Lent is an invigorating time for truth. The Truth Himself spent forty days in the wilderness combatting the Prince of Lies. He did it as our “champion.” A champion is more than someone who gets his face on a cereal box for having won contests. Go back to the thirteenth century and you will see that the word meant a combatant who fights on behalf of others.
Since humility is honesty, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the declaration and manifestation of humility, sacramental confession, preferably frequently in Lent, is at the heart of Lent. The ashes we wore on Wednesday are signs of that intention; otherwise, they are blemishes advertising a failure to live up to it.
If everyone told the truth these days, our culture would shatter, because it functions by deceit in countless forms. There are polite “white lies,” such as kind things said about the deceased. Dr. Johnson said, “In lapidary inscriptions a man is not upon oath.” But to lie before the bar of justice in order to deceive a human judge is perjury, and to lie before God is worse, because He “knows what is in the heart of man.”
One should not be scandalized when church leaders trim the truth. Since the Church is Satan’s chief enemy, he twists the Church’s weakest parts: fallible humans. This is why saints regularly pray to be saved from becoming the worst sinners, since their powerful virtues can be turned into equally powerful vices.
The deceits and willfulness of prelates and ecclesiastical bureaucrats are more contemptible because of the trust placed in them. But such faults are also easily understood, because these figures are central in Satan’s crosshairs. There is potential for cynicism because of the machinations of those who betray the faithful. It is one thing to become cynical about human institutions, which is why there is sound counsel in words mistakenly attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “Laws, like sausages (Gesetze sind wie Würste) cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.” It is more problematic when confronted with the intrigues of synods and prelates. Monsignor Ronald Knox thus explained why he hesitated about visiting Rome: “He who travels in the barque of St. Peter had better not look too closely into the engine room.”
David, himself a king, psalmed: “put not your trust in princes . . .” (Psalm 146:3). In our days, there are churchmen who feign surprise and even shock at the discovery of evil that they really had already known for a long time. They are prelatical imitators of the “Shock!” of Captain Renault in Casablanca when told of gambling in Rick’s club. Yet they are only mortal functionaries of the immortal Shepherd who prayed in His agony that we might be sanctified by the One whose “word is truth” (John 17:17).