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St. Paul in the Public Square

Consider this passage from St. Paul: “I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 9:1). And this one: “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth” (2 Cor. 13:8). And one more: To false brethren “we did not yield submission, even for a moment, that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Gal. 2:5).

Any reflection on St. Paul—especially if we want to shed the light of his witness on our current circumstances—needs to anchor itself in the concept of truth. The word truth shows up some fifty times in Paul’s letters, from the first chapter of his Letter to the Romans (Rom. 1:18) to his last Letter to Titus (Titus 1:14). Indeed, to Paul, even the greatest theological virtue—charity, the measure by which we’ll all be finally judged—is authentic only when it conforms to truth. He tells us in his famous canticle to charity, “Love does not rejoice in wrong, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).

I was recently asked, “What do November 2008 and its aftermath teach us about the content of American culture, the state of American Catholic faith, and the kind of Pauline discipleship we need today and for the future?” The answer, I think, must focus on the concept of truth. The November election showed us that forty years of American Catholic complacency and poor formation are bearing fruit. They confirmed a trend rather than created a new moment in American culture. Much has been said—some of it warranted—about the dramatic social change implied in electing our first African-American president: a man of a new and younger generation who ran on a platform that claimed to offer a new kind of hope.

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