March 23, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The following quotes are excerpts from a talk given by Most Rev. Samuel J. Aquila, bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Fargo in Philadelphia on March 18:
Hence every bishop, priest and seminarian, and yes theologians and all involved in the formation of seminarians, if they are to be illumined by Christ, must ask the question, ?Do I desire to be possessed by the authority of Christ or to have my ears itched by teachers suited to my liking, moving away from the truth, and entering into the myths of the present age? (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
In living the teaching authority of Christ, bishops and priests are called to hand on what they have received from Christ and the Church. Within the hearts of bishops and priests there must be a rapt and attentive listening to Jesus and the Church; a love for truth, who is a person, Jesus; and a deep confidence in the truth that sets one free-?You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free (Jn 8:32).
Jesus always used clear, direct language in presenting his teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount one can have no doubt about what Jesus teaches in the Beatitudes, in the fulfillment of the law, and in the cost of discipleship. Jesus was patient and compassionate with the sinner, those who were sick, and those who were troubled by demons. Jesus certainly teaches the primacy of love by word and example, yet he also teaches obedience and the truth.
Jesus never backed away from answering questions, nor did he back away from giving an answer that may have been difficult to hear, for example with the man who runs up to him and asks ?what must I do to inherit everlasting life? (Mk 10:17 ss; Mt 19:16 ss; Lk 18:18 ss). The young man leaves Jesus after hearing his answer. Jesus does not run after the man, but goes on to remind the disciples that with ?God all things are possible. I want to make clear that this does not provide us with the excuse to speak quickly without knowledge of the situation or prudence. In teaching, both charity and unhesitating truth must work together for the good of souls.
Pope Benedict XVI reminded priests that they are to be ?the mouth piece and heart of Christ. He went on to declare, The teaching that the priest is called to offer, the truth of the faith, must be internalized and lived in an intense personal and spiritual process so that the priest really enters into a profound inner communion with Christ himself. The priest believes, accepts and seeks to live, first of all as his own (emphasis added), all that the Lord taught and that the Church has passed on… (General Audience, April 14, 2010).
Bishops and priests in their teaching, preaching, and catechizing are to guide the faithful into the obedience of faith-into the truth guaranteed by God (Catechism of the Catholic Church 144). The deposit of faith is most clearly articulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In living the teaching authority of Christ, the bishop and priest have the responsibility to know and love the Scriptures as well as the Catechism, teaching with clarity and faithfulness what has been received from Christ and handed on to the Church.
To be in profound inner communion with Christ means putting aside one’s personal opinions and seeing with the eyes and heart of Christ. Thus, one can see in the light of Christ that so called ?faithful dissent, when this phrase describes a refusal to adhere to the deposit of faith, is really the work of ?the father of lies (Jn 8:44) and not a docile receptive heart to the objective truth revealed and handed on by the Church. There is a value to theological speculation, which leads to a deeper experience of ?faith seeking understanding and enriches the life of the Church. However, this is much different than dissent, which is not faithful. This distinction, beyond the scope of this talk, is vital!
Furthermore, there is never a reason to apologize or make excuses for the teaching of Christ and the Church. Paul reminded Timothy, ?…preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching (2 Tim 4:2). Our world today is in urgent need of Jesus Christ, and while the world sees Jesus as ?out of season, we as the servants of Christ and the Church must teach boldly and without hesitancy. The ?new evangelization means following the example of Jesus! With personal conviction we need to rediscover the vigor and boldness of the teaching authority of Christ exhibited by St. Paul, the Fathers of the Church, and the saints and martyrs who have gone before us.
Jesus at times was direct in calling people to conversion – to change their way of acting and thinking. This directness makes many of us uncomfortable today. We should follow his example and language, even if we do not use his precise words. His language is good to contemplate and definitely should challenge us to look at how we correct the faithful, including priests and bishops, and speak the truth especially with those who say they are with Christ and the Church but do not accept the teaching of Jesus and the Church.
One has only to read Matthew 23 to hear the forceful language Jesus uses when speaking with the Pharisees and Scribes. He refers to them as ?hypocrites, blind guides, and white washed tombs? and towards the end asks them the question, ?You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
In our politically correct world this type of language would never be tolerated today, and yet the Gospel writers were not hesitant to pass on these exhortations of Jesus.
Furthermore, when Peter began to remonstrate with Jesus about going up to Jerusalem, he did not softly tell Peter, ?You do not understand. Rather Jesus spoke the vigorous words, ?Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me; for you are not on the side of God, but of men (Mt 16:23). Jesus speaks these words with force to the apostle he has chosen and the one whom he made first among the apostles. In love Jesus makes these direct statements to open the eyes of those whose hearts and minds are hardened. His straight talk, given in love for the person, desires the conversion and holiness of the person to the ways of God.
Jesus provides the Church and her leaders with the criteria for correcting a brother or sister. ?If your brother sins against you; go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector (Mt 18:16-17).
The steps in this passage are clear and Jesus is teaching us, but do we listen and follow his example? If this criteria had been followed with dissenting theologians, priests, religious and faithful in 1968 with the encyclical, Humanae Vitae, would we still be dealing with the problem today of those who dissent on contraception, abortion, same sex unions, euthanasia and so many other teachings of the Church?
One must honestly ask, how many times and years may a Catholic politician vote for the so called ?right to abortion, ?murder in the words of John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae (58), and still be able to receive Holy Communion? The continual reception of Holy Communion by those who so visibly contradict and promote a grave evil, even more than simply dissent, only creates grave scandal, undermines the teaching and governing authority of the Church and can be interpreted by the faithful as indifference to the teaching of Christ and the Church on the part of those who have the responsibility to govern. If we honestly pray with the Gospel we can see that hesitancy and non-accountability is not the way of Jesus Christ, but rather it is a failure in the exercise of governance.
Bishops and priests, as an act of loving obedience to Christ, must return to a full exercise of the governing authority of Christ witnessed in the Gospel. If we do not exercise that authority, are hesitant to exercise it, or doubt it, then it only leads to the ?father of lies taking hold of the minds and hearts of the faithful, and their continuing to act in the ways of man and not the ways of God.
As the Holy Father notes love corrects for the good of the person. Correction can be difficult and painful, as parents know, yet as a shepherd I am willing to suffer the rejection and anger of another when I speak the truth for the good of the person and the Bride of Christ. To correct and/or to punish someone who has gravely sinned against real love is an act of servant love and is found in the truth!
In today’s world too many people understand correction or punishment as not loving the other or as dominion over the other, and this is the work of ?the father of lies. A reluctance or hesitancy to correct and properly punish does not invite the other into the truth that frees and ultimately fails in true charity. As servants of truth, of Christ, we will correct those who sin for their own good and for the love of the other, even if it leads to our own persecution and rejection. In the exercise of the governing authority of Christ, we too, if we have the heart of Christ and the love of Christ, will end up on the Cross with Christ. Certainly this was the experience of St. Peter and St. Paul, St. John Fisher, and so many other bishop and priest martyrs throughout the history of the Church.
While the challenges to living out the pastoral authority of Jesus are great, bishops and priests must contemplate the words and actions of Christ in the Gospel to learn from him the proper exercise of their authority as they teach, sanctify and govern. We must come to accept the fact that the exercise of true authority will be divisive as it was in the time of Jesus. Ultimately living the pastoral authority of Jesus in loving obedience will lead us to the Cross as it led him to the Cross, for we will love the Father with the heart of Jesus.