Wednesday, November 21, 2007

La Bocca

In the centre of Rome, in a corner of a very old building, there’s a stone carving of a face, surrounded by wild hair. The eyes of the carving are wide open and staring into the eyes of the person who approaches it. The mouth of the same carving is stretched wide, almost as if it was laughing, but the mouth is a wide-open hole, just big enough for someone to insert his or her hand.

The carving is called ‘La Bocca’ or ‘The Mouth’.

Two thousand years ago, La Bocca was in regular use, and not just as a tourist attraction. People who were thought to be telling lies, or those who wanted to prove that they were telling the truth, would come to La Bocca, surrounded by a crowd of witnesses. Once they reached the carving, the person concerned had to extend their arm and put their hand inside the mouth. The understanding was that if someone were telling a lie, that person would not be able to withdraw his or her hand from La Bocca. It would be stuck. Everybody would be able to see for him or herself that they had met a liar.

I don’t know how reliable La Bocca was in sorting out the liars and the truth-tellers. It seemed to me that anybody whose hand is reasonably slim could easily put their hand into and pull it out, of the mouth of the carving. It looked as though anybody with a big hand might have difficulty, whether or not that person was a liar. Perhaps the liars were so afraid of La Bocca that they confessed their lie before having to put it to the test.

There are times today when something like La Bocca would be very useful. There are times when we are faced with someone who is telling a very plausible story that could be true. Yet at the same time, we might have a slight doubt that what we are hearing is the truth. It would be so useful to be able to know for certain whether we are hearing the truth or a lie.

We depend a great deal on truth in our daily lives. Without truth there cannot be trust. There cannot be unity and cooperation between individuals, between families, between countries. Each of us has had the experience of being disappointed when we have discovered that someone we trusted has lied to us. Each of us has, at some stage in our lives, been found out telling a lie. Sometimes the lie is obvious. We’ve all seen children who, for instance, are adamant that they did not eat a piece of bread and jam, but have the marks of jam all around their mouths. With good guidance, children grow out of that sort of lie.

Truth and falsehood can have serious consequences. What about the liar who occupies a position of importance? What happens when a patient lies about his symptoms? What are the consequences when someone in public office lies about corrupt practices, or a husband lies to his wife about his unfaithfulness?

Pilate asked, “What is truth?” but he didn’t want to hear the answer. Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life”. Am I prepared to listen?

God bless,
Sr. Janet