“The moral virtues grow through education, deliberate acts, and perseverance in struggle.” [CCC 1839]
This is the first of a series of essays that will delve into the moral virtues over the course of this school year. As the Catechism suggests, all of us grow in moral virtue through education, practice, and perseverance. It doesn’t happen through a process of osmosis which commonly is defined as the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of ideas or knowledge. Parents play a vital role in forming virtuous children as they closely supervise, teach, and model the various virtues. And our youth are the “most apt and suitable for laying the foundations of a truly religious life” according to St. Bernard.
The catechism teaches us that “temporal consequences of sin remain in all of us including weakness of character and the inclination to sin. We are left to wrestle with concupiscence [the tinder for sin]; however, it cannot harm those who resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” [CCC 1264] And so it is vital to arm ourselves with virtues in order to avoid sin, love more authentically, and soldier on in this world. Each day we have one more opportunity to develop strong(er) or weak(er) characters. It is worth repeating that in order to live virtuous lives we have to practice virtue, learn what it is, and persevere. “Indeed, an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” [2 Timothy 2:5]
The first virtue [and the opposing vice]we will discuss is truthfulness; its opposing vice is untruthfulness or deceitfulness and that will be discussed last. I selected this virtue/vice combo first because of their importance in everyday life.
What is truth or truthfulness? Let’s turn to the Catechism for answers. Truth means this: it is those human actions that imitate or are in conformity to the Lord’s example. Truthfulness is the virtue that consists in showing oneself true in deeds and truthful in words, and in guarding against duplicity, dissimulation and hypocrisy. [CCC 2468] Truthfulness, the virtue associated with speech and actions, is fundamental for developing/sustaining healthy relationships. Trust, confidence, personal integrity, and authentic love are fully supported by truthfulness. You recognize that the Eighth Commandment unequivocally teaches us that we are not to bear false witness against our neighbor; in other words, we are to be truthful in our words and actions and they are to conform to Charity. If possible, please read the following paragraphs in the Catholic Catechism: 2264 – 2513.
Truthfulness and/or truth is a critical moral virtue to arm ourselves with; it is well supported by the virtue of courage. Consider the amount of courage it takes to speak and act with truthfulness every day. Yet most of us, by nature tend to be truthful. [CCC 2467] That’s the good news! However, even adults forsake truthfulness especially when having to admit a wrongdoing. Children and adults alike fear the negative consequences that may result from such open admissions. This is why parents have to pay close attention to their children’s inconsistent excuses and explanations. Parents have to address early lies in order to prevent our children from getting good or getting by with lying.
Like anything else, practice makes perfect — in the case of truthfulness, the practice is truthfulness and the perfecting is protective and loving. On the other hand, when the practice is a vice the perfecting hurts everyone. Most of us act guilty when we are guilty because body language is much harder to suppress than untruthfulness of word. When internal struggles and fears shout out Guilty, our bodies normally respond in kind through a lack of eye contact, anger, sweating, wringing of hands, or other negative outward behaviors. No matter the age, we are called to speak the truth, to witness to the truth, and to represent the truth in what we say, do and promise. We are called to say what we mean and mean what we say. “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes ‘ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” [Matthew 5:37]
Years ago, a girl was trying to cheat by asking me the answers to a test that I had already taken. When I asked Sister Magdella how to respond to such inquiries in the future, she suggested I say that I didn’t know the answer to that question. “But that’s a lie,” I said. She said you don’t know the answer to the question for her. This didn’t make sense to me but was a way out of the situations this girl kept putting me in. Today, I don’t agree with the good sister. It seems that it would have been far better to have told me to have courage, and simply state that I can’t help her cheat. What do you think?
How can we know the truth? “God is the source of all truth. Since God is true, we are called to live in the truth, to speak the truth, to model truth. [CCC 2465] And the truth is black and white even though cultural wisdom says otherwise. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a good lie even what is often referred to as a white lie; goodness can only be found in truth and truthfulness.
