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Truth Can Be Dangerous

Truth Can be Dangerous

I want to help you avoid a problem that threatens truth-seekers. A little truth can be dangerous if it blinds you to bigger truth. G. K. Chesterton warned that “Heresy is truth run amok.” The Church, likewise, teaches that she was entrusted with the full deposit of truth, which enables her to guide the development of doctrine truth-fully, instead of letting it ‘run amok’.

WhatIsTruthChristBeforePilateMost of us are confident in the wholeness and soundness of the Church’s teachings. We may not realize, though, that we do have blind spots where we’re blocking out her guiding wisdom. Just as your up-close thumb can block out the far-away sun, the in-your-face fact can block out a fully enlightened perspective.

When someone gets away with obvious liturgical abuse, the need to maintain the unity of the Body of Christ may seem to fade away into the background of your thoughts. It’s going to be hard to hear “love your enemy” in the very moment your co-worker stabs you in the back, claims your work as his own, or shifts blame your way for a project failure. If your fellow Catholic is way off-base about one thing, you’re going to find it hard to believe he’s right about anything. When ISIS slaughters or enslaves more souls, that reality may loom nearer and larger than the whole kingdom of God, like a dark cloud over your hopefulness.

To prepare for the inevitable times when one true thing obscures another, you must expect this to happen, watch out for it, and have strategies ready to help you deal with it. What you must be able to do – and it’s hard! – is hold in tension two true things that fight against one another. The inability to bear this tension results in a sort of interior collapse. Ah, now the tension is gone, and you can relax in the safety of ‘being right,’ or enjoy the oddly satisfying indulgence of imagined retaliation upon another person. At its worst, this collapse becomes despair. Overwhelmed by the immediate reality, you give up hope that the sun still shines beyond it.

What makes despair so attractive is that hope involves bearing tension – uncomfortable, hard, a struggle. It’s so much easier to harden your heart against the one who hurts you (but this is to give up hope that he can change), or to shop for a church that agrees with you (but this is what fractures the Church and grieves Our Lord), or to collapse all reality into the space of one small truth of any kind.

I want to help you to bear tension better, so that you can better resist the temptation presented in such situations. I’ll offer two strategies that I know from experience are helpful.


It might help for you to journal through these four steps with a particular issue in mind.

  • The thumb, the looming and near reality, the truth or fact you cannot ignore is: ______ (insert your issue here).
  • Finish this thought: “If I really believed that positive change was possible, I would hope for ….” (Go on! What’s the Pollyanna-best you can imagine here?)
  • Now, stop writing and pray, specifically, for help holding these two impossible things in tension. Not feeling any tension? Then you are not imagining enough! God is omnipotent. Go back and imagine the over-the-top best thing that could happen. That should create some real tension in the light of Fact #1, which seems to assure you that Possibility #2 is impossible. When you pray, you invite God to reconcile this paradox creatively. This kind of tension, fully experienced instead of filed away under, “Oh well,” or “It’s a mystery,” actually engages your ‘hope muscle’ and gives it a workout.
  • Let yourself feel sad. Fr. Luigi Giussani counseled that sadness is the opposite of despair. Why? Because, if you really imagine ‘the best’ while experiencing ‘the worst,’ the gap makes you feel sad. Only if you hope for more are you sad that the great possibilities are not yet realities. Once you despair of the possible, you no longer experience this sense of loss, or the pain of sadness. Despair is also attractive for this numbing effect.

In the end, you should have an open, empty space inside, shaped like the hopeful possibilities you imagined. The fact that you can bear to keep this space open, continue yearning for the best, though Fact #1 tempts you to close in in despair, is a miracle! Your yearning becomes your prayer. Your faith grows to become the substance of what you hoped for. Sometimes it grows so much you actually help that substance, that hopeful possibility, to become realized. Your sadness becomes your capacity for joy!

