I am filled with hope this week as we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, because children attending our archdiocesan schools have the chance to encounter Christ and are being equipped to live their faith in the world.
This year is the 40th celebration of Catholic Schools Week, and I am dedicating my column to it because the work that our schools do to form the whole child is vital to the future success of our society.
When he visited the United States in 2008, Pope Benedict XVI described Catholic schools as “an outstanding apostolate of hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual and spiritual needs of … students and children.”
Forming well-rounded Catholics and citizens has become even more crucial as American society becomes less faith-friendly. G.K. Chesterton, the famous Catholic author and intellectual, could already detect these changes in 1928, when he remarked in the August edition of the Illustrated London News, “These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own.”
His statement was true back then, and today it rings more true than ever.
It is well-known that secular culture has little room for faith, but when one understands some of the recent developments that have accompanied the spread of secularism, the importance of Catholic schools becomes even more obvious.
Benedict XVI highlighted one of these cultural currents when he coined the term “the dictatorship of relativism” to describe the growing loss of the belief that there is objective truth. Every idea and thought is not equal and must be tested for the truth. The consequence of this change is the loss of a common moral language, and Catholic schools can help fight this by reinforcing parents’ moral formation of their children.
Pope Francis highlighted another trend in his recent apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). He pointed out that society has become “information-driven” and that it “bombards us indiscriminately with data—all treated as being of equal importance.”
This cultural sea-change makes Catholic schools’ mission of teaching critical thinking vital for discerning between what is true and good, and what is harmful.
The first place where kids should learn about their faith is from their parents, who are the first and most important teachers they will ever have. This is true whether your children are being homeschooled or are enrolled in public, private or Catholic schools. Parent’s personal witness to Jesus Christ, his Church and the sacraments teach children the importance of the sacraments. As a child I remember standing in line with my parents to go to confession every two weeks and it reinforced the significance of regular confession.
However, Catholic schools are so valuable because they offer a Christ-centered place where children can learn how to critically assess the landscape of competing messages and where they can grow into mature, moral people using the light of faith in their reasoning.
But a Catholic education is not complete if it fails to instill a sense of mission in its students and equip them to share their personal encounter with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with the world. Every Catholic school, diocesan or private, has the task as Blessed John Paul II said in “Catechesi Tradendae” (“Catechesis in Our Time”), “to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.”
Pope Francis emphasizes this crucial component in “Evangelii Gaudium” when he says, “Catholic schools, which always strive to join their work of education with the explicit proclamation of the Gospel, are a most valuable resource for the evangelization of culture….”
This is true, he notes, “even in those countries and cities where hostile situations challenge us to greater creativity in our search for suitable methods.”
Here in northern Colorado we have our fair share of challenges, but the call to participate in the new evangelization and bring the Gospel to people and places that have forgotten Jesus and his Church remains. And those parents, teachers, principals and students who are engaged in Catholic education are to be on the leading edge of the new evangelization.
This week I would like to thank all of you who dedicate yourselves to Catholic education, as well as encourage those of you who have not yet become involved to do so. Children and parents need all the support they can get, and Catholic schools are a valuable resource for forming future men and women of faith.