Benedict to Educators: "Who Are We?"

In light of Pope Benedict’s recent words on the topic of Catholic education, I thought another post regarding the idea wouldn’t hurt. As I guessed (and as most others predicted, for that matter), the Holy Father’s encounter with the heads of Catholic educational institutions in the United States yesterday was not lacking in either candor or piquancy. His call for reflection in what it truly means to be a 'Catholic' university is, at least in my opinion, beautifully worded, and evidences quite well his intimate association with education, both as bishop and former professor. Below is a brief excerpt from the address:

This same dynamic of communal identity—to whom do I belong?—vivifies the ethos of our Catholic institutions. A university or school's Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction - do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear? (cf. 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 in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, 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.

From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary “crisis of truth” is rooted in a “crisis of faith.” Only through faith can we freely give our assent to God's testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor of the truth he reveals. Again, we see why fostering personal intimacy with Jesus Christ and communal witness to his loving truth is indispensable in Catholic institutions of learning. Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difficulty or reluctance many people have today in entrusting themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually. While we have sought diligently to engage the intellect of our young, perhaps we have neglected the will. Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion of freedom being distorted. Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in - a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves. A particular responsibility therefore for each of you, and your colleagues, is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief. It is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth. In choosing to live by that truth, we embrace the fullness of the life of faith which is given to us in the Church.

Clearly, then, 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 (cf. 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.” (cf. ibid., 28)

As I read this earlier, I remember thinking, “Wow, he is no dummy!” It really does amaze me how well he is able to synthesize and articulate such a vast issue as the “crisis of truth,” which encroaches not only upon America but also upon the entire developed world. Hopefully Benedict’s message sunk in with at least a few of those present; I honestly don’t see how it could be taken less-than-seriously by anyone. Nevertheless, we should continue to pray that his words come to bear fruit in the holy actions of those in positions of authority at Catholic institutions. If the Holy Father’s ideals were put into practice, people would undoubtedly be amazed by the increase of faith, hope, charity and intellectual precision that would burst forth from Catholic universities the world over.

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    # by Padre Steve - April 18, 2008 at 9:46 PM

    Very good post! Thank you! God bless! Padre Steve

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    # by Anonymous - April 20, 2008 at 6:12 PM

    You're right, we need to pray that his words bear fruit. Each one of his homilies/talks in the USA has alot of meat in it but most folks are just interested in the dessert, it seems. That is, most of the commentary on TV & online has been about non-essentials. E.g., Mark Shea's blog has over 150 comments on the music at the DC Mass, for heaven's sake. Probably no one could tell you what the homily was about!

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    # by Andrew Haines - April 21, 2008 at 5:53 AM

    Astute observations. My continual question is, "what are we doing about it?" I think the potential of the Catholic laity to enact Benedict's vision in a very real way is not too far off to fathom. I have seen tremendous work in the pursuit of genuine truth from lay faithful who take their vocation to holiness seriously.

    I guess what I'm asking is, does anyone here think there is a way to begin doing something that will be more than pleasant conversation? Is there a way, however small, that we can further the Kingdom of God on earth through our common faithfulness to the mission of the Church, even in the blogosphere? There are loads of potential, and a lot of freelance bloggers that are waiting, I think, for the opportunity to delve into something huge.

    Perhaps I'm an idealist, but what do you expect, I'm a seminarian...


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    # by Adrienne - April 22, 2008 at 4:01 PM

    My observation is there is great movement in a positive direction. For many the visit of the Holy Father will be a turning point in their journey of faith.