Something chilling and sinister is going on with the meaning of the word ‘authenticity.’ It’s becoming ever more apparent that ‘authenticity’ is being separated from ‘truth.’
The notion of authenticity, especially when it comes to the Church and the meaning of truth, seems to be changing, or maybe has even already changed. For many it seems to be evolving into what is now known as “post-truth”. The word is even becoming so main stream that it now seems like a fad word. But when words become muddled and almost unintelligible, taking on new meanings that don’t reflect the actual historical meaning of the word, it becomes problematic. In this instance it means it is becoming more difficult to determine truth from falsity, fact from fiction, and Divine Revelation from satanic deception and confusion.
Being “authentic” and living truthfully is right and good. And if we, as good and faithful Catholics, want to live out the Truth in our lives, it behooves us to understand and pay close attention to how these words – “truth” and “authenticity” – are being used in our society.
“What is Truth?”
Words like “truth” and “authenticity” can be really obtuse, abstract, convoluted, and philosophical. However, as Catholics following the truth revealed to us through Christ and the Church, we have to start out knowing full well that there really is One Truth and it is not subjective or left up to interpretation.
The whole discussion on truth brings to mind the famous question Pontius Pilate asked Jesus during His Passion: “What is truth?” [John 18:38]. Simply answered, Christ Jesus is the truth. As He had already told Pilate, His whole life, ministry, and earthly existence were for this purpose [John 18:37].
So we accept that this is the Truth and so, therefore, everything emanates from this one Source – The Source of all sources. Every teaching laid down by Christ on earth and divinely revealed through the Church, is the source of all value, morality, and ethics – the way we live our lives. These revelations given to the Church have been promised to us to be free from error: “He who hears you, hears me; he who rejects you rejects me, he who rejects me, rejects Him who sent me” [Luke 10:16].
Unfortunately, however, we live during a time of rejection. We live in the age of “post-truth.” Down to the basics, post-truth is the rejection of objectivity. More to the point, it is the rejection of the notion that we cannot fully know anything objectively. As such we are told there is no objective truth. Rather, “truth” is defined by one’s emotions, feelings, experiences, and personal beliefs. But because it is a rejection of objective Truth, it is also the rejection of Christ Jesus.
This is an unfortunate age we live in. It makes it difficult for the Church to effectively spread the Truth. It’s even more unfortunate and dismaying that many Catholics today have fallen into this trap of post-truth doctrine – that an individual’s experience and feeling is weighted more than objective truth. Thus, we have mass confusion on spiritual and scriptural discernment. We even have confusion on what discernment means when applied to the magisterial teachings of the Church. It’s as if the magisterial teachings of the Church (free from all human error and thus a full representation of the Truth) can be applied differently based on an individual’s experience and feelings.
Truth, Authenticity, and the Catholic Church
As Catholics, we must accept that the Catholic Church’s teachings – through the Magisterium – are free from error and thus are the Truth. Therefore, to live in truth, to truthfully live, is to follow the teachings of the Church – the teachings of Christ.
Living the truth is authenticity at its core.
Of course, the term authenticity has been so mutilated by this concept of post-truth that today authenticity simply means ‘be true to oneself.’ In other words, it means to be true to and to follow one’s feelings, emotions, and experiences. So post-truth authenticity, or should we say authenticity according to our modernist-clinging society, is to live one’s life according to one’s own will and not the Will of the Father.
Our hedonistic, instant gratification, impatient culture is the direct result of post-truth.
Today, we are seeing a driving force of desire for authenticity in the Catholic Church. Indeed, authenticity has been missing in the Catholic culture for decades, as we’ve sought to forgo some of our traditional identity so as to be more accepted by the world. Accordingly, for too many, being Catholic today has little to do with doctrine, virtue, morality, and, above all, the sacraments. Rather, it’s about belonging to ‘a community.’
But what is a community if it is not rooted in history, tradition, and, at its core, a singular truth that people cling to and live by? A community removed from tradition and a shareable history is no more a community than a room full of strangers that, in the end, share nothing more than their biological makeup.
If some Catholics today want a stronger sense of communal belonging, perhaps it’s because they’ve rejected for so long our cultural heritage, our Catholic identity, and the Truth.
Indeed, it’s as if they’ve asked the world, in one communal voice, Pilate’s famous question, “What is truth?” And the world answered, “There is no truth but what you make it to be.” They’ve not only accepted the world’s answer, but they’ve sought and are still actively seeking to change the Church to fit the modern, post-truth times. Accordingly, to be an “authentic Catholic” holds no meaning whatsoever for them.
However, if we understand authenticity in its original meaning and under the premise that there is One Truth and that Truth is not subject to individual experience and feeling, then to be Catholic means to follow Christ through the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. It means to accept Her traditions and teachings because they come from Christ. It means to live by Truth, by God’s Will, because otherwise, we are following our own will.
To Be an Authentic Disciple
Fr. Thomas Dubay, one of the foremost thinkers in discernment, wrote in his appropriately titled book Authenticity,
“The authentic disciple is not of this world just as Jesus is not of it (Jn 8:23; 17:16), and so the world hates him as it hated Jesus (Jn 17:14). We are admonished not to love either “this passing world or anything in it, for the love of the Father cannot be in anyone who loves the world” (1 Jn 2:15).”
And, as Saint Paul instructed the Colossians:
“So, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in the faith as you were taught . . . See to it that no one captivate you with an empty, seductive philosophy according to human tradition, according to the elemental powers of the world and not according to Christ” [Col 2:6-8].
Being authentic Catholics does not mean bringing the Church into the modern age. It also does not mean that the Church should be more welcoming or inclusive, for those words beg the notion of becoming a friend to the world. As we are instructed by the letter of James:
“Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God” [James 4:4].
‘Salvation and Rejection’
Being an authentic Catholic does not mean allowing a democracy of ideas or the inclusion of differing opinions. It does not mean allowing wrongness and falsities, or the welcoming of false prophets. To be an authentic Catholic, to live with authenticity as a Catholic, means to be a follower of Christ. To follow Christ is to not follow one’s own opinions or feelings based on personal experience, but, rather, to follow the Truth revealed through His own Body – the Church.
Christ Himself did not accept those who would not follow Him, but He did welcome those who were willing to take up the Cross and follow. There was no feel-good nature to this following; no feeling of inclusion or easiness. It’s a path marked by sacrifice and suffering that not everyone will follow. As Jesus warns us:
“. . . many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth . . . “[Luke 13:24-28].
What is to be an authentic Catholic? It is to be one of the few, not one of the many; to be an enemy of the world, not a friend; to be one marked as a follower of Christ.