How did Jesus live the Commandments in his life? How are his 21st-century followers called to live them? Throughout 2007, Every Day Catholic will feature a series of cover articles on the 10 Commandments by award-winning writer Kathy Coffey. 

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Why Truth Is Sacred
By Kathy Coffey

“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16).

Aunt Martha sports a hideous new dress that accentuates her bulges. In the words of the children’s book, “What do you say, dear?”

Perhaps you cop out: “Fuchsia is certainly your color!” or “So good to see you again!” Maybe you describe the hidden, unseen reality: “You’re so cheerful!” But in this case the truth, “That’s the ugliest dress I’ve ever seen,” is cruel. Even the most honest person wouldn’t insult her aunt.

What then, as Pontius Pilate asked, is truth?

The example may oversimplify the complex situations in which we find ourselves today. We’ve recently seen deception by people we have placed our trust in. Countries go to war based on wobbly, some would say concocted, intelligence. Priests with a history of child abuse have been placed in parishes without sufficient concern for the need to protect possible new victims.

But we can’t point our finger at others until we turn it on ourselves. As children we may have figured out that small lies were O.K., as long as we didn’t get caught. As adolescents we learned to protect a fragile ego by broadcasting the positives and concealing the negatives about ourselves. As adults we struggle to maintain a balance between privacy and intimacy. We don’t want to “tell all” as on a talk show. But we also know that those we love deserve the full truth about ourselves, even when it’s painful to reveal.


Truth Is Sacred

Let’s look at two examples. Brendan is the life of the party, an Irish storyteller. No one minds when he exaggerates; it makes the stories better. Unfortunately, that strategy carries into his personal life. His ideas about himself grow grandiose and far from reality, but, sadly, he believes them. Brendan gets caught up in the fiction. He always stars in the latest exploit. But by now, no one is sure if it really happened.

Molly, on the other hand, gives flesh to the saying, “She knows who she is.” People needing an honest opinion count on her to give it. She trusts them with the truth because she believes they can handle it. She openly admits that she’s done her time in therapy. Without boring people too much, she’ll explain that alcohol is poison for her system. She knows her dark side as well as her assets, and conveys a hard-won authenticity.

So this business of truth-telling gets more complex than Aunt Martha’s dress. The biblical origins of our tradition show why truth is revered as sacred.

St. John’s prologue begins, “In the beginning was the Word,” full of light and truth. From that fullness “we have all received, grace in place of grace” (1:1, 16). The reality that underlies our lives is an outpouring of divine abundance. To distort the truth does a disservice to God who is constantly creating, enlarging, deepening and beautifying us. To shore up our puny egos with falsehoods denies that amazing gift. Unfortunately, some of us rely on our weakness as an easy excuse, rather than celebrating God’s strength and energy in us.

Jesus, Our Model

The perfect example of inner solidity comes from Jesus. When the soldiers approach him in the Garden of Olives, he doesn’t hide. In fact, he initiates the conversation: “Whom are you looking for?” When they answer “Jesus of Nazareth,” he says simply, “I am he” (John 18:4-5). What if Jesus had fudged? Suspecting what lay ahead, he could have said, “Oh, no, you’ve got the wrong guy. I just look like him.” Or “Not I—try that fellow behind the tree.” He might have escaped. Instead, he stands in his truth, despite what that will cost.

What does Jesus model for us?

When, like Brendan, we create myths about ourselves to impress others, we deny what is far more wonderful about us: our likeness to God. When we perpetuate the falsehoods of advertising, we prefer appearance to reality. When we tolerate bad art or phoniness, we refuse God the praise that even a blade of grass or an honest dandelion can give.

Thomas Merton says that our response to God’s initial Word is to become God’s words: God’s answer and echo. To do that, we must hone our words to the most deliberate, accurate ones we can find. Thus, we honor the Eighth Commandment.

Kathy Coffey, the mother of four, is an editor at Living the Good News in Denver, Colorado. She has won numerous writing awards. Her newest book is The Art of Faith (Twenty-Third Publications, 2007).

Next: The Ninth Commandment

Questions for Reflection:

• Kathy Coffey speaks of relying on our weakness as an easy excuse, rather than celebrating God’s strength and energy. Name the strengths and energy you see in yourself and others in your group.

• In what situations do you find it difficult to be truthful? In what ways does society encourage or discourage truthful behavior?

Teaching the Truth to Children
By Jeanne Hunt

The dog ate my homework. The check is in the mail. These are little white lies that can make getting out of a predicament a little easier. But eventually the truth will catch up with us. Choosing to be honest and keeping the truth as a practice take awareness and forethought. Almost 25 years ago, Dr. M. Scott Peck wrote a book about human evil—People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil—that still speaks to our times. Peck chose the title because, he said, “Lying is both a cause and a manifestation of evil.” Every time we believe a lie, he said, our goodness is diminished. It is the work of parents to raise children who know and love the truth. So, how can we promote the truth in our homes?

First, model truth in word and action. We must do what we teach, or we are teaching something else. The phone rings and I say to my children, “If it is a telemarketer, tell him I’m not home” rather than “Tell him I am not interested in speaking to him.” When speeding down the highway I slow down when I see a police car. The message my children learn is that you can speed as long as you don’t get caught.

Second, do not pad the truth to protect your child. As painful as an honest opinion may be, it helps your child see reality. Looking in the mirror and facing what needs to change or accepting what cannot be changed are valuable life lessons. Learning the gentle skill of revealing the truth to children without diminishing their self-esteem can help clarify their real gifts.