Let’s touch briefly on the problem of deceitfulness or lack of truthfulness. Both of these produce only negative consequences — broken homes, broken laws, broken feelings, and broken lives. But a person doesn’t become deceitful over night. It takes practice. The good news is that it takes considerably less practice to be truthful. When a friend, family member, co-worker, acquaintance is untruthful, it is nearly impossible to forge intimate relationships with them. Their dishonesty betrays personal trust, confidence and/or authentic love. Untruthfulness always chips away at the dignity of the recipient of the lie. A vice fosters additional vices, just as virtues foster additional virtues. Vice and virtue are incompatible. Either a person strives to be truthful or not. There are so many ways to be untruthful; let’s discuss the more subtle ways next.
Giving false witness is always an act of untruthfulness. This act becomes especially serious when someone’s life or livelihood is negatively impacted by a false accusation or retelling of events. When someone gives false testimony publicly, it is called giving false witness. When it happens in a court of law, under oath, it is known as perjury. Both gravely compromise the “exercise of justice and the fairness of judicial decisions.” [CCC 2476]
Parents need to teach their children that it is just as important to protect the reputation of people we may not personally know as it is to protect the reputations of family members, friends, and self. And its even more critical that we monitor our children’s use of electronics (cell phone, test messaging, social media networks) so that the protection of reputations is being honored. The Catechism explains why the respecting of others’ reputation is so critical. It actually uses the strong word — forbidden — to get across that disrespecting others’ reputations is forbidden! And there are so many ways to do so. Judging someone rashly accepts as fact the moral fault of a person without having sufficient proof that its true. This aligns one with untruth rather than truth. Its close cousin is known as detraction. This involves the disclosing of someone’s faults and failings to persons who do not need to know. Gossiping is type of detraction. A third cousin to the previous vices is known as calumny. A person practicing calumny says things that are not true, thereby harming the reputation of others. It also involves giving others the ammunition needed to jump to false conclusions or judgments about someone else. Each of the above offend the virtues of justice and charity. [CCC 2479]
Flattery, adulation, or complaisance are also forms of untruthfulness; boasting and bragging also are untruthfulness. Poking fun via a joke that characterizes someone in a negative light is also wrong. So is duplicity, dissimulation (concealment of one’s true thoughts) and hypocrisy. The sins against the eighth commandment are particularly problematic because we can’t recoup the damage done by our gossip, slander, dishonesty, deceit, pretending, etc. Our words and actions matter!
The Golden Rule applies well to this commandment. This rule urges us to “do to others what we would want them to do to us.” Very few of us desire to have our characters assassinated by false accusations, words, gossip, etc. Its also too easy to disassociate rash judgment, detraction, gossip, calumny, from untruthfulness so it is important to talk about each of these with our children. They probably don’t even know what most of the terms even mean — really! These are nuanced words that need explanation time and time again through use of personal examples, etc. And so parents can help their children arm themselves with virtue by defining, teaching, explaining, patterning, and giving reasons for why truthfulness is such an important virtue to strive for daily.
Use the following worksheet to assess your compliance of the Eighth Commandment.
[adapted from the author’s series entitled: Black and White: An Examination of God’s Moral Laws):
Give yourself a zero to three for each activity; zero represents you never do this; a one represents doing the activity sometimes but less than 50% of the time; and give yourself a two when you do it more than 50% of the time; and give yourself a three when you always do this.
I speak the truth. _______
I defend the God-given rights of all people. _______
I apply the Golden rule to my daily encounter with others _______
I read the Catechism section on the 8th commandment _______
I speak sincerely _______
I reject ungodly artistic expression _______
I am personally trustworthy _______
I believe God and His word are Truth _______
I avoid gossip — repeating, listening and spreading it _______
I stay positive with difficult people _______
I pray for my detractors _______
I pray for those who are against God and His Church _______
I refuse to disclose unnecessary information to others _______
I speak with consideration of others’ feelings _______
I refuse to flatter, or partake in adulation or complaisance _______
I avoid boasting, teaching bragging _______
I am not hypocritical _______
I try not to harm others’ reputations through my words or actions _______
The assessment is only a tool to help you to grow in the virtue of truthfulness. Scores less that 12 demonstrate extra effort should be made to the practice of being truthful. Scores of 13 – 36 warrant more attention to the practice of truthfulness. Scores of 37 – 54 demonstrates good effort is being made to be truthful.
Copyright 2016 Linda Kracht