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Hearing and Living the Truth | Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers | September 10, 2005

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A Catholic university’s approach to student development takes into account the whole student whose education includes the heart as well as the mind. As the Director of Public Safety, I understand that much of this education happens outside of an academic setting, in the classroom of real life, where students learn the tough lessons that come with being an adult, such as being held accountable when we make mistakes and accepting responsibility for our actions.

It is my job to ensure that the public safety officers exercise their authority through dedicated and committed service to the university’s mission, so that their interactions with students become teachable moments and valuable opportunities through which our students will become more mature adults and responsible citizens.

Many problem situations with students arise over varying interpretations of the truth. For example, when we ask a visibly intoxicated student who is not twenty-one years old, "Did you have any alcohol this evening?" the response is usually, "No." We see the truth: that the student’s eyes are bloodshot; they are slurring their speech; they are wobbling when they walk; they have a strong smell of alcohol on their breath, yet, in their version of truth, "everything is fine."

Herein lies the problem: we both can’t be right. So, in keeping with truth that is unbiased, detached, and fair–and in keeping with a Catholic university’s holistic approach to student life and our moral obligation to the students we serve–we issue the student a citation for underage drinking. In the student’s mind, where he is trapped in a world of self-centered, biased, and imaginary truth, we have just exercised our authority in a way that has impeded their "right" and "freedom" to do as they please. But in his conscience and in his heart, he knows we did the right thing.

The Church is our mother and teacher. With Christ as her head, she "desires that all be saved and come to the knowledge of truth" (CCC 74). Jesus the Lord commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel which he fulfilled in his own person and declared with his own lips. In preaching the Gospel–in preaching Jesus Christ–the apostles were to communicate the gifts of God to all, for the Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and the moral life (CCC 75). The Truth of Jesus Christ was to be the proclaimed so that people may be drawn into the heart of love and life; into intimate and personal communion with the Living God.

"In keeping with the Lord’s command, and under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Gospel was handed on in two ways: orally and in writing, by which the apostles passed on--either by spoken word or their preaching, or by the example they gave, or by the institutions they established--what they themselves had received from the lips of Jesus, from the way he lived and the works he performed," (CCC 76) and this comes to us today in the from of the sacred deposit of faith: Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus preparing the Church to carry on his mission and work after his Ascension into heaven. By handing on the keys of the kingdom, the Lord gives Peter full and supreme authority to safeguard and protect the deposit of faith, and to exercise this authority in His name. This authority is not based on Peter’s faith but the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. "In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church, the apostles left bishops as their successors. They passed on to the bishops their own teaching authority, and this unbroken and continuous line of apostolic succession will be preserved until the end of time" (CCC 77).

We have all become acutely aware of the fact that some shepherds have failed to serve the flock entrusted to them by Christ. The prophet Jeremiah lets us know loud and clear that the malfeasance of bishops will not go unpunished: "Woe to the shepherds," the prophet says, "who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! You have scattered my sheep and driven them away. You have not cared for them, but I will take care to punish your evil deeds" (Jer. 23:1-3).

However, despite the fact that some bishops have sinned and have chosen not to live in accord with the faith they are bound to protect and serve, the doctrines and teaching contained in Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition still holds true. Personal sin is not greater or more powerful than the strength of God’s law, for Christ has promised that, in his Church, the gates of Hell will not prevail against it! The Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila, Bishop of Fargo, writes:
"We must never forget that certain Church teachings can never change, regardless of whether or not people accept them or are faithful to them. These teachings, in the areas of faith and morals, are fixed in the very revelation of Jesus Christ and are transmitted through Sacred Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition, and in faithfulness to Jesus Christ are upheld by the teaching authority (the Magisterium) of the Church." [1]
"We live in a complex secular culture and are inevitably exposed to a variety of ideas that are incompatible with the truths of faith. Values arise from whatever people happen to think and want . . . and moral norms are regarded as mere rules that can be dismissed when they become too demanding." [2] "Christians are by no means immune to these influences and sometimes adopt elements of secular thought without recognizing their incompatibility with Christian faith." [3]

Like the drunken student, we become intoxicated by the ways of the culture, to the point where the meaning of truth and freedom become confused and disoriented. In our stupor, we suppress or ignore the truth and beauty of the Church’s teaching in such areas as sexuality and marriage, and in our version of the truth, "everything is fine." Yet, Christ said to his apostles, "whoever hears you hears me," so when we choose to ignore the authority of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him when they speak clearly and definitively on issues of faith and morals, we are choosing to ignore Christ himself.

My brothers and sisters in Christ, "Catholics are called to transform the world by the way they live their daily lives, bearing constant witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ." [4] It is the job of the Holy Father, the Pope, to ensure that bishops exercise their authority through dedicated and committed service to the Gospel so that all the faithful may be in communion and intimacy with Jesus Christ. The Successor of Peter faithfully teaches what Jesus commanded and encourages the faithful to live upright lives precisely because he wishes to lead us to Christ through growth in holiness. [5]

It is when we respond to this call with our whole being–when we open our minds and hearts to the Church’s teaching, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit–then we will experience the peace and freedom that only the Way, the Truth, and the Life can give. Amen.

[This article was originally a homily given on Sunday, August 21, 2005.]


[1] Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila, "You Will Know the Truth and the Truth Will Set You Free: A Pastoral Letter on Deepening our Understanding of the Truths of the Catholic Faith," (par. 7).
[2] Ibid., 9, 11.
[3] Ibid., 14.
[4] Ibid., 31.
[5] Ibid., 8.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com articles:

The Meaning and Necessity of Spiritual Fatherhood | Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, MTS
The Truth & The Lie | Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers
Excerpts from Truth and Tolerance | Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
Chesterton and the Delight of Truth | James V. Schall, S.J.
Catholic Commencements: A Time for Truth to Be Honored | By James V. Schall, S.J.
Relativism 101: A Brief, Objective Guide | by Carl E. Olson
Church Authority and the Petrine Element | by Hans Urs von Balthasar

Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers, MTS, is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon and is the Director of Public Safety for the University of Portland. He is the founder of Aurem Cordis, a Christian evangelization and apologetics organization dedicated to disseminating and promoting Catholic values, principles, and teaching in complete faithfulness and total submission to Holy Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium. He has been a guest on "EWTN Live" and "Catholic Answers Live" and hosts a weekly radio program on KBVM, the Catholic radio station in Portland. Deacon Harold is currently writing a book on Catholic spirituality for men. He, his wife Colleen, and their four children reside in Portland.

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