Nathan Ko, a Grade 11 student at St. Brother Andre C.H.S. in Markham, Ont., won first prize in the Fr. Ted Colleton Scholarship, co-sponsored by the Niagara Region Right to Life Association and The Interim.

Quid est veritas?” Pilate asked Jesus. “What is truth?” From Plato to Aristotle, from Augustine to Thomas Aquinas, scholars, philosophers, and theologians have long pondered and debated the meaning of truth throughout the ages. In Hans Christian Andersen’s fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” two weavers swindle a vain emperor into buying fine clothes they claim are invisible to the foolish and incompetent. Although the emperor and his courtiers cannot see the clothing, which is actually non-existent, they pretend they can, for the sake of their reputation. The emperor then marches in a parade with his imaginary clothing, but the crowd does not question him for fear of appearing incompetent or foolish, until a child points out the emperor’s nakedness, which stirs the crowd. The emperor realizes his mistake, but continues the procession anyway. In Andersen’s fable, the truth is revealed only through the candid and sincere voice of a child, who has no reason to fear any social stigma or conform to the collective pretence of the crowd. Only when people break free from bonds of fear and conformity will they bear witness to the truth so that, through the words of Amos, “justice will roll on like a river.”

The fear and rejection of truth are the main impediments to the work of justice. Many people fear the truth because it is unfamiliar and reject it because it is painful. Just as the emperor, his courtiers, and the crowd refuse to believe that they cannot see the weavers’ clothes, for fear of their reputations, many people also fear the truth because of its consequences. For example, the responsibilities and social implications of parenthood, which can be distressful and challenging, especially for unexpected and young parents, sadly cause many people to reject the true beauty and sanctity of human life and surrender to the comfortable lies of abortion fuelled by the culture of death. As a result, as Pope John Paul II regrets in his encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, “any reference to common values and to a truth absolutely binding on everyone is lost, and social life ventures on to the shifting sands of complete relativism. At that point, everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining: even the first of the fundamental rights, the right to life.

Many people are often unwilling to advocate the truth, fearing others will criticize, humiliate, and ostracize them. In Andersen’s fable, it would be a bold act to claim that the emperor’s magnificent clothes do not exist, because whoever does so would be regarded as foolish and incapable. Similarly, it requires significant courage to confront modern society and defend the right to life for all human beings, because those who do not accept the subterfuges of “reproductive rights,” “choice,” and other euphemisms for abortion are considered misogynistic, sexist, and bigoted. However, to concede to the culture of death is to support evil and injustice. Since only the truth will set society free from darkness and deception, people need “to have the courage to look the truth in the eye and to call things by their proper name, without yielding to convenient compromises or to the temptation of self-deception,” as Pope John Paul II writes in Evangelium Vitae. To work for justice is not to fear the truth, but to embrace it and bear witness to it with ardour, humility, and conviction.

People have a tendency to conform to the majority and a reluctance to express what they truly believe. However, God blesses all human beings with an intellect and will, so they are responsible for using their intellect to reason between good and evil, and for exercising their will by proclaiming the truth for justice’s sake, rather than conforming to popular and misguided opinion. Pope Benedict XVI warned that when “truth is violated, peace is threatened, law is endangered, then, as a logical consequence, forms of injustice are unleashed.” History has proven itself repetitively that the majority is not always right. The Holocaust was able to persist in part because people conformed to the immoral ideologies of their dictator, and few spoke out for the victims. Fuelled by the sexual revolution, abortion is the modern holocaust, the illusory fine clothing that society wears today. The criminality of an action does not change by popular opinion. Democracy does not immunize a society from pursuing injustice and evil. Although it is meant to seek the common good for all people, its moral legitimacy rests in the values that it represents. Those who strive for justice must not give in to the subterfuges and temptations of modern culture, but see beyond the deception and darkness that proliferate throughout the world, just as the child in Andersen’s fable does.

The child in the fable, the only one who does not give in to the collective lie of make-believe clothing, is in fact the light of Christ, “the way, the truth, and the life,” who sets all free from the vices and lies of the world. With the candour of such a child, people must advocate the truth, however uncomfortable or painful it may be. As Pope Benedict XVI writes in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, “to defend the truth, to articulate it with humility and conviction, and to bear witness to it in life are therefore exacting and indispensable forms of charity.” When those living in darkness realize the atrocity and inhumanity of abortion, without its euphoniums and other disguises, they will come to know and love the truth as well. By having the courage to uphold the truth without fear or the temptation to conform to social norms, people may then witness the establishment of a new culture of truth, love, and life.

Truth is a precious commodity. It is the vessel of justice. People must embrace the truth for justice’s sake, because without truth, there can be no justice. Whatever is true remains true, even if no one believes it, and whatever is false remains false, even if everyone believes it. To fear truth, reject it, and to conform with the culture of death are the greatest obstacles to justice, as only truth can free people from deceit and illusory pleasures. To defend the truth is to defend the weakest and most vulnerable of human beings, the unborn. Although many people are still fearful of the truth and reject those who proclaim it, those who bear witness to the truth with ardour, humility, and the candour of a child, still give hope to the world. All people of life and for life must work fervently, in solidarity with the unborn and with compassion for those who have yet to embrace the truth, for a new civilization of truth and justice.