In today’s Gospel, we read about the fourth antithesis where, Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow. But I say to you, do not swear at all (Mt 5:33-34). Jesus is guiding us not to make any false oaths, but especially not to do so by taking the Lord’s name in vain. This means that when someone would tell a lie they would justify it by invoking an oath to make it more believable. “I swear on my mother’s grave that I did not…, I swear on our friendship that I did not…, or I swear to God as my witness that I did not…”
We are to resist the temptation to swear an oath at all. We are, to tell the truth in all circumstances, to be people of integrity, and stand on what we say as the truth on its own merits. We are definitely living in a time period in our country where the ability, to tell the truth, is certainly being called into question. Lies are becoming common-place in the public square but it is also present in our day to day interactions with one another.
In a 2014 episode of his show, Dr. Phil, gave a list of reasons researchers offered as to why people lie: People lie to take what is not rightfully theirs, to escape accountability, to create a fantasy/false self-esteem to escape their mundane life, to avoid punishment, to inflict pain, to feel better in the moment, steal admiration, and to gain an advantage so to exploit others.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it is a very good place to start. Lying destroys the very foundation of relationships which is trust. Once trust has been broken, it is very hard to come back from and rebuild. Lying also supports our false self of the ego, so even if we do not get caught in a lie, we know, and our conscience convicts us of that fact. There is an ache in our soul because we are not being true to who we really are.
Covering up lies expends a lot of energy because we have to remember what we said in the first place and then one lie often leads to another, and as we weave a web of lies we continue to feel sick inside because we have not been created to be deceitful and dishonest. We have been created good, to be people of integrity.
We also need to be careful not to confuse making a mistake with telling a lie. This happens when we make an honest mistake and say, “Sorry, I just lied.” This is important because the intent of a lie is deceitful and dangerous. By equating a mistake with a lie clouds the seriousness and inadvertently waters down the seriousness of lying.
Examining our conscience is a good daily practice, and being humble enough to admit where we have truly lied is the next best step. In the beginning, when we are first working on undoing a habit of lying, we can visualize ourselves apologizing to the person we have lied to and imagine how we could have handled the original situation in a more honest way. Then we can actually reach out to the person, apologize, and move toward reconciliation.
When we see that there is a deep-seated pattern or area in which we habitually lie, then the Sacrament of Reconciliation is an opportunity to experience the grace of Jesus and receive his healing and strength to confess that pattern and habit of sin. Going forward, at the instant we begin to form a lie in our mind, we can call on Jesus’ name for strength, so it does not come to fruition in our words. In time, we can transform our habits of deceit into a new virtue of honesty as we strive to live by Jesus’ command to make our, “‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and [our] ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the evil one” (Mt 5:37).
Photo credit: Sunset – Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA last November visiting my step-daughter Mia