By Fr. Max Oliva, S.J.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” (Exodus 20:16)
The Eighth Commandment concerns another important teaching about living in community. The Israelites were a tribal people. The need that charity prevail rather than calumny was great for the well-being of their society. We are social beings as well. It is imperative in our time, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, “to make ourselves the neighbor of absolutely every person, helping him or her when they come across our path…” (Church in the Modern World, # 27)
The primary focus of this Commandment is the virtue of truth: bearing ‘true witness’ towards others rather than ‘false witness.’ The latter includes such negativities as: slander, libel, defamation of character, lies about another, uncharitable gossiping, prejudice, misrepresentation, and perjury. Conversely, true witnessing, especially in the workplace, would encompass:
Psalm 119 points to God as the ultimate source of truth: “Your word, O Lord, endures forever; it is firm as the heavens. Through all generations your truth endures; you have established the earth, and it stands firm” (verses 89-90). Pilate was confused, or perhaps cynical, about the notion of truth. So much so that he asked Jesus, “What is truth?” He was certainly out of sorts when Jesus said to him, “The reason I was born, the reason I came into the world, is to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). Jesus went on to say, “Anyone committed to the truth hears my voice.”
Being “committed to the truth” means practicing the virtue of integrity. Psalm 15 explains this beautifully: “The one who walks blamelessly and does justice; who thinks the truth in his heart and slanders not with his tongue; who harms not his neighbor, nor takes up reproach against his neighbor….shall never be disturbed” (Verses 2-3 & 5).
There is beauty in truth, moral beauty. Every once in awhile someone who embodies the deeper meaning of this Commandment comes across our path. Such a one for me was Matt Crosson. I only met him once, but the quality of his character impressed and inspired me. Matt was head of the Long Island, New York, Chamber of Commerce for sixteen years. In April of 2010, he took on the same role for the Las Vegas Chamber at a time when the city has been more adversely affected by the recession than any city in the country. Commentators on his life have described him as being a courageous leader who wasn’t afraid to take on controversial issues. He was also an effective conciliator who had the vision and the skill to bring all sides to the table.
He was committed to finding meaningful solutions to complex issues and had the perseverance to carry them out with the help of others. He was a true witness to the values he believed in.
Matt was a man who, it seems, to me embodied the meaning of Psalm 15 and this Commandment. After serving his fellow citizens well for many years, he died of complications from a stroke on December 23, 2010.
The Eighth Commandment can be summed up in the words of the writer, G.K. Chesterton,
“We are all in the same boat in a stormy sea, and we owe each other a terrible loyalty.”
(January 2011 Newsletter)