Interview with Fr. Paul Burke of Holy Spirit College on Mission and Blessed John Paul II
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Father Paul Anthony Burke serves as the Chair of the faculty of theology at Holy Spirit College and Parochial Vicar at Holy Spirit Catholic Church. He shared a story of an encounter with Blessed John Paul II and the Catholic identity of Holy Spirit College.
P>ATLANTA, Georgia (Catholic Online) - In the wake of the elevation of Blessed Pope John Paul II to the altar I have been reflecting on the extraordinary impact that he had - and continues to have - on the Church and the world into which she is sent. A phrase which will be forever identified with the late Pope is the "New Evangelization".
In his Apostolic Constitution on Catholic Universities "Ex Corde Ecclesia" (From the Heart of the Church) we are reminded that "the primary mission of the Church is to preach the Gospel in such a way that a relationship between faith and life is established in each individual and in the socio-cultural context in which individuals live and act and communicate with one another.
"By its very nature, each Catholic University makes an important contribution to the Church's work of evangelization. It is a living institutional witness to Christ and his message, so vitally important in cultures marked by secularism, or where Christ and his message are still virtually unknown. Moreover, all the basic academic activities of a Catholic University are connected with and in harmony with the evangelizing mission of the Church" (Par. 47, 48)
The challenges faced by those serving the Church as she is present in the Catholic College can be understood within a broad contextual challenge, what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council called the "separation between faith and life." This separation was specifically addressed in their document on the Mission of the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes) and that expression was used. It has been quoted repeatedly since then in magisterial documents.
Too often there is a wide gap between the faith Catholics profess and the way they live their daily lives. Western culture would not be in its current state of moral decline if Catholics understood and lived their Christian faith in an integrated manner, informing every aspect of their human experience and social participation with the principles and practices which flow from that faith.
It is to respond to this challenge that Blessed Pope John Paul II called for a "New Evangelization". That call has borne fruit throughout the entire Church. However, the work of the New Evangelization has only just begun. The new and renewed Catholic Colleges are a primary resource for the New Evangelization. Their vital task is to prepare leaders for the new missionary age of the Church.
Catholic Identity at a Catholic College or University requires continual review by Catholic College leaders. It must be their highest priority. Along with it, the development of curriculum must not fall prey to its own form of a "separation between faith and life."
Faith and Reason are sisters within the Catholic theological vision. Blessed John Paul explained in Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason) they are "like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth-in a word, to know himself-so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves."
He spoke these words in an address to the Catholic University of America in 1979, " Every university or college is qualified by a specified mode of being. Yours is the qualification of being Catholic, of affirming God, his revelation and the Catholic Church as the guardian and interpreter of that revelation. The term Catholic will never be a mere label either added or dropped according to the pressures of varying factors."
This integration of faith and reason should be understood by those who lead a Catholic College and become a pillar for their curriculum development. Forming students with a Catholic world view is not a "part" of the curriculum; it is the heart of the curriculum. Faith is not simply taught in religion or theology class but provides the hermeneutic, the lens, through which the entire educational mission is viewed.
I recently wrote an article about a new Catholic College in Atlanta, Georgia, Holy Spirit College, which understands this integration. The College was birthed from the vibrant Holy Spirit Parish in Atlanta and Holy Spirit Preparatory School. Together they are becoming a vibrant Center for the New Evangelization. The Pastor of Holy Spirit Parish, Monsignor Edward J. Dillon is one of the founders of the College.
All Holy Spirit College Professors hold the Mandatum. Adjunct Faculty members who teach Roman Catholic Theology are also required to hold the Mandatum. In one of several conversations I had with President Gareth Genner, he referred to the College as "loyal to the Magisterium and absolutely in step with the Holy Father."
Father Paul Anthony Burke serves as the Chair of the faculty of theology at Holy Spirit College and Parochial Vicar at Holy Spirit Catholic Church. Fr. Burke has a deep devotion to Blessed Pope John Paul II. He shared a story of an encounter with Blessed John Paul II and the Catholic identity which is the beating heart of Holy Spirit College:
"In 1997, I had the great honor and privilege of concelebrating Holy Mass with the late Pontiff in his private chapel. It was a tremendous experience. All I could say were the words of St. Peter at the Transfiguration: "it is good for me to be here." I knew that I was in the presence of a spiritual and intellectual giant.
"It will take centuries to fully grasp the spiritual and intellectual legacy of Pope John Paul the Great. It is said that since St. Augustine, there has never been someone as prolific in writing about the faith. In his encyclical letter, Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason), the Holy Father wrote:
"Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart the desire to know the truth - in a word, to know himself - so that by knowing and loving God, men and women can come to the fullness of the truth about themselves."
"Later, in an address to American Bishops, he said that "he wished to defend the capacity of human reason to know the truth. This confidence in reason is an integral part of the Catholic intellectual tradition, but it needs reaffirming today in the face of widespread and doctrinaire doubt about our ability to answer these questions: Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? Why is there evil? What is there after this life?"
"In response to the Holy Father's call to reaffirm the importance of faith and reason, Holy Spirit College was founded to teach the fullness of the Catholic Faith in its splendor of Truth. This past year, Holy Spirit College recommitted itself to the vision of Pope John Paul the Great as every professor took the Mandatum, a solemn promise to teach in complete fidelity to the Magisterium. We take pride in being authentically Catholic in every aspect of our being.
"Undergraduate degrees are offered, specializing in theology, philosophy, Catholic education and psychology. Students spend two summers abroad, one in Oxford and the other in Rome. Graduate studies are also taught leading to a Masters of Theological Studies degree and a Masters in Theology. Courses are available for credit and audit.
"While some of our students wish to carry on the intellectual legacy of Pope John Paul be becoming teachers and catechists; others are auditing courses in order to delve deeper into the riches of the Catholic intellectual tradition.
"Each of us has the capacity to know the Truth, because truth is not an abstract concept. Rather, it is a person, Jesus Christ. As we celebrate the Beatification of Pope John Paul the Great, may we rediscover the treasure of our Catholic Faith by prayer and study, so that we can bear witness to the great things that God has done and continues to do."
In addition to its degree programs, Holy Spirit College is offering its resources to help meet the vital need for continuing formation in the Catholic faith for adults. In just their first year of this effort, one hundred catechists' went through their program. I will write more about this in the future. They are also assisting their Diocese with the training of deacons, offering a Masters Degree in Sacred Theology.
Holy Spirit College is a non-profit institution exclusively funded by tuition revenue and gifts received from donors who recognize the importance of its mission. The College is an independent Catholic college and is not funded by the Archdiocese of Atlanta, Holy Spirit Parish or Holy Spirit Preparatory School. I invite you to visit their website and consider becoming a part of their vital mission of preparing the future leaders of the Church and the world into which she is sent to continue the redemptive mission of Her Lord.
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