Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bishop Finn on the Purpose of Catholic Schools

The following column by Bishop Robert Finn appears in the upcoming issue of The Catholic Key:

We Want Authentic Catholic Schools that Help Form Saints

As we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary’s Assumption, our schools begin to open. Students all over the diocese get their back packs together, some put on uniforms, and everyone begins getting up a bit earlier and ready for school. The studies, sports teams, and school clubs will soon be in full gear. The new year begins and our Catholic schools remain a big part of it: for many generations — and for thousands of students.

The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is blessed with Catholic schools from early childhood through university. The mission and goals of our schools overlap in a variety of ways with the educational targets of the public schools. But there is something more that must define our schools.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his visit last spring to the United States met with Catholic educators from all over the country in Washington, D.C. He challenged the leaders of our schools to make "Catholic identity" something more than the numbers of Catholic students or even the particular excellence of certain fields of study.

Catholic identity, the Holy Father said, "demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith." Our schools must be defined by a unique culture of faith, hope and charity.

Catholic identity certainly starts with sound, authentic presentations of the teaching of the Church. This is that "without which" we would not be providing helpful formation in the tradition and life of the Church. Living and life-giving Christian Faith is also necessary: faith in God the Holy Trinity, and faithful participation in the life of the Church. Our students should know the sacraments, not only from having studied them in coursework. They must live them, and practice them as the foundation stones for their Catholic lives.

Pope Benedict, himself a university professor for many years, had a special challenge for the leaders of our Catholic universities. Acknowledging the importance of academic freedom, the Pope insisted that appeals to academic freedom "to justify positions that contradict the faith and teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university’s identity and mission." This is the very core of the challenge extended to Catholic universities in the document "Ex Corde Ecclesia" which — some years ago — called all teachers of Theology to seek the "mandatum" or license of the local bishop to teach.

Schools sponsored activities and organizations, as well, must reflect the meaning and dignity of the human person. Secular or spiritual in focus, such opportunities must be totally consonant with the life of authentic faith and help the student in his or her healthy and holy development.

Catholic schools exist for a supernatural purpose. They are not only about measurable outcomes, or even helping students learn essential facts and marketable skills that prepare them for employment. They are about the formation of men and women in all aspects of life and living. Each student must be what God intends him or her to be. They must be helped toward their eternal salvation. It would seem to go without saying that "salvation" is discussed and taught in Catholic schools, but education in our schools must lead to the development of men and women who live virtue, understand better the mystery and meaning of life, and who will be set on a path which acknowledges the mystery of the Cross and has heaven as its ultimate goal.

Catholic schools must be based on a Catholic anthropology, that is, an authentic vision of what a person is and what his or her eternal destiny entails. We are not made ultimately for material success or sexual gratification, or just any kind of relationship. Rather, we are made for life-long faithful commitments that appropriately express our gender, our vocation and utilize our talents generously. Because we are called to holiness we must be helped to see how our daily work can be sanctified and sanctifying. Our moral life must take precedent over personal satisfaction or partisan political tendencies. The transcendent and unchanging truth of the value of human life must animate our convictions and guide all our decisions.

Catholic schools are a catalyst for growth in communion. We are more than individuals. The building block of society is the family which has the primary responsibility for the formation of children, and which must be safeguarded for the good of all society. We are beings — social and interactive by nature — who are incorporated through Baptism into a community of believers. We must be helped to see the differences and complementarity by which we actively make up the Church. We are meant to contribute; to give of ourselves as a response to the love and life we have received — first from God, and also from others. Obedience to God’s law and cooperation for the good of the whole are necessary in any society. In the Catholic community our giving has a supernatural motive and is infused with Christian faith, hope and charity. Service toward others and a strong sense of mission and apostolate marks us as members of an apostolic Church which has been entrusted with the message of the Gospel for all to hear.

In our schools we pray. We need to pray. Prayer is a response to our sense of God’s presence with us always, our readiness to be intercessors for one another, and the realization that we are persons constantly in need of God’s light and grace. God is first, and when we put Him first, all the other good things find their proper place. We worship him in the community of the Church and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the font and highest expression of our life.

I pray that in our schools — from early childhood to university — we will be forming saints. Through obedience to the Holy Spirit, and His light entrusted to the Apostles, may our students begin to be more like Jesus Christ to the glory of the heavenly Father.

As we celebrate Mary’s Assumption into heaven, let us entrust ourselves, our students and teachers — the whole mission and work of our schools — to her maternal love.