Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Truth, The Whole Truth... or Shut Up?

It's been a long, long time, but an email reminded me that I should be keeping up with this blog.

Besides, a recent event - and a rather sad one - made me think again of the old Catholic belief that at least part of what marriage is about is to get one another to heaven - and I realized that I had something I needed to share.

A friend and I, discussing the sad event, were going back and forth about the benefit of "total honesty" in a marriage. Ok, you get the drift of "the event," by now!

I know that this concept of being completely honest with one another in a marriage enjoyed a lot of popularity for a while. And I know that, as Catholics, honesty is demanded of us.

But I was reminded of a trick my mom, a very Catholic lady, used to employ. When someone would call and my dad didn't want to take the call, she would politely say that he was not available. Or if someone asked her how she liked something she didn't, she would find a way of not being cruel and not lying at the same time.

I was reminded of that as we discussed the "right" thing to do in this case.

After all, in marriage as in any other relationship, too much information can be deadly, just as can too little.

What, after all, do we owe one another? The truth, surely, when nothing else will accomplish the same purpose. Careful truth, perhaps, when the full truth will serve nothing but what is gained in the confessional - a baring of our conscience?

I am reminded of St. Thomas More, and the delightful play, A Man for All Seasons, when Thomas plays cat-and-mouse with the English crown, who would have him admit his guilt and thereby condemn himself to death, and his family to a life without him, disgraced by the name of traitor. Thomas attempts to sidestep - to be truthful, if not honest - or is it the other way around? He is honest by his conscience and by the law; but careful in how much of the truth, and to what end, he bares his soul.

He cannot tell Henry that he supports his marital game-playing. This would be to go against his Catholic obligation, and his belief that divorce, under the circumstances, would be wrong and sinful.

He can, however, serve God in the "tangle of his mind," that is to say, play the game to the greater good. Henry will do what Henry will do - Thomas is clear that he is not going to talk his old friend out of his path. Thomas can, however, try to protect his family from ruin and save himself from the chopping block. He does this, until, his back against the wall and his immortal soul in the palm of his hand, he must admit before man and God that Henry's path is wrong.

So I wondered - if a person in a marriage slips, and does not intend to do so again - has that person an obligation to confess all, and in so doing perhaps assuage his guilt (the role of the Confessional?) or to stay still and protect the innocent? Of course it's a calculated risk: will the offended party feel more or less anger should the truth ever come out? Somehow I believe that a penitent spouse who has lived spotlessly ever since will be forgiven. Now, if it's a pattern of offenses, that's another story...

But, harking back to that idea that we, as Catholics, are supposed to try to get one another to heaven. In this case, what is most likely to help bring our spouse - not ourselves - to a heavenly reward? Silence, I think. Silence, Confession, penitence, reformation, and a sincere effort to make the marriage work for both parties. Recognition that perhaps your sin is a signal that something is wrong, and, knowing that, an effort to make things better.

It's a difficult call, to be sure. But that was what the fine old art of Examination of Conscience was all about. A skill that needs to be resurrected.

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