The Catholic University of America

May 6, 2011

Christ: Font of Truth, Goodness and Beauty

Homily by Bishop Thomas Olmsted at the Mass for the American Cardinals Dinner

  Bishop Thomas Olmsted


The Church was born from the side of the crucified Christ as His Heart was pierced with a lance, and water and blood flowed out.

A Catholic university is born from the heart of the mystical Body of Christ, the Church, and draws its life from the same font of goodness, truth and beauty. For this reason, a Catholic university is always Eucharistic as it participates in the teaching mission of the Church. How appropriate, then, that the festivities of the Cardinals Dinner in the Diocese of Phoenix begin with this Holy Mass. How appropriate, too, that the word of God at this Eucharistic Sacrifice speaks about teachers and teaching.

In the Acts of the Apostles, we are told of Gamaliel, a Jewish “teacher of the law” respected by all the people and the man who taught a Jewish zealot named Saul prior to his conversion to faith in the Risen Christ. Thus, Gamaliel was a teacher who, in God’s marvelous providence, prepared Saul, later known as Paul, to become an Apostle and Teacher of the Gentiles (Cf. Acts 5:34-42). In the days after the Resurrection of Christ, Gamaliel, in his capacity as a teacher, defended the right to life of two Apostles, Peter and John, whom the Sanhedrin wanted to kill. Even though Gamaliel was not a believer in the Risen Christ at the time, and thus not a supporter of the teaching of the Apostles, he persuaded the rest of the Sanhedrin not to take the lives of these men. Gamaliel courageously and calmly, argued on the basis of recent historical evidence, from his knowledge of the law, and from his Jewish convictions of faith. He said: “Fellow children of Israel, be careful what you are about to do to these men. Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be someone important, and about 400 men joined him, but he was killed, and all those who were loyal to him were disbanded and came to nothing. After him came Judas the Galilean at the time of the census. He also drew people after him, but he too perished and all who were loyal to him were scattered. So now I tell you, have nothing to do with these men, and let them go. For if this endeavor or this activity is of human origin, it will destroy itself. But if it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them; you may even find yourselves fighting against God.”

Despite the Sanhedrin’s earlier belief that killing the Apostles would solve their problems, they were persuaded by Gamaliel to take a different path. His teaching led them beyond external conformity to the Fifth Commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” into the innermost wisdom of the law. He led them to consider the source of the law, God Himself, the Lord and Giver of Life, and His divine providence which the law and truth always serve,

A good teacher, in a time of crisis, when many were ready to resort to irrational violence, was able to be God’s instrument to turn them away from a choice all-too-familiar to us living in a culture of death. Through Gamaliel’s witness to the truth provided by faith and reason, two of the first teachers commissioned by Christ, are freed to continue their mission as Apostles. And they did so with joyful hearts; St. Luke tells us (Acts 5:41f): “So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching.”

The Gospel of the Risen Christ, that the Apostles taught and that we believe, is a Gospel which is stronger than violence, and one that is not silenced by threats of torture or even death. Those who believe in the Gospel share Gamaliel’s conviction about the truth, namely that “if it comes from God [and the truth indeed does], you will not be able to destroy [it].”

In our Gospel passage this evening (John 6:1-15), the Lord Jesus is teaching by both word and deed about the mystery of the Eucharist. He begins by asking a question, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” This is a penetrating question since every human person knows hunger. We can flourish only if he is nourished. Without food, we die. This is true of our physical life and also of our life in the Spirit. We need food for the body, and food also for the mind and the heart. But where can we find enough nourishment to meet our needs? What are the needs and hungers that we need most to attend to and where or to whom should we turn to satisfy them? These are the question that Christ the Teacher had in mind when He “went up on the mountain…sat down with His disciples…raised His eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to Him.” After the evangelist tells us that Jesus asked Philip the question, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat? he then adds that the Lord said these words “to test [Philip], because He Himself knew what He was going to do.”

Of course, we know that He could have proceeded to feed the large hungry crowd by multiplying the loaves and fish without asking this question about where we get nourishment for the hungers of human life. But as the sustainer and redeemer of all life, and as the teacher who is Himself the fullness of truth, the Lord asks the question to stir up a hunger for what He alone can give, for what alone can satisfy the hungers He has Himself fashioned in our bodies and souls.

After asking the question, Jesus the Teacher proceeded to feed the crowd in such a way that His abundant provision of bread and fish pointed far beyond itself, serving as a sign of His ability and desire to satisfy the more penetrating hungers of the soul. Every good teacher does far more than provide data and facts for the mind; he raises questions that need to be faced but that have no quick and easy answer, ones that require the discipline of study and prayer, and that Christ alone can answer.

When Pope Benedict XVI spoke at the Catholic University of America, in April 2008, his description of the mission of Catholic education highlighted the very elements that are prominent in the Sacred Scriptures of this Eucharistic Sacrifice. Let us listen again to the Holy Father’s words:

“Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals His transforming love and truth… Those who meet Him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good and true.” The Church is a “bearer of a message which has it origin in God Himself:” in His goodness and wisdom.

The Church is able to fulfill her mission of teaching because God has blest her with the gifts of both faith and reason as “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” Whereas secularist ideology today wants to drive a wedge between faith and reason, contending that they are incompatible, a Catholic university gladly celebrates the mutual dynamism of faith and reason, and confidently trusts that the pursuit of truth also leads us closer to goodness and beauty.

For this reason, the Catholic identity of a university, says the Holy Father, “is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction—do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear?”

The Church’s mission of teaching is closely bound to her Apostolic nature. The presence here tonight of bishops and cardinals from across our country underscores that close connection that the Catholic University of America enjoys, like none other in our nation. We give thanks for each bishop and cardinal who has made the sacrifice to come to Phoenix for this wonderful evening to raise funds for scholarships for students at our Catholic University. Even more, we give thanks that the community of faith that is Catholic U continues to treasure the one, holy, catholic and apostolic faith and bears witness to it in the pursuit of truth, in the defense of the dignity of human life, and in the service of others, especially the poor.

When a Catholic institution does this, then, it is indeed a place to encounter the Risen Christ: the font of goodness, truth and beauty.

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