Suspect anything that divides you from loved ones, breaks the Body of Christ, interferes with your joy, or tempts you to despair, of being a ‘small truth,’ or a ‘fact #1’. Fact #1 is as true and real as can be – like your thumb. You must not let it block the whole sun! This, too, is true: God will do exceedingly, abundantly more than all you ask or imagine (cf Ephesians 3:20).

What Else is True?

A second strategy for preventing ‘fact #1’ from obscuring your view of the larger picture is simply to consider what else is also true. Some examples:

  • “Terrorists just killed more people,” and yet?
    • “The faith of Christians in Iraq is strong and growing. This too is true: more and more Muslims are converting to dissociate from that violence – some, after dreams of Jesus.”
  • “My husband just admitted his porn-addiction,” and so?
    • “Now we can get him the help he needs. We have nothing to fear from Truth, only from hiding this. He’s on his way to being set free!”
  • “My unmarried daughter is pregnant,” and what else is true?
    • She has ruled out an abortion. Praise God!”
  • “The culture of death is powerful and frightening,” and what else is true?
    • “More Christians are seeking shelter in the Ark of the Catholic Church because she shines like a beacon in the darkness!”

HolySpiritDetailOfCeilingPeterskircheMunichPlease, please do not think this is advice to pretend away the realities you face. Both these strategies are effective because they begin by acknowledging and helping you articulate what it is that is wrong, painful, terrible, and disordered. If you skip this step, you avoid the tension by fantasizing, which is an impotent and dangerous method. Faith does not demand that you “just get over” your pain, but that you experience it in tension with the comfort and perspective of the Holy Spirit, who will guide you into all truth, out of this small ‘truth bunker’ that has trapped you.


Art: What is Truth? Christ before Pilate, Nikolai Ge, 1890, PD-US; Holy Spirit detail of Ceiling Peterskirche Munich, artist not listed, Jebulon, 21 October 2013, CCO-Universal Public Domain; both Wikimedia Commons.

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About Charlotte Ostermann

Charlotte is a Catholic convert, home educator, freelance writer and editor, poet and spiritual mentor with the Apostles of the Interior Life. She's the author of Souls at Rest: An Exploration of the Eucharistic Sabbath, Souls at Work: An Invitation to Freedom, Catholics Communicate Christ: How to Serve the Church as a Writer and Making Sunday Special. She has earned the Maryvale Institute "Certificate in Art, Beauty, and Inspiration“ an approach to the arts rooted in the Catholic Catechism. Her feature articles and poems have been published in Envoy, Canticle, Hereditas, Thessauri Ecclesiae, Mater et Magistra, St. Austin Review, and Gilbert magazines. Charlotte lives with her husband, Russ, and five of their eight children on a "farm wannabe" north of Lawrence, Kansas. She sings in the Sursum Corda Polyphony Ensemble and at her home church, the St. Lawrence Catholic Campus Center. She's a member of the Catholic Writers Guild, the Catholic Creatives Salon and the Contemporary Religious Artists Association. Charlotte has spoken for home educators, women's retreats, moms groups, C.S. Lewis Conferences, and more. Her topics include poetic learning, aesthetic education, true beauty, creativity and faith, the art of dialogue, holy leisure, literature and life, interior freedom. Do you need a speaker? See for more information.

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  • veritasetgratia

    Good on you Charlotte for attempting to explore practically situations that most of us are facing already, let alone what is coming! What you explore, and the thoughts are good, are situations on a medium plane (in my opinion) where you potentially have Catholics with a biased emphasis on part of Christ’s truth, but they have downplayed part of the same truth; that’s the ongoing story of liberals and their opposite number – more doctrinally grounded fellow Catholics. Trouble is if a principle (e.g. primacy of conscience) gets up and gets really heralded about and praised and pushed officially, that ramps up the situation to a higher level. Not every situation is solvable if you want to be true to Christ. Let’s pray that it wont get to that point. But stacks of good ideas in your article. Thank you.

