The child stared angrily across the table at their older brother. Big brother had just offered his ‘witty’ suggestions on how to improve some creative work of the younger child. Storm clouds gathered across the younger sibling’s face, before they ran away, upset, to another room.
“What!?!? I was just telling the truth!” the exasperated older sibling called after the runaway.
Many times, a child’s brutal honesty is a good thing. It’s helpful to know something tastes bad before serving it to others. It’s nice to know you have a hole in your shorts, baby spit-up on your dress, or something in your hair before walking all over town. And it’s good to know your kids’ preferences so you can surprise them on their birthday or avoid things they find upsetting.
The difficulty with such truthful children is that they lack wisdom and prudence, and therefore they often lack the tact acquired by experience. With young children, that can often lead to embarrassing situations. With teens or young adults attempting to argue with poor logic and half truths, it can lead to exasperated parents. . . and upset siblings.
Today’s first reading and the Gospel remind us of the importance of telling the truth. Like a watchman, we are to warn the wicked from his way (Ez 33:8) and tell our brother his fault (Mt 18:15). Our human nature is broken and we will require correction.
As parents, we will both be corrected and be the ones to offer correction. But we need this correction offered in love. And that’s where today’s second reading comes in. St. Paul reminds us to share God’s truth in love. True love – true charity – requires us to follow what is true (and good and beautiful) and teach it to others.
When we find that we have a lot of “truth” being shared at home, but not a lot of charity accompanying it, we ask three questions. In the midst of a potential disagreement (or, more often, after one has already occurred), we ask: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
Like the watchman, we challenge the speaker on their words and see if they follow these three checks or if it might be better to remain silent. This little three question examination aids us not only in speaking truth, but also in practicing kindness, prudence, patience, and other virtues.
The beautiful thing about virtues is that if you practice one, others are sure to follow. Whether that virtue is charity or an opportunity to practice patience or extend grace depends on the people and the situation!
Knowing the truth and practicing virtues brings us closer to God. So, tell the truth. Share God’s truth. Listen when the truth is spoken to you. And when it is your turn to offer the truth, do so with charity.
Cook the truth in charity until it tastes sweet. – St. Francis de Sales