The Archdiocese of Portland recently celebrated the ordination of three permanent deacons and two transitional deacons. (Transitional deacons are men who, God willing, will also be ordained priests.) There is a moment in the ceremony of ordination that struck me particularly strong on these two occasions. It is when the Book of the Gospels is solemnly handed over to the newly ordained deacons.

As the bishop places the book in the deacon’s hands he says, “Receive the Gospel of Christ, whose herald you have become. Believe what you read, teach what you believe, and practice what you teach.” These words intended for the deacon at this solemn moment are also words that all Catholics should take to heart as disciples of Jesus Christ. Believe. Teach. Practice.

We are all called to be believers in the Word of God proclaimed by the Church. We are, in fact, obligated to give the assent of faith to all that has been divinely revealed. Quoting from the Second Vatican Council:

“When the Roman Pontiff, or the body of bishops together with him, define a doctrine, they make the definition in conformity with revelation itself, to which all are bound to adhere and to which they are obliged to submit; and this revelation is transmitted integrally either in written form or in oral tradition through the legitimate succession of bishops and above all through the watchful concern of the Roman Pontiff himself; and through the light of the Spirit of truth it is scrupulously preserved in the Church and unerringly explained.” (Lumen Gentium, 25)

By Christ’s promise to his Church, the Holy Spirit guides the teaching of the bishops in communion with the Pope. They preserve the faith free from error throughout the centuries down to our day. We are bound to accept this teaching as coming from Christ himself, given faithfully to his Bride, the Church.

We are then called to bear witness to this faith whenever and however possible. We are called to participate in the evangelizing mission of the Church by teaching what we have come to believe as revealed by Christ in Sacred Scripture and in the teaching of the Church. Parents teach the faith to their children. Bishops, priests and deacons teach the faith to the people entrusted to their pastoral care. Catholic school teachers, Catholic university professors and all catechists are obligated to teach the fullness of Catholic truth to their students. All Catholics are called to teach the faith whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Finally, all Catholics are called to practice the faith they have come to believe and which they teach to others. We are all called to witness to the faith by the uprightness of our lives, conforming our moral conduct to the teachings of Jesus Christ in Sacred Scripture and in the teaching of the Church. We cannot publicly profess what we believe on the one hand and then publicly contradict that teaching by the way we live, absent any repentance.

We are all sinners, and at times we fail to live as we should. We sin. But God’s mercy is bigger than our sins and, when we repent, he readily accepts our return as did the father of the prodigal son. But that is very different from proclaiming the Church wrong in her moral teaching and living publicly contrary to those teachings. That is what we call scandal.

In other words, we are called to be Catholics in the fullest sense, always aware of and grateful for God’s ready mercy when we fail. Integrity of faith means that we believe what has been revealed by God, we teach what we believe and we practice what we believe and teach.