    • Charlotte Ostermann

      It’s odd …I typed and thought I posted a reply to this, but now don’t see it..I just observed that your use of the phrase ‘medium plane’ is interesting to me because that is where I see myself…sort of weaving back together a hopeful middle ground that has largely disintegrated…between theory and practice, between polarities, between ‘us’ and ‘them’….you are welcome, and thanks for your response to my article!

      • LizEst

        That’s interesting, Charlotte…about the reply you posted. I never even saw it! Hmmm…sometimes things get a little strange. Sorry you had that experience. Our apologies for that.

  • Catherine Nagle

    Thank you so much, Charlotte, for your beautiful reflections of the highest prayer strategies, I’ve yet to come across! I hope that more dialogue like yours reaches everyone for changing our hearts, minds, and souls for Christ.

    • Charlotte Ostermann

      Catherine, you are so very welcome! Thanks much for your response.

  • NDaniels

    Be hopeful, for in the End, Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart will triumph! This does not change the fact that we are living in the Time of a Great Falling Away, where those who have left Christ’s Church spiritually, have remained within physically, causing chaos and confusion as they lead many astray. Those who deny that God Is The Author of Love, Life, and Marriage are apostates. The Charitable Anathema has always existed for the sake of Christ, His Church, all who will come to believe, and those prodigal sons and daughters, who, hopefully, will soon return to Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, outside which, there is no Salvation.

    • LizEst

      I’m trying to wrap my head around your term “The Charitable Anathema”. What do you mean by that? Would you kindly please explain that for my sake and the sake of all our readership. Thanks NDaniels. God bless you!

  • LizEst

    The Truths of the faith, which the Church holds and teaches, have been handed down to us from the Apostles. They are timeless and never change. Things that may have been true within the Church that have needed correction, such as sins, deficiencies, etc, are things that are common to the fallen human nature of mankind. We need to distinguish between these things lest people think one is talking about the former rather than the latter. Thanks for your comment Diana. God bless you!

    • Charlotte Ostermann

      Diana, I agree with LizEst in her caution about not needing to change any truths of the church. But I see from the spirit in your comments that you mean the kind of correction of erroneous perceptions of truth, or of the truth-run-amok that I mentioned. And this does take compassion! Sometimes we can get so ‘right’ that we can’t even listen with love when another person tries to express their views. They need to express even errors for us to be able to communicate a larger perspective effectively, so we have to listen first when they take issue with truth. They aren’t the enemy, and truth has nothing to fear from them…they are the ignorant and Truth wants them instructed in love!

      • Diana Marie Winkler

        Charlotte, you are right in understanding what I was trying to convey. I was not referring to the Catholic Church changing what is being handed down. It’s because of it’s “stance” was one of the reasons I came back into the Church. I have found that those who do criticize the Catholic Church has either not bothered to study it or are going from what has been passed down to them from generation to generation. I certainly understand about fallen human nature…been there done that!! I ask the Holy Spirit for the words to say when coming up against someone who wants to find fault with the Catholic Church. I also ask for the spirit of love when conveying the words. Glad you were able to see the spirit in my comment. God bless.

        • LizEst

          Beautifully put, Diana. Thank you for that.

  • LizEst

    Oh, it’s a book by Dietrich von Hildebrand! He’s excellent. Thank you for that. Rather than have us read the book, would you please kindly summarize his definition in two or three short sentences? Thanks.

    • Charlotte Ostermann

      I’m interested in this too…hope you’ll post that summary…I love von Hildebrand.

      • NDaniels

        “The Charitable Anathema. Why excommunication of heretics is an act of love, and ensures true unity among believers. The beneficial effects it would have on weak Catholics or those who have left the fold.”

    • NDaniels

      One need not have read this book by Dietrich Von Hildebrand to understand that outside The Body of Christ, Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, there is no Salvation. One cannot be in communion with Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church if one denies that God Is The Author of Love, Life, and Marriage. It is scandalous that those who deny elements of The Deposit of Faith have been allowed to remain within making it appear as if one can be for Christ and anti Christ, simultaneously. There is no division in The Body of Christ.
      The Eucharist is the source and summit of our Catholic Faith.
      The Sacrifice of The Cross Is The Sacrifice of The Most Holy, The Blessed Trinity.

