A striking image confronts every priest who exits the sacristy of St. Peter’s Basilica before celebrating Mass. Roncalli’s “Altar of the Lie” depicts an authoritative St. Peter with his hand raised above Sapphira who, with her husband Ananias, betrays the Church in the Acts of the Apostles. Failing to donate as they promised, Ananias and Sapphira withhold money from St. Peter, and belie the truth. In an act of justice, they are both struck dead. “You have not lied to men,” St. Peter says, “but to God.”
Roncalli’s masterpiece reminds every priest before he celebrates Mass that what he says matters. He must preach the truth. If a priest obfuscates the Gospel out of fear of what others will think, or lies to the Church out of fear of his own humiliation or punishment, he too could face death — maybe not in this world, but perhaps in the next. This axiom also commands every other leader – including politicians and those who govern in the public square – to speak the truth at all times. Unfortunately, many political advertisements prior to the mid-term elections in Rhode Island spewed against opponents ad hominem attacks, many of which were falsified or at least exaggerated. Lying serves no one, of course. How can constituents trust their leaders if they will do anything to win an election – even through lying?
The Lord Jesus gives us a different, better way: “If you remain in my word, you will be my disciples. You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:31-32). Facing the truth can sometimes be painful, even scary at times. But a vine needs to be pruned in order to bear fruit. St. Peter knew the damage lies do to the soul, to the Church, and to the world. The image above the “Altar of the Lie” warns every leader forcefully; but it should also give hope. The truth sets us free.
No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here