A Christian evangelist was trying to help a young man from Sweden named Andreas accept Jesus as his Savior. Andreas said, “I’ve been told that if I decide to follow Jesus, He will reward me by giving me many blessings and meeting all my material needs, making my life easy and good and happy.” (This idea, of course, is the false, so-called “Prosperity Gospel” peddled by some misguided or self-serving TV evangelists.) The Christian paused for a moment; he was tempted to take the easy way by agreeing, thereby making the Gospel seem much more attractive to a potential convert. However, he knew he had to speak the truth, so he answered, “Actually, Andreas, you may accept Jesus and then find that life gets harder; for instance, your family and friends may oppose your decision and even reject you. Jesus warned this could happen, and He said that, even so, His disciples must be willing to carry their cross in order to follow Him.” Shocked by these blunt words, Andreas asked, “Then why would I, or anyone for that matter, want to follow Christ?” Guided by the Holy Spirit, the Christian answered simply, “Because Jesus is true” (Craig Brian Larson, Choice Contemporary Stories & Illustrations, p. 280).
Our Lord stands for the truth. It was a priority for Him during His earthly life, even when He knew people didn’t want to hear it, and this remains the case now that He reigns as King of all creation. Our world has a very different set of values; as someone once said, “People forgive you when lies are told, and hate you when truth is told.” That’s because lies can involve comforting delusions that allow us to feel self-satisfied and remain as we are, whereas truth quite often challenges us to repent and change and grow—especially in a moral and spiritual sense. Jesus loves us far too much ever to lie to us, and if we are genuinely to follow Him, we must open ourselves to His truth and, by using the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, be willing to share it with others.
Sometimes the Gospel is both powerful and popular, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles (8:5-8, 14-17). When the crowds saw the signs Philip was performing, including curing the sick and freeing those possessed by evil spirits, they rejoiced and paid close attention to his preaching. Quite often, however, living out and sharing our faith isn’t this easy or enjoyable—so much so that in 1 Peter (3:15-18) St. Peter speaks of the possibility of our good conduct being defamed, and of having to suffer for doing good; he also reminds us that Jesus Himself suffered at the hands of sinners, though He was completely innocent. As Our Lord explains in the Gospel of John (14:15-21), the world cannot accept the Spirit of truth, for it “neither sees nor knows Him.” Genuine and authentic love requires us to keep Christ’s commandments—but the idea of obedience and self-surrender offends many people in our society. There’s no denying the fact that the Gospel is polarizing and divisive—but Jesus tells us not to worry, for as long as we try to show our love for Him by obeying His commandments, we will know God and be able to rejoice in His loving presence.
Any first-year chemistry student can tell you that sodium is an extremely active or unstable element which always links itself to another element, and that chlorine is a poisonous gas that gives bleach its strong and offensive odor. When these two volatile elements are combined, however, the result is sodium chloride, or common table salt—an extremely useful and important compound essential for everyday human life. As someone pointed out, love is like sodium—flighty and easily combined with mistaken beliefs, and sometimes used to justify misguided behavior. Truth, on the other hand, is like chlorine—if spoken harshly, it can offend people and turn them away from the Gospel. It’s only when love and truth are combined that the Church and its members become what Jesus called “salt for the earth,” able to preserve and bring out the beauty and life-giving power of the faith (Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations, p. 786).
In a world hostile to the Gospel, contemptuous of the Church, and eager to denounce Christians as hypocrites, you and I are supposed to bear witness to the truth in a loving way. How can we ever possibly manage to achieve such a balance? Only through the Presence and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit. On the last night of His earthly life, Jesus promised the apostles, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth. . . .” It was through the Holy Spirit that Peter and the other apostles preached the Gospel and made 3000 converts on Pentecost Sunday; it was through the Holy Spirit that Philip successfully evangelized and worked many signs and wonders; it was through the Holy Spirit that St. Peter was able to write about explaining the reason for our hope as Christians while maintaining a clear conscience in the face of criticism and hostility. In the Sacrament of Confirmation we received the Gifts of Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Reverence, Fortitude, and Fear of the Lord. These weren’t just a list of seven words to memorize in case the bishop asked us questions during his homily at the Confirmation ceremony, but an ongoing reality for us to live by. If our hearts truly are open to the presence and power and Gifts of the Holy Spirit, we will know if and when to speak to someone about Christ, and what to say; we will be given the courage to speak up for what’s right and to defend our faith when it’s attacked; we will want to obey God’s commands, while living in a spirit of profound respect for all His creation—including the people around us.
Love and truth are meant to go hand-in-hand. One of these values is misunderstood and watered-down and selfishly perverted by the world; the other is feared and resented and angrily opposed. That’s why it’s more important than ever that we, as disciples of Jesus, bear witness that He alone is Lord and that only He can save sinners and bestow eternal life upon them. Jesus said He will not leave us orphans, but will instead draw us into a very deep and intimate union with the Father and with Him—and it’s the Holy Spirit Who makes this possible. Praying for the Spirit’s guidance, reading the Bible for enlightenment, and forming our consciences according to the teaching of the Church, are all essential steps if we truly wish to know God as our Father and Jesus as our Savior. Living in this way is how we obey Our Lord’s commandments; living in this way is how we lovingly bear witness to the truth of the Gospel; and living in this way is how we prepare ourselves for the joys of eternity.
REVEREND JOSEPH M. ESPER is a priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit and pastor of Immaculate Conception parish in Anchorville, Michigan. He received his Master of Divinity degree from St. John’s Provincial Seminary in Plymouth, Michigan. Through the years, Father Joe has lectured at Marian conferences, appeared on EWTN, spoken on Catholic radio, and written more than a dozen articles for This Rock, The Priest, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, and other publications. He is also the author of numerous books, including Saintly Solutions, More Saintly Solutions, After the Darkness, Lessons from the Lives of the Saints, and Why Is God Punishing Me? In addition to Amazon, many of his most recent books are available through Queenship Publishing.