Editor’s note: The Anchor would like to welcome Oscar Rivera Jr. to its family of columnists. His entries will routinely appear on this youth page. 

If you saw me in the streets or at church, who would you say I am? What would you say about me? What are some things that stick out? Just based on my picture many would subconsciously think. “He doesn’t look churchy!” We have heard don’t judge a book by its cover, but we often do. Do we take the time to read the book, and make a judgment based on the content, or is the cover enough for us to make a snap judgment of the context of that book? Do we apply that same mentality to our relationship with truth, with our Catholic faith, or even with God. Do we make judgments based on headlines, hashtags, snap shots, trends; or do we deviate from the norm and search for the truth?

Humanity is plagued with the question of truth. Throughout history people explore far out lands to be enlightened and find truth. On an academic level, truth is the centerpiece of philosophy, and one of the greatest puzzles in the subject. Outside the realm of academia, the struggle of truth is expressed in music, movies, and literature. Let’s take the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) as an example. Upon meeting the Ancient One to seek answers Dr. Strange is presented with the truth and he is offended by it. The Ancient One responds to the offense, saying:

“You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You spent your whole life trying to widen that keyhole. To see more, to know more; and now, on hearing that it can be widened in ways you can’t imagine — you reject the possibility.”

These battles with truth today are more destructive, because the truth is what anyone wants truth to be. To say something is absolute is a social crime against free thinkers and progressive minds. Truth has been so diluted that the one truth that remains true today, is that truth is offensive.

Spreading the Good News, the truth of Jesus Christ, is what the Catholic Church has done since its birth at the cross. However, throughout the years we have seen the Church drifted away from the foundational principle of evangelization and call to conversion. Many Catholics today have been formed by the same methodology, vernacular, and lexicon as modern-day secular educators. This formation model was adopted to compete for the truth today. However, has this exclusive academic approach of revealing God to others come to an academic dead end? Is the end game a conversion of heart or just changing of minds. Conversion of heart and mind should not be an either/or formation model, rather a both/and mission. To choose one or the other is us grabbing the lowest hanging fruit;  the forbidden fruit of simple Catholic intellectual regurgitation or what I call “theologianism.” 

Archbishop Emeritus Alfred C. Hughes, Archdiocese of New Orleans, says:

“Traditionally in the Church, we have always recognized three fundamental paths to God: the path of truth, path of goodness, the path of beauty. [The] path of truth of course is extraordinarily important but sometimes today becomes problematic if we just focus on presenting systematically the content of Christian revelation, the content of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We may not be meeting people where they are.” 

The truth is of utmost importance but ought not to be separated from the other two pathways, as the “lone ranger” of Salvation. Having the faithful know the vocabulary, history, and theology of our faith should never be dismissed. However, if we are creating a culture of Catholic trivia masters, and pseudo-theologians, then the Church will suffer with true discipleship and a personal relationship with Jesus.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: 

“For if man exists it is because God has created him through love. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to His Creator” (“CCC” #27).

Man is designed to seek God, and what better way of finding Him, than in the goodness and beauty of His creativity. Truth can be revealed more effectively when the path of goodness and beauty has paved its way. 

Truth will always be at the destination of our journey to Heaven. However, how we get there needs to be revisited. The consequences of ignoring goodness, and beauty will bring many to the altar still thirsting for truth, and the results could lead many down the path of rejecting Jesus. 

Jesus extracted what was good, beautiful, and true in His own faith of Judaism. As a result He was killed for offending the lukewarm intellectual leaders of the time. Jesus’ teaching, parables, and example unlocked the hidden greatness practiced by the People of God. Yet Jesus’ words were and still are challenged or rejected by the greatest and simplest of minds today. 

The situation with our approach to teaching of the simple academic truth is that it voids our relationship with the Truth, Incarnate. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said: “An ‘adult’ faith is not a faith that follows the trends of fashion and the latest novelty; a mature adult faith is deeply rooted in friendship with Christ. It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth.” Are we friends of Jesus or mere fans of Jesus?

My friends know who I am,  and don’t judge a book by its cover. But those who are not my friends and see my Catholicism on display will simply assume I am “the crazy Catholic guy” who believes in archaic things. I am considered, just by association, to be a hateful, close minded, self-righteous, Jesus zealot, that is out of touch with the world. Anyone who knows me, knows that those claims are not only false, but so insanely off the mark that it’s slightly comedic. My friends can tell people who I am and not just what they think I am. Why? Because they know me deeply, and we have experienced life together. Can we say that about Jesus? Or are we content with just knowing the facts about who He is?

Anchor columnist Oscar Rivera Jr., is director of Youth Ministry in the diocesan Secretariat for the New Evangelization. orivera@dioc-fr.org