Every Lent, the Catholic Church fully engages itself with the historicity of its Divinity crucified. In the trial, execution and burial of Jesus of Nazareth, there is one question posed by a New Testament character left tacitly unanswered, and the moment’s weight sinks into the heart of the modern reader shocked by its timeless silence. Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect, questioned the itinerant Nazarene rabbi brought before his throne, desperately trying to understand the man before him whose orthodox theism was so unlike Pilate’s own cosmopolitan paganism. Shocked by the claims of divinity made by Christ, the Judaean councilor Pilate retorts that this rabbi must conceive of himself of a king of sorts. The Nazarene, a son of a modest carpenter, born amongst baying animals in a stable in Bethlehem, gave this audacious reply in John 18:37: “Thou sayest that I am a king. To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth. Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice.” Pilate, puzzled at the objectivism of Christ, utters the eternal refrain of secular relativism that is left without response: “What is truth?”
Lent is the catholic’s 40-day voyage toward a theological response to the carnal question of Pontius Pilate. Is there such a thing as “truth?” Is there a higher power to which we submit, an author of a “right” and “wrong” that is knowable in the depths of the human heart? The answer to the latter question, for a catholic, is given immediately following Lent in what the Catholic Church believes is the historicity of a vacant tomb. But as to the former question, Lent is a time not only for pondering the catholic conception of the truth, but moreover our adherence to it.
How has trite selfishness, lustful pursuit of lascivious pleasure and an abdication of personal responsibility divorced our hearts from the foundational basis of faith; namely, a God who sent His Son to save the world on a road littered with poverty, suffering, and shame? How do our lives comport with the vision of humanity of that humble Jew from Nazareth who so forsook personal aggrandizement that He met His fate in the most torturous form of public execution? What does it say about our own human nature that this vessel of the divine was killed by the state in the name of jurisprudence?
These 40 days are the catholic opportunity to formulate a ready answer to the nihilism of Pilate, and to have a ready defense against moral relativism and the hollow “tolerance” of a pluralistic view of truth. In that articulation, the moral vision we put forward should cause us immediately to reflect inward and glance upon our statement’s indictment of our personal failures and moral bankruptcy. The utterance should be a poignant reminder of the taint of original sin that stains the human condition, and how far we fall from objective standards of devotion, piety and humility. Lent provides us with a focused window to shape ourselves into saints and leave behind the cocoons of petty relativism that prevent us from knowing the truth and living it.