jn 14:16). As followers of Christ, therefore, we must guard against duplicity, deception and hypocrisy (Compendium, 521).
Among other things, this means that we must not "compartmentalize" our lives, hiding aspects of our lives from the truth of God's word. For example, a man may appear to be a loving spouse and father at home but still be a scoundrel at work. Eventually, his bad behavior at work will impinge on his family. Thus, a Christian must "bear witness to the truth of the Gospel in every field of his activity, both public and private, and also if necessary, with his very life" (522).
Each of us must ask for the light of Christ's grace to shine in the darkened corners of our souls so that we hide nothing from God or ourselves. In doing so, we bear witness to Christ's truth and love to others with a clear conscience. Fundamental to this witness is observing the Eighth Commandment — "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor."
This commandment forbids all forms of deception and dishonesty, including false witness, perjury and lying. False witness means providing dishonest testimony either for or against another person; perjury refers to lying under oath, such as in a court of law; and lying is defined as failing to tell the truth, speaking an outright falsehood or distorting the truth in the ordinary circumstances of daily life.
Of course, some lies are more serious than others. Perjury on the part of a witness that sends an innocent defendant to prison for the rest of his life is more serious than lying about one's age. "Gilding the lily" when trying to help a colleague land a job is less serious than speaking falsehoods that lead to a co-worker being fired. The gravity of false witness, perjury or any lie "is measured by the truth it deforms, the circumstances, the intentions of the one who lies, and the harm suffered by its victims" (523).
JUSTICE AND CHARITY
The Eighth Commandment also forbids rash judgment, slander, defamation and calumny. Jesus has shown us a love that is patient and merciful, yet it is easy for us to judge others and engage in gossip that tears down their reputation. Whether this gossip is true, false or only partially true, what these immoral forms of speech have in common is their maliciousness — the use of one's tongue as a weapon. This has no place in our lives as followers of Christ.
Then there is flattery, adulation and complaisance. Flattery and adulation involve paying undue compliments or heaping false praise upon others. Both are dishonest ways of speaking aimed at reaping some advantage that we would otherwise not acquire. Complaisance has to do with being overly agreeable to another's wishes or actions, even when we know them to be morally flawed (523).
Obeying the Eighth Commandment, of course, does not mean telling everyone everything we know. Rather, it "requires respect for truth accompanied by the discretion of charity" (524). Those who work in the media have a responsibility to present information that is "true and — within the limits of justice and charity — also complete" (525). Yet, in today's 24-hour news cycle and the world of social networking, information is often shared without any regard for legitimate privacy rights, human dignity or the common good. Things such as doctor-patient confidentiality should be observed, and information given under the seal of secrecy should be respected (524).
Finally, works of art should also lead us to the truth. Pope John Paul II captured the relationship between truth and beauty in the title of his 1993 encyclical on morality, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). That which is true is beautiful, and that which is truly beautiful is true. Thus, artistic works, including painting and music, should evoke something of the truth and beauty of God. In this connection, we can readily see the importance of religious art, which is aimed at glorifying God, whose beauty, truth and love were made visible in Christ (526).