Catholic Schools: An Education in Christ

Over the past 40 years, Catholic Schools in the United States have traveled difficult roads with large and seemingly ubiquitous closings and falling numbers. Most of the schools that remain open struggle year after year to keep enrollment up and pay for the schools costs. The causes are many and varied as are the proposed solutions. Certainly mission statements and fundraisers can have their place but they are ultimately reduced to bandages concealing more serious wounds in need of a more potent medicine.

Many would say that after the Second Vatican Council, Catholic schools experienced the decline that they did precisely because of the same Council. I would like to propose quite the opposite however, namely that we are yet to truly implement the Conciliar document on education and thus to reap its fruit. The Second Vatican Council’s document on education – the only one ever written by an ecumenical Council – begins with the words Gravissimum educationis (“The most grave importance of education...”). This document clearly states the goal and mission of Catholic schools: the encounter with Jesus Christ through catechesis and education in the divine and human sciences so that the one who receives the Catholic education may come to “full stature in Jesus Christ our Lord and God.” (Ephesians 4:13) In this light we find the veracity of the Lord’s saying: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Mt 6:33) We also become aware that many Catholic schools' mission statements have failed seriously in two respects. First, and most importantly, they make no mention of the center and aim of Catholic education: Jesus Christ. Secondly, the goals mentioned in these mission statements normally mention ideas such as “lifelong success” – an idea nowhere to be found in the Gospel or the 2,000 year Tradition of the Church – which seem to be quite the opposite of Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta’s great theological axiom: “God does not call us to be successful, He calls us to be faithful.” In this faithfulness toward God and His will (Deut 4:6-9) – the Father Who loves His children and desires to grant them what they ask in His name (Lk 11:11) – lies the answer to the Catholic school crisis we are currently experiencing. We are, in actuality, experiencing a crisis of faith.

In responding to the present crisis by a call to faith, we side step the trap which falsely exposes itself by attempting to remedy problems within the Church in anyway other than the way of the Cross, the way of Jesus. We need deep prayer, deep conversion of heart and repentance: the life of grace, the life of faith in the Son of God. The situation we find ourselves in with respect to Catholic schools in the United States is not unlike the situation the Church in the United States is experiencing with respect to vocations to the priesthood. When the world's Bishops met in 1990 at the Synod on Priestly Formation, one voice rang clear: “At the conclusion of the synod, I said that in the face of a crisis of priestly vocations, the first answer which the Church gives lies in a total act of faith in the Holy Spirit. We are deeply convinced that this trusting abandonment will not disappoint if we remain faithful to the graces we have received." (Pastores Dabo Vobis, 2) These courageous words of Pope John Paul II echoed into the souls of the faithful all over the world and through the insistent and continual prayers of the faithful – especially before our Lord exposed in the Blessed Sacrament – and the generous and heroic holiness of priests in love with Christ and unswervingly faithful to the magisterium, fruit is being born and the Father is blessing us with many good and holy vocations to the Priesthood. The call of John Paul II was not “practical” in the eyes of many, but neither was the Son of God’s entrusting His saving mission into the fragile hands of fallen human beings. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55:9) The fact that we have heard so much about campaign drives, funding and missions should make us pause with deep concern. We would do more than well in Catholic education to model after John Paul II’s response to the vocations crisis: deep trust in God’s promises through prayer and conversion of heart.

We must ask ourselves where our priorities lie when the wood that the students' sneakers squeak on during gym class is more precious then the wood of the Altar of Sacrifice upon which the Son of God offers Himself to the Father in the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass. These realities speak loudly to the students, whether they are able to articulate them or not. How did it come to be that our sports facilities are endowed with more splendor then the schools chapels where the loving God waits for us in the tabernacle? It is here that we must make an honest appraisal and examine of conscience before the Lord with respect to Catholic identity. Is every teacher absolutely committed to the life of grace through deep prayer, outstanding holiness of life and absolute fidelity to the Bishop, Holy Father and Magisterium? Are the students held to the standards of the Gospel in their speech, behavior, dress and charity toward one another? Is the clear end of all academic disciplines the pursuit, knowledge and love of the Truth, who is Jesus Christ? Are the students frequenting the Sacraments – especially the Holy Eucharist and Penance – and thus advancing in the life of grace? Until we can answer these questions in the affirmative, we will be sailing on rough waters and consequently endangering the greatest treasures of the Catholic school, the souls of our young.

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    # by Patrick Redmon - January 25, 2008 at 8:58 AM

    This is obviously off-topic, but I saw that you guys all attend NAC and wanted to see if you could help me out. I'm a student in Rome at a house of discernment and formation for the consecrated life, and each month I receive a certain number of copies of the latest issue of Catholic World Report from Ignatius Press. If you all know anyone who might be interested in receiving 10 or 15 each month for distribution to friends/other students, please let me know. They're usually sold for €5 at the bookstores to which I currently distribute, while I take a cut of apprx. 3€ and don't ask for any money for copies unsold. Thus if y'all are interested or know someone who would be, please contact me at parmenides@casabalthasar.org

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    # by Adrienne - January 28, 2008 at 3:08 PM

    Our local "Catholic" has a portable altar shoved into a tiny "chapel". Not to worry - it has a state of the art gym.

    You will also not find a catechism because it is too devisive! Huh???