      “No one can come to My Father, except through Me.” – Jesus The Christ

      There Is only One Word of God Made Flesh.

      • LizEst

        Thank you, NDaniels! I’d still like to know about this term charitable anathema. What is its definition? What does it mean? What is the concept? How does Dietrich von Hildebrand explain it? — in two or three sentences please. Thanks.

        • NDaniels

          “I give to you a New Commandment, Love one another as I Have Loved you.”
          To Love one another as Christ Loves us, is to desire Salvation for ourselves as well as our beloved. This is The Golden Rule.
          Desiring Salvation for me and not for thee, lacks charity.

          • LizEst

            Still looking for the answer to my question, NDaniels. Just linking to the book is not the answer. Please charitably answer the question. Thank you.

          • NDaniels

            Charitable Anathema by Dietrick von Hildebrand

            “20th-century doctor of the Church” offers solutions to our crisis
            For the first time gathered between the covers of a book, Dietrich von Hildebrand’s post-Vatican II speeches and essays diagnose the multiple cancers afflicting the Mystical Body – and prescribe the cure.
            “Von Hildebrand is the 20th-century doctor of the Church.” So proclaimed his beloved friend, Pope Pius XII. Even Paul Pius VI, with whom von Hildebrand expressed fraternal disagreement, on matters like changing the Mass-found him formidable and honored him with an award for a remarkable career of Catholic writing.
            In fact, Paul VI’s homage makes these 20 essays all the more fascinating: von Hildebrand spent most of the last years of his life not writing high theology, but sounding the alarm and suggesting ways to reverse the decline in Catholic belief and practice. In these essays, he brings Scripture, tradition and the writings of great saints to bear on our present turmoil. Seven chapters set the tone:
            The Charitable Anathema. Why excommunication of heretics is an act of love, and ensures true unity among believers. The beneficial effects it would have on weak Catholics or those who have left the fold

          • NDaniels

            “Why excommunication of heretics is an act of love, and ensures true unity among believers. The beneficial effects it would have on weak Catholics or those who have left the fold.”

            One is either with Christ or one is anti Christ; being in communion is not a matter of degree.

  • Charlotte Ostermann

    I’ve had to let some relationships go, but I’ve also held on tight while Satan tempted my friend to dump me! Sounds like you’ve prayed about this and come to peace about letting go, but I like for my friends to have to do the dumping, so they may realize at some level that I hung in there with them.

    • ThirstforTruth

      Thanks for responding….it is a dilemma knowing when to let go
      and when to hang in there. Yes, I have prayed over this ( and of course will continue to pray for her) but I am at peace with this decision of lifting it all to the Lord. If He choses for me to stay the course, then He will let me know in good time. God is in control of this, not I. And He is even more concerned than I over His ” lost sheep” and will bring good out of this somehow for all of us. O happy fault is what we celebrate each Easter, is it
      not? God’s immense Love bringing great good out of great evil.
      I trust in Jesus to NOT give up on either of us.

      • LizEst

        ThirstforTruth–Yes, you can be sure that Christ will not give up on either of you. God bless you and keep you and make His face shine on both of you as well!

    • LizEst

      I like the idea of letting them say good-bye so that they may realize, at some level, that you’ve hung in there with the. Wisdom!

  • Mary Therese

    Thank you for this! I’m hoping it will be very helpful to me in several ongoing issues I’ve been struggling with.

  • JohnnyVoxx

    “When someone gets away with obvious liturgical abuse, the need to maintain the unity of the Body of Christ may seem to fade away into the background of your thoughts.” This is a good and timely reminder. Thank you for this good article and for reminding us why we, who have the fullness of truth, must guard it in its fullness.

  • Michelle

    I agree. It’s not really about you, it’s about her relationship or lack thereof with God. Period. I always imagine trying to save someone from drowning, but making sure they do not pull me under instead.

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