To love and be loved: Catholic schools begin process of curriculum renewal

Catholic school curriculum ought to point students to recognize, know and understand God himself and his love, and thus to understand the meaning of our own lives.

My son Pier Giorgio is three years old. He loves me. Pier loves me because God made him to love and to be loved, and because he knows that I love him – he experiences it – and he wants to reciprocate. He was born for relationships – one of them is with me.

Pier can’t yet do any grandiose gestures. He shows me love in the ways he’s able to: he follows me room-to-room in our house, watching me and asking me questions about lots of different things about life. He gives me hugs. 

And he very often draws me little doodles on scraps of paper, runs up to me and says, “Mom… I have to show you something… ta-da!” as he shows me what he’s made.

Pier wasn’t born a blank slate. He was born with the desire to be in a relationship with me, to know me, and to understand me. In fact, we’re all born with desires. It’s how we’re all made.

God makes each of us with the desire to know, to understand, to find purpose, to be in relationship, to love and to be loved. And if we live our lives well, we’ll spend them coming to deeply understand how to really fulfill those desires God gave us. 

Our Catholic schools exist so that in Jesus Christ all people might be saved, and experience the fullness of abundant life, for the glory of the Father. Our hearts and minds can find the Father through the pursuit of wisdom and virtue. The curriculum in our schools ought to point students to recognize, know and understand God himself and his love, and thus to understand the meaning of our own lives.

But in recent years, we’ve realized we need to review how well our curriculum is helping students to fulfill the really deep desires of their hearts. We’re helping students get into great high schools and colleges, and we’re teaching them a lot about the Catholic faith along the way. But we think Catholic education can teach even more about the lifelong drama of knowing and loving God and being loved by him. We think we can point even more clearly to how God fulfills the deepest desires of our heart. And we think doing that will make our academic instructions even stronger.

The Archdiocese of Denver’s Office of Catholic Schools is beginning a process of curriculum review to assess those things.

Our goal is to ask whether the way we teach math, science, literature, and even kickball all point, in some way, to the relationship of divine love for which we’re made. This doesn’t mean we want to turn every discipline into theology class – it means that we think a deep understanding of history will point us to the Lord of History, and a deep understanding of science will point us to the Lord of the Universe. We’ve got some pretty good ideas about how kickball can point to God, too.

We’re also reviewing our curriculum because we want to make sure that the way we teach – and the way we learn – forms our minds to have good habits. We want our students to think rigorously, and carefully, and with connection to the heart of what matters. We want them to see reality as it really is. We want them to think well, so they can live well, and love well.

We’re made for a mystery called wonder. To be awed and appreciative in the mystery of beauty. To be bowled over by the goodness and the glory of God. And we think there’s a way to teach the about the 13 colonies, embryology, and the quadratic equation that might form the souls of our students to delight in wonder at the goodness, truth, beauty in the world God made for us.

Our curriculum review won’t change the rigor of our standards. It will still ensure that students meet the benchmarks their peers do, that they’re ready to take the ACT and get into college. But it will also help our students to know that God loves them, and to know how to respond to that love. Because, as Pier reminds me, answering the desires of our heart with good and worthwhile efforts is really what our lives are all about. 

COMING UP: Q&A: USCCB clarifies intent behind bishops’ Eucharist document

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Last week, the U.S. bishop concluded their annual Spring meeting, during which much about the Church in the U.S was discussed. In particular, the bishops voted to draft a document on the meaning of Eucharistic life in the Church, which was approved by an overwhelming majority.

Since then, speculation about the nature of the document has run rampant, the chief of which is that it was drafted specifically to instigate a policy aimed directly at Catholic politicians and public figures whose outward political expressions and policy enactment do not align with Church teaching.

The USCCB has issued a brief Q&A clarifying the intent of the document, and they have emphasized that “the question of whether or not to deny any individual or groups Holy Communion was not on the ballot.”

“The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life,” the USCCB said. “The importance of nurturing an ever
deeper understanding of the beauty and mystery of the Eucharist in our lives is not a new topic for the bishops. The document being drafted is not meant to be disciplinary in nature, nor is it targeted at any one individual or class of persons. It will include a section on the Church’s teaching on the responsibility of every Catholic, including bishops, to live in accordance with the truth, goodness and beauty of the Eucharist we celebrate.”

Below are a few commonly asked questions about last week’s meeting and the document on the Eucharist.

Why are the bishops doing this now?

For some time now, a major concern of the bishops has been the declining belief and understanding of the Eucharist among the Catholic faithful. This was a deep enough concern that the theme of the bishops’ strategic plan for 2021-2024 is Created Anew by the Body and Blood of Christ: Source of Our Healing and Hope. This important document on the Eucharist will serve as a foundation for the multi-year Eucharistic Revival Project, a major national effort to reignite Eucharistic faith in our country. It was clear from the intensity and passion expressed in the individual interventions made by the bishops during last week’s meeting that each bishop deeply loves the Eucharist.

Did the bishops vote to ban politicians from receiving Holy Communion?

No, this was not up for vote or debate. The bishops made no decision about barring anyone from receiving Holy Communion. Each Catholic — regardless of whether they hold public office or not — is called to continual conversion, and the U.S. bishops have repeatedly emphasized the obligation of all Catholics to support human life and dignity and other fundamental principles of Catholic moral and social teaching.

Are the bishops going to issue a national policy on withholding Communion from politicians?

No. There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians. The intent is to present a clear understanding of the Church’s teachings to bring heightened awareness among the faithful of how the Eucharist can transform our lives and bring us closer to our creator and the life he wants for us.

Did the Vatican tell the bishops not to move forward on drafting the document?

No. The Holy See did encourage the bishops to engage in dialogue and broad consultation. Last week’s meeting was the first part of that process. It is important to note that collaboration and consultation among the bishops will be key in the drafting of this document.

Featured photo by Eric Mok on Unsplash