Learning From Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers’ “Why Be Catholic?” — Part 1

Earlier this week I offered notes from Deacon Harold’s presentation at St. Augustine Parish in South Bend. Now we’ll step back and think about (and hopefully learn!) from his  style and content through a few posts.

Thinking About Deacon Burke-Sivers’ Talk/Sermon

Fresh and new — for a Catholic context. This is the first time I’ve heard a talk like this that shows a pathway for apologetics in an unbelieving and relativistic world given in a Catholic parish. That being said, this sort of apologetics talk (up to the point where he specifically made the move to “Why Be Catholic?”) was a routine offering on my secular college campus from Campus Crusade for Christ (now called “cru”) and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. As a college student, I was greatly enriched by exposure to apologetics, as it helped me keep the faith amidst a relativistic, secular culture. Campus Crusade for Christ and InterVarsity made books like Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ readily available after these talks to help us along the way. I think as Catholics in parishes we should be asking if we (and the people around us in the pews) can make the basic (or any) pitch for the existence of God, the reliability of the New Testament, etc. Deacon Burke-Sivers’ content met this basic need, for certain!

Knowing the New Testament, and how we read it. Deacon Burke-Sivers rightly emphasized the historicity, reliability, archaeological case, canon formation, and more as reasons why we can believe New Testament claims. I think the point on knowing the New Testament would have benefitted from the addition of the great teachings of Dei Verbum [Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (1965)] explaining, how we as Catholics read the Scriptures. I’m thinking especially of Article 11’s useful statement, on inerrancy:

“the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation.”

This helps explain why, while we can rightly tout historical aspects of the New Testament, not everything is written from a modern historical-critical perspective, and thus any understanding of inerrancy is in the context of “for the sake of salvation.” As Catholics, we’re not fundamentalists and articulating this is important for our witness and apologetics in a culture where faithful Christians can be negatively stereotyped in such a way. It also helps us maintain our faith without ignoring modern historical-criticism of New Testament texts. In Jesus of Nazareth (2007), Pope Benedict XVI calls the historical-critical method an “indispensable tool,” yet one that must be used properly (pg. xvi). At some points, Deacon Burke-Sivers used a Biblical proof-texting style that, while convincing to fundamentalist readers of Scripture, may not give Catholics the full force to defend the faith in the context of those who adopt a more skeptical or historical-critical view towards Scripture. Dei Verbum‘s teaching provides an essential (and fuller) articulation of how to use Scripture.

Part 2 — Stages of Evangelization & Was it Preaching or Speaking?


2 thoughts on “Learning From Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers’ “Why Be Catholic?” — Part 1

  1. Colleen,

    A Holy and Blessed Easter to you!

    It was great meeting you when I was in South Bend and I appreciate your comments on my talk. My goal was to provide a general overview of the topic “Why Be Catholic?” to a lay, in-the-pew-Catholic audience and not provide an analysis of the senses of Scripture. I believe a separate talk based on CCC 115-119 and DV (esp. 9-12) would better serve this topic.

    I continue to pray for your great work you are doing in the Lord’s vineyard. God bless!

    Psalm 63:2-3,

    Deacon Harold


    • Deacon Harold,

      Thanks for taking the time to give the talk here in South Bend! I agree that the senses of Scripture is a whole another topic. My thinking about cautiousness around proof-texting probably comes from my background of spending many years in independent fundamental Christian congregations–while I was formed in many important ways through their witness, I did see some of the longer-term downsides of not going beyond proof-texing. On the wohle, listening to your talk was a great experience! My husband and I were blessed to have seen the announcement in the diocesen online newspaper!

      I definitely think that part of the New Evangelization will be fostering the sense of witness and willingness to step out boldly and preach apologetically the way you demonstrated among all believers. While not all of us are called in the same exact way, I think the heart of what you taught us through your actions was that we all can (and should) be able to give a basic line of reasoning for what we believe that’s enthusiastic, passionate, and positive (thinking of the verse “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” doing so “with gentleness and reverence” 1 Pet 3:15). Thanks again!

      Easter blessings,


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