Author: LaRose, Mary Ellen
Date published: February 1, 2012
When the discussion about the importance of Catholic education gets underway, it is helpful to have a clear picture of what makes education Catholic. This article will discuss the essential characteristics that make education Catholic.
It is a question of conviction- do we r&atly believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear (Gaudium et Spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire self- intellect and will, mind and heart- to God?
Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible...? Is it given fervent expression Iiturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God's creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold (Pope Benedict XVI, April 17, 2008, to Catholic educators at The Catholic University of America).
There is much rhetoric spent on the role and future of Catholic education. While the debate is interesting, the fundamental question that should precede such debate revolves around the need. Why do we need "Catholic education"? Why do children and adults- faced with a world espousing the culture of death, moral relativism, ethics by convenience-need the constant affirmation of the components of our faith? Why do we, as followers of Christ, need to be told or reaffirmed, by word, instruction or example, that we are members of the Body of Christ?
Against a world that would have us choose otherwise, the need seems obvious. We must remind ourselves and those in our charge that ours is a faith based on the word of God made Incarnate in his Son, Jesus Christ. Education is one means to the end that seeks to ensure, as best as we can, that the message is not just told, it is lived. The church, the family, the Catholic school and programs of faith formation must all work together to help those in their care to find the way to grow in their Catholic faith.
The question is as complex as the answer is simple. We need to grow up in and participate in an environment that continues to foster our growth in understanding the message of Jesus, how his life, death and resurrection have affirmed the true meaning of our lives. If we accept that Jesus is the difference, then we need to do whatever it takes to make our lives a model of his teaching, our actions a reflection of his choice. Given the sophistication and the resources available to those whose aim is not aligned to that of the church, the need for an effective Catholic educational system that reaches all who desire it continues to be a high focus of our Holy Father and should be the focus of every bishop, pastor, parish and person who is part of the Catholic family.
What Makes Education "Catholic"?
Christ's Good News is set to work, guiding both teacher and student toward the objective truth, which, in transcending the particular and the subjective, points to the universal and absolute that enables us to proclaim with confidence the hope which does not disappoint (Rom 5:5).
Pope Benedict gave a clear outlineit is Catholic when the focus is on the Good News and the truth it contains. When the focus is on objective truth, curricula that purport to be Catholic but are not built on the essential truths of the Catholic faith miss the mark. When the central focus of the Catholic education strays from that commitment, then the real meaning for its existence is lost. Pope Benedict challenges all Catholic educators to focus on a commitment to a Catholic umbrella under which all religious education takes place.
If the mission and objective for a religious education program does not start with the Gospel, if the atmosphere is not focused on being Christlike, if its goal is only to survive, to be financially stable, to be bigger instead of being Christ-centered, it could be very successful but its sense of Catholic Identity may have been lost. While each of those factors is important, none of them can be its goal.
So much of the society that claims to be Catholic is not. Everyone is what he or she lives out every day, not what one calls himself or herself. If a person's choices in the things that matter are at odds with Christ's teachings, why would that person want to be called a Christian? If one does not buy into the most fundamental teachings of the church, why would such a person call himself or herself a Catholic?
Throughout the Gospels, Christ set the example of how we should deal with the children in our midst. When the apostles were content to push the children away, Jesus certainly made them refocus when he said, "Let the little ones come to me." His words about scandalizing young people are as strong as anything He says
We certainly have been put on notice that Jesus considers it critical that we properly care for our young. And that must include the way we teach them about him, about the church he founded and about the Good News he proclaims in the Gospel. The church has the fundamental responsibility to teach the children the truths of the faith. Those who water things down, dilute the message or lose the focus need to be challenged to return to the basic purpose of Catholic educationto provide people with the opportunity to grow in the knowledge of God, the Gospel and the church- as well as to deepen their relationship with God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Catholic Identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: Namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom (Spe Salvi, 23). In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission of the church and truly serve society. They become places in which God's active presence in human affairs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy of entering into Christ's "being for others" (Spe Salvi, 28).
Teachers, [catechists] and administrators, whether in universities, [catechetical programs] or schools, have the duty and privilege to ensure that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice. This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, as found in the Gospel and upheld by the church's magtsterium, shapes all aspects of an institution's life, both inside and outside the classroom.
It is only through constant commitment and constant vigilance that Catholic education programs remain Catholic. Programs can drift away in the same way that people can. When they lose their focus on their only reason for being, then they cease to maintain the umbrella of the Catholic faith under which all must follow. The public witness called for by Pope Benedict can be the surest indication that our programs remain Catholic. It is in the way we live our lives in our vocation to Catholic education that determines whether we can be effective or if we will fail.
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/ spe«ches/2008/april/documents/hf_befixvi_spe_20080417_cath-univ-washington_ en.html.
Mary Ellen La R ose has taught at St. Mary's School in Wappingers Falls, New York, since 1975 and has been its principal since 2000. Patricia Manuli has been director of religious education at St. Mary's since 1987. She is the New York Regional Representative of NPCD (sm_ore@yahoo. com).