|Pope John Paul II at Mt Nebo where Moses viewed the promised land|
This is the transcript of the ACTUAL radio conversation of a U.S. naval ship with the Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland October 1995.This is a made up story despite the word "actual" being in all caps. In the deacon's version the American was a high ranking official and the Canadian was a lowly seaman. His point was that truth was more important than office in determining authority. My guess is our deacon pulled this from a protestant source and didn't realize that Catholic theology is a bit deeper on this point.
Radio conversation released by the Chief of Naval Operations 10-10-95.
Canadians: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
Americans: Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the North.
Canadians: Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to
the South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.
Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.
Americans: THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS LINCOLN. THE SECOND
LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS, AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH, I SAY AGAIN, THAT'S ONE FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTERMEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP.
Canadians: We are a lighthouse. Your call.
Truth is more important than office if the truth is known with certainty like it is in this case. But in many cases we don't really know the truth. We might have a strong opinion. We mistake it for knowing the truth. Everyone who disagrees with church leadership thinks they have truth on their side. They know that contraception is OK or they know that Mary was not sinless or they know the new mass translation is stupid. Then truth trumps office, right? That makes it OK to rebel against your bishop? Of course not.
But we love the story, don't we? We love when the lowly person is right and the proud ruler is humiliated. Especially when we happen to be the lowly person. So we are quick to assume that this is the case. Is it ever the case? Sometimes you do know facts that church leads don't know. Cases of sexual abuse come to mind. A person might have first hand knowledge that the bishop does not have. But this is rare.
Normally we have become certain because of who we chose to listen to. We listen to the secular culture or we listen to a particular protestant tradition or we listen to one particular wing of the Catholic church. We can read some good arguments and become very convinced. The human mind can arrive at psychological certainty when there is nothing approaching absolute certainty. That means we can become sure we are right and still be wrong. This is not rare.
In fact, we are more often like the commander of the larger ship. We are the ones loudly proclaiming our truth only to suddenly see that our truth was not true at all. We like to put the bishop or the pope in that role. Another old joke is that the good news is there is a God. The bad news is you are not Him. Think of yesterday's first reading:
Moses spoke to all the people, saying:It is interesting that Israel decided they didn't like the cloud of fire and the powerful voice of God. Sometimes people wonder why God does not make Himself more obvious. The answer is because man was totally uncomfortable with that. The good news is there is a prophet. The ultimate fulfillment of that is Jesus. But popes and bishops are examples of this too as well as the Old Testament prophets. So the good news is that somebody does speak with the authority of God. The bad news is it is not you. This is good news too. Remember we didn't want to hear from God directly. We want a pope and a bishop to do that for us. But then we want him to agree with us.
"A prophet like me will the LORD, your God, raise up for you
from among your own kin;
to him you shall listen.
This is exactly what you requested of the LORD, your God, at Horeb
on the day of the assembly, when you said,
'Let us not again hear the voice of the LORD, our God,
nor see this great fire any more, lest we die.'
And the LORD said to me, 'This was well said.
I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kin,
and will put my words into his mouth;
he shall tell them all that I command him.
Whoever will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name,
I myself will make him answer for it.
But if a prophet presumes to speak in my name
an oracle that I have not commanded him to speak,
or speaks in the name of other gods, he shall die.'"