|Posted by Jeanine Jelinek on September 5, 2017 at 11:15 AM|
On August 31st, several hundred students from Benedictine University gathered at the Abbey to celebrated the University's Mass of the Holy Spirit to open the school year. Abbot Austin's homily, "Wanting The Truth", is provided below and can also be found on St. Procopius Abbey's Facebook page.
WANTING THE TRUTH
ABBOT AUSTIN G. MURPHY, OSB·THURSDAY, AUGUST 31, 2017
Homily for Mass of the Holy Spirit to open the school year for Benedictine University, Aug. 31, 2017, St. Procopius Abbey Church
How many people here have seen the movie, A Few Good Men, starring Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson? I know it is not class, but you can raise your hands. [Not many raise their hands!] Well, I thought I might be dating myself with that reference. In any case, if you've seen the movie, you probably know the response to the line: I want the truth! [After waiting a moment, someone in the back yells: You can't handle the truth!] Thank you! The response is: You can't handle the truth.
Well, that is about as close to a dialogue homily you'll ever get from me!
So, in the movie, the bad guy uses this response to justify hiding the truth. He claims that others can't handle the truth. They are like children for whom the truth is too much.
But it's not only children who find the truth hard to handle at times. Adults can also struggle with the truth. Who hasn't, at one point or another, struggled with the truth? Especially if the truth is something unflattering about me, then it can be hard for me to take in.
In any case, the University -- that is, any university worth the name -- is after the truth. That's what we're about as a university community -- the pursuit of truth. We seek it, even though at times it is hard to handle or even to attain.
Now, truth is a very complicated topic. Someone once famously said, "What is truth?" Although he asked it cynically, the question itself is a good one.
To break the matter down, I think we can speak of two kinds of truth. On the one hand, there are the truths that enable us to do things. On the other hand, there are the truths that we live by.
The first may be called "useful" truths. By them, we can control things, get things done, produce the results we want. As for the second kind of truths, they are sometimes called "higher" truths. We conduct our lives according to these higher truths -- or at least, we should.
The first kind of truths enable us to bend things to our will. The second kind are those to which we bend our will.
This corresponds to two kinds of knowledge. The first kind is of how to get things done. It is sometimes called "know-how." The second kind of knowledge is about conducting our lives. It is the knowledge of how to live well.
As for the first category of truths, the useful truths, they include truths about how objects act and behave. Here are some examples. The truth about gravity tells us how objects act in relation to each other. A truth in the field of economics, say, concerning supply and demand, tells us how people act under certain circumstances. A truth in the biological sciences tells us how an organism behaves.
Now, these useful truths are very important. They are worth knowing, to the extent we can. By them we can do a lot of great things, such as cure diseases. Also, the useful truths concern the work we do. And the Benedictine charism values work. We even speak of the "dignity" of work. A university should seek useful truths, therefore. That's not in question.
But what about the higher truths? Are they the concern of a university? Yes. A university should seek them as well -- which is to say that students, faculty, and staff should seek them, and help each other to seek them, and share them with each other.
These higher truths are truths about justice, love, and the meaning of life. They provide the standards by which we are to conduct our lives. Whereas the useful truths concern skill, the higher truths concern virtue. And whereas knowing the useful truths gives you "know-how," keeping in mind the higher truths gives you wisdom.
The two kinds of truth work together, or should. But there is a temptation to seek the useful truths, while neglecting the higher truths. In the gospel today, we hear about the wicked servant. His master goes away, and he "begins to beat his fellow servants,and eat and drink with drunkards" (Mt 24). This wicked servant neglects the higher truths. Notice that he bends things to his own will. But he does not bend his will to the higher truths. Jesus asks rhetorically, "Who is the faithful and prudent servant?" (see Mt 24). The wicked servant He describes is certainly not the answer.
This temptation to seek useful truths while neglecting higher ones is still with us, of course. And of course, universities are not immune from it. Vatican II, in its document Gaudium et Spes, speaks of it when describing the modern world. The document speaks of an "imbalance... between a concern for practicality and efficiency, and the demands of moral conscience" (n. 9). The imbalance is from seeking practicality and efficiency without due attention to the higher truths that inform moral conscience.
These higher truths are hard to handle. They are difficult to see, at times. They are challenging, for they demand conversion from us. But in the long run, these are the truths that set us free.
As we begin this new academic year, may God grant us the grace to want the truth, to seek after it, and to find it -- not only the useful truths, but also the higher ones.