Third, reward the truth. When a family member chooses to act and speak truthfully, acknowledge the merit of that choice, especially when it brings difficulty or painful repercussions.

For Family Response:

As a family, make a list of people who are hallmarks of truthfulness. Discuss each person on your “truth list” and post it on the refrigerator as an ongoing call to honesty.

Media Watch
Shrek the Third
By Frank Frost

The third installment in the successful Shrek franchise picks up with Prince Charming determined to reclaim his rights to happily-ever-after status and to the throne of the Kingdom of Far, Far Away.

Lovers of the original Shrek movie will remember the great fun of watching an ugly ogre win out over Prince Charming and other Disney fairy-tale characters as he and his true love Fiona come to accept themselves for what they are. The values from the previous pictures are all there: self-acceptance, selfless love, responsibility—while adding a new appreciation of family as Shrek and Fiona (and other franchise characters) begin to have children of their own. Shrek the Third pushes the established characters to the limit. When the Frog King of Far, Far Away dies, Shrek is next in line for the throne. He desperately wants to avoid this role and sets out to find Fiona’s cousin, Arthur, the only other person in line to inherit the throne.

This leads to a high school shtick where the slight “Artie” is found mercilessly tormented by jocks—led by jousting champion Lancelot and cheerleader Guinevere and by nerds alike. Artie is happy to be rescued by Shrek, eager to enjoy the power of a king while not ready for the responsibilities. (This parallels the character growth needed by Shrek, who is still not ready for the responsibilities of fatherhood.)

Elsewhere, Charming is rousting an army of fairy-tale villains, appealing to their desire for a share of the “happily every after” they’ve been denied. These include such stalwarts as Captain Hook (Peter Pan), the Evil Witch (Sleeping Beauty), one of the Ugly Stepsisters (Cinderella), the Wolf (Three Little Pigs) and even evil trees from the forest. (The Three Little Pigs themselves, together with Pinocchio, Gingerbread Man, Donkey, and Puss in Boots, continue to be faithful backers of Shrek.)

Meanwhile, back in Far, Far Away, Fiona is imprisoned by Prince Charming, along with Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Cinderella and Cinderella’s other Ugly Stepsister, Doris. The princesses snipe at one another until Fiona whips them into a feminist cabal, declaring that never again will they wait to be rescued by a handsome prince. Henceforth they will take their fortunes into their own hands.

This level of allusion to pop culture is one of the enjoyable characteristics of the Shrek franchise. The adult audience is kept busy recognizing and chuckling about references to past movies and children’s stories, as well as retro social commentary, while the kids can enjoy the fast-paced animation, drama and action.

Shrek the Third manages to be true to its own character while pushing the exploitation of fairy-tale characters and cultural allusions. Outstanding animation and voice acting make for an entertaining time while not offering anything new by way of characters.

For Media Watch:

What values do you find in this film?

By Judy Ball

St. Stephen of Hungary (975-1038)

Although he was not baptized a Christian until around age 10, Stephen quickly embraced his faith. As he grew into manhood and became king, he used his considerable political powers and military skills to Christianize Hungary. He succeeded in suppressing a series of revolts by pagan nobles and abolished tribal divisions, though his methods weren’t always peaceful.

Skilled in affairs of Church and state, Stephen kept close ties with Rome. After Pope Silvester II gave him the full authority he sought, Stephen established schools, appointed bishops and founded monasteries. He initiated a system of tithes to support churches and pastors and to relieve the poor. One of every 10 towns was required to build a church and provide for a priest. He abolished pagan customs and commanded all to marry—except clergy and religious. Blasphemy and adultery became crimes.

A devoted husband and father, Stephen was likewise devoted to the poor. According to some accounts, he often distributed alms dressed in the disguise of a peasant. As he did this one day, a group of bullies knocked him down and took his money, but Stephen forgave them, spared their lives and refused to discontinue the practice.

It was Stephen’s hope that his pious son, Emeric, would succeed him. When Emeric died in a hunting accident, the country was left in the hands of Stephen’s nephew, who was drawn as much to paganism as to Christianity.

Stephen died after 42 years on the throne. He and his son were canonized together in 1083. Stephen’s feast day is August 16.

Father Dénes Hesz, O.F.M.

When Vince Hesz was ready for secondary school in his native Hungary, he enrolled at King Stephen High School. Four years later, he graduated from St. Stephen King High School. It wasn’t the school that had changed; it was its name. After the Communists were driven from power, the students voted to rename it in honor of the extraordinary man who built a Christian nation.

Vince was among those who voted for the change. “We Hungarians call him an apostolic king because he founded not only a kingdom but also a Christian country,” he told Every Day Catholic.

Now Vince is a Franciscan priest, known as Father Dénes, and is ministering at a U.S. parish named after his country’s beloved hero. St. Stephen of Hungary Parish, located in Manhattan, draws Hungarian-speaking members from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Though his work includes ministering to the entire parish community, Father Dénes has a special bond with the Hungarian-speaking people.

Weekends are especially busy. After Sunday Mass he gathers with fellow Hungarians of all ages. “We have a great time together, talking about serious as well as funny things.” He often joins the elderly members of the community in the kitchen, helping them prepare meals for special luncheons and events designed to “strengthen the religious, cultural and social identity” of the Hungarian community.

When his three-year commitment at the parish ends, Father Dénes will return home. Until then, he is committed to reaching out to his fellow countrymen who come to St. Stephen of Hungary Parish celebrating the faith handed down by a beloved king and saint.

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