Fearless defender of truth
Fr Henryk Misztal
In his telegram to Primate Cardinal Jozef Glemp on the 10th anniversary of the martyr’s death of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko (19 October 1994) the Venerable Servant of God John Paul II stressed the most important message of the expected beatification. ‘This priest-martyr will always be remembered by our Nation as a fearless defender of truth, justice, freedom and human dignity.’
He lived in the truth – he was free
Truth is the indispensable value for every man, society and nation because it can set free, i.e. has salvific power, ‘The truth will make you free’ (John 8:32). Fr Jerzy regarded the truth as one of the main messages and he preached it and sealed it with his martyr’s death. He spoke in his homily, ‘The Church always stands by the truth’… Let us make life in truth our priority if we do not want to have our conscience grow mould. Words of truth, life in truth can cost, is risky sometimes. But as the late Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski said, «You do not pay only for chaff. You must pay for wheat grains»” (28 February 1982).
Following the call of John Paul II ‘Do not be afraid’ Fr Jerzy believed that only the one that lived in truth is truly free and fully human. He himself, living in truth, was free from adherence to material things that were as if beyond him; free from himself because he did not care for any distinctions or honours; free from fear, which he showed in his contacts with believers and people of the communist system. ‘In order to remain spiritually free – he preached – you must live in truth. Living in truth is giving a testimony to others, confessing truth and defending it in all situations… Truth cannot be destroyed by some decision or bill. Fundamentally speaking, our slavery is that we submit to the power of lies; we do not unmask them and do not protest against them every day. We do not protest, we are silent or pretend that we do not believe in lies. Then we live in hypocrisy. Courageous testimony to the truth leads directly to freedom. A man who testifies to the truth is free even in the conditions of external slavery, even in a camp or prison… The fundamental thing to liberate man and nation is to overcome fear… In fear we act against our conscience that is a measure of truth. If truth is for us such a value for which it is worth suffering, it is worth taking risk then we will overcome fear, which is the direct reason for our slavery’ (31 October 1982).
He did not preach revenge
As a holy priest he noticed the harm the criminal system did to the Church, society, families and individuals, but he did not preach revenge. He preached hope for nation’s reconciliation. In one of his homilies he said, ‘The Polish nation does not carry hatred in itself and that’s why the nation can forgive many things but only at the cost of returning to truth. Because truth and only truth is the first condition of trust’ (26 August 1984). Are these words not valid in me, in society, nation and international relationships today? ‘Lies and half-truths flowing wide in the mass media do not serve the development of truth. Arranging TV programmes only in accordance with the official propaganda, secular morality as if there were no Christians in Poland does not serve truth… The late Primate of the Millennium said that «surgery of newspapers is specific and meaningful». First of all, what is most healthy, powerful and convincing in the Catholic way is cut or suppressed in newspapers… Only Catholics cannot promote their views effectively. They are not only forbidden to struggle with opposing views or engage in polemics with them but also they must not defend their own convictions or general human convictions when they are attacked in the most slanderous and harmful way. They must not rectify falsity that others have complete freedom to proclaim and spread with impunity…The ideologies that follow lies and violence fall, yield bad fruit and moral devastation… To a large extent we are to be blamed for our slavery because out of fear or love of comfort we accept evil and even vote for the mechanism of its actions. If we out of love of comfort support the mechanism of actions of evil we do not have the right to condemn this evil because we ourselves become its creators and help to legalise it. Finally, may we be warned by the awareness that a nation dies when it lacks fortitude, when it deceives itself saying that it is good when it is bad, when it is satisfied with only half-truths’ (27 May 1984).
He overcame evil with good
He reminded people about the need of truth till the end of his life since on the day of his death, 19 October 1984 in Bydgoszcz, he reflected while reciting the rosary, ‘Truth and fortitude are the values that are very important in the life of everyone, especially in the life of Christians… Overcoming evil with good means preserving faithfulness to the truth. Lord God inculcated pursuit of truth in man. Hence man naturally desires to pursue truth and dislikes hatred. Truth, like justice, is connected with love and love is costly. True love is self-sacrificing and thus truth must be costly. Truth always unites and joins people. The greatness of truth is terrifying and unmasks lies of little, fearful people. However, truth is immortal and lies vanish quickly. Therefore, like the late Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski said, we do not need many people speaking in truth. Christ chose few men to preach the truth. Words of lies must be many because lies are particular and mercenary; they change like goods on shop shelves. They must be always new, must have many servants that will teach them according to the programme for today, tomorrow, for a month. Then there will be an urgent training in another lie. People will find, people will come from afar to seek words of truth because they have a natural longing for truth. We must learn to discern lie from truth. It is not easy in the times about which a contemporary poet said, «our backs have never been so cruelly whipped with lies and hypocrisy». Christians are obliged to stand by truth regardless of its high price. Let us pray to have our daily lives filled with truth.’
Christ reminded his disciples many times, ‘Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more’ (Luke 12:4). He was not afraid of speaking about the truth and he did not fear to give what was most valuable for him – his life, for the truth, either.