Originally posted on Februrary 13, 2012
In the 1636 the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony established an institution for higher learning in the fledgling colony for the training of Congregationalist clergymen. Initially named the New College, shortly thereafter it was renamed Harvard College, after a major benefactor. The original seal bears witness to the first mission of America’s oldest university. On it was the motto,Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae (Truth for Christ and the Church). The seal placed each of the syllables of Ve-ri-tas (truth) on a different book of the shield. The first two books, which had ve and ri written on their pages, were open and faced upwards. The final book had tas written on its cover and faced downwards. This symbolism expressed the belief that while there was a great deal of knowledge available through human reason, the search for truth is completed through accepting the mysteries of the Christian faith.
During the decades that followed her founding Harvard moved away from her Christian roots slowly. The first step came when John Leverett became the university’s first lay president in 1708. A more significant step came with the Unitarian takeover of the theological faculty in 1805, which meant a new orthodoxy centered on the rejection of the divinity of Jesus Christ. By the late nineteenth century it was undeniable that historic Christianity had lost its special status at the university. Harvard’s seal changed to reflect this institutional shift. The last book on the shield was turned to face upwards and tas was printed on the open pages rather than the now hidden cover. Moreover, the words Christo et Ecclesiae were dropped from the motto. This new heraldry corresponded to a new mission. Higher education at Harvard was no longer at the service of Christ and His Church, but of human reason, from which there was nothing hidden that needed the illumination of faith.
When I decided to matriculate as an undergraduate at Harvard in 1997, I knew none of the college’s religious past. Had I known, I doubt that it would have mattered. I based my college decision on academic reputation and the generous scholarship package I received. My thoughts revolved around getting into the best law school possible after graduating. Unlike many of my classmates, I was neither an atheist nor an agnostic, but a believing Catholic. While I was accustomed to attend Mass every Sunday with my family, my outlook on life was secular. In the abstract I embraced most of the Creed, but this assent had little impact on how I lived.
I suspect that most people like me drift away from faith in their college years. I did not. For reasons that I still cannot explain, I continued going to Mass and started trying to live like a Christian should. By my sophomore year I was a daily communicant and went to confession weekly. I entered the seminary after graduating in 2001 and was ordained a Catholic priest six years later. By God’s grace, I will celebrate my fifth anniversary of priestly service this June.
Being a priest, I am deeply aware that my ministry ought not to be about me, but about He to Whom I am consecrated. He is the truth in which all of us, whether we know it or not, desire to stand. Contrary to what many inside and outside of the Church hold, standing in this truth should not mean that one stops thinking critically. Rather, my experience is that the profession of Christian faith provides a uniquely robust way to engage the question of truth with intelligence and maturity.
It is in this spirit that I launch this blog, For Christ and the Church. It is my hope that it will provide a forum in which I can share my personal search to know more deeply He who is the Truth.