The sad closing and consolidation of so many Catholic schools in the Philadelphia Archdiocese reminded me of something I overheard many years ago. Two businessmen were conversing. One said, “I always hire girls who graduate from Catholic high schools. They are well disciplined, well educated, have good manners, are honest and work hard.”
While that employer expressed some strong, solid, basic values about Catholic education, there is much more to consider.
To me, Catholic education is the academic formation of students in the mind, heart and Spirit of Jesus Christ. Christ is the entire universe united to God. Everything and everyone in the universe, except sin, is united to God, and is therefore an expression of Christ, and that includes every subject in the academic curriculum. Both public and Catholic schools and universities teach math, history, science and other subjects. To learn and absorb these subjects is to become them. So, to become a mathematician, computer operator, nurse or electrician is to become an educated expression of Christ. Catholic education shows students that every subject is alive with the Spirit of Christ, so that every subject helps the students use their studies to animate and illumine the world with knowledge, understanding and love in the Spirit of Christ.
All education, public and Catholic, involves the formation of the human intellect and spirit. Even physical education and sports are aimed ultimately at sharpening the human mind and elevating the human spirit. The human intellect and spirit are educationally sharpened and enhanced by the use of reason.
We Catholics accept that natural reason can arrive at truth and understanding on its own accord. One plus one equals two for both the believer and the atheist. However, we also understand and appreciate that human reason is weakened. For example, we can make honest mistakes; worse, we can dishonestly pervert reason and logic to “prove” something we already believe. If we see that logic is taking us to where we don’t want to go, we can pervert our reason and fall into rationalization and outright lies. Just listen to the political rationalizations and lies that are filling our TVs, blogs and newspapers today. Sadly, many Catholics are falling prey to this perversion of reason and spirit. Catholic education knows clearly that our reason needs to be illumined and strengthened by the grace of God.
Graced reason is a particularly wondrous expression of the universal, global Christ. We Catholics see reason as luminously alive with the presence of the divine Spirit of Christ, who clarifies and strengthens our minds. So to learn anything new is to learn something new about Christ. Atheists, of course, don’t believe this, but we humbly and gratefully have eyes to see what they can’t see.
What applies to our Catholic schools applies to every Catholic individual and family. There is always something new to learn — and then to proclaim and live — about Christ. And with fewer students in Catholic schools today, the responsibility falls more directly upon us to educate and form our children in the mind, heart and Spirit of Christ. Doing so means a great deal more than just seeing to it that our children receive instruction in the faith. Certainly, providing information about our faith is important, but providing formation in our faith is much more important. For many, catechetics stopped at the time they received confirmation. As a result, many lack an effective adult faith formation.
Well educated and spiritually formed Catholics are especially important in today’s culture that does not fully value the things of the mind and spirit. Our educational/spiritual responsibility for our public schools would be the topic of another column. For now we can ask, are there enough spiritually well-educated and well-formed Catholics in today’s society?
Many of us will say that we’re not capable of personally providing a spiritually effective education and formation for our children. Maybe we’re selling ourselves short. We can begin by simply talking to our Catholic friends and neighbors and discussing what our deepest values are. How clearly do we understand them? How openly are we living them? What example are we giving our children? Do we appreciate how our children are searching for value and meaning in their own way? Christ is waiting for us to find him in new and wonderful ways — in ourselves, our children, and in today’s society and culture.
Anthony T. Massimini of Woolwich holds a doctorate in spiritual theology. He can be reached at email@example.com