Spirituality for Today – June 2008 – Volume 12, Issue 11
During his visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI met with Catholic educators at The Catholic University of America. As many of you know, I currently serve as Chair of the Board of Trustees, so, as you can imagine, the Holy Father's visit to Catholic University was a source of great joy.
Pope Benedict was greeted with great enthusiasm by university students and by seminarians from nearby Theological College. As he entered the Pryzbyla Center at Catholic University, Pope Benedict was greeted warmly by educators from across the country, including many Catholic university and college presidents and diocesan superintendents of Catholic schools, among them our own Dr. Margaret Dames. There was an abundance of joy and enthusiasm as the Holy Father entered the hall and focused his attention on the mission of Catholic education from kindergarten to upper reaches of post-graduate study.
In the midst of this excitement, the Holy Father gave an important talk. To be sure, Pope Benedict focused on the challenges all educators face today - everyone from Catholic parents to university professors.
Citing the sacrifices made by those who went before us, the Pontiff encouraged us to maintain our Catholic schools, including those that serve the disadvantaged. He noted the immense help which Catholic schools offer parents in their role of forming leaders for both Church and society. He encouraged Catholic universities and colleges to shore up and maintain a strong Catholic identity, especially in a world of "personal struggles, moral confusion, and the fragmentation of knowledge."
By this last phrase, "fragmentation of knowledge," the Holy Father is referring to a growing tendency in education to dice knowledge into small specialties without regard for the overall pursuit of truth. Often the aim is to train students for jobs, a goal that every parent paying expensive college tuitions would laud. But a relatively small slice of marketable, specialized knowledge is not enough.
A well-formed person, who wishes to conduct his or her life with integrity and to contribute to the creation of a more humane society, needs to see the bigger picture. Such a person needs to see how religious, philosophical, ethical, literary, scientific, and technical knowledge fits together and forms a unified picture, what is called "the unity of truth."
How important this is in an era when "relativism" holds sway, the belief that objective truth is simply unavailable no matter how hard we search. Simply to tolerate varying opinions without regard for truth might seem to be the recipe for tolerance and broadmindedness.
Yet, in the absence of any commonly-held truth, all that counts is power. Those who are strong enough to foist their opinions on others end up winning the day. Often the so-called "winners" end up inflicting a lot of suffering on others.
This was the harsh lesson of twentieth-century totalitarianism. It is a lesson contemporary society has not really learned, as the dignity of human life continues to be threatened on so many fronts.
Commonly-held truth is essential for the common good of society and for the protection of the vulnerable.
Amid these challenges, Catholic schools play a crucial role. Pope Benedict reiterated that Catholic schools, colleges, and universities are integral to the Church's mission of bringing ". . . a message which has its origin in God Himself: in His goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal Himself and to make known the hidden purpose of His will (cf. Ephesians 1:9; Dei Verbum, 2). God's desire to make Himself known and the innate desire of all human beings to know the truth provide the context for human inquiry into the meaning of life."
Our schools are places of freedom where we can embrace the Church's deeplyheld conviction that Christ, the Son of God made man, reveals the Father of mercies to us and, in so doing, also makes it clear who we human beings are and what we are to become (see Gaudium et Spes, 22). The truth that God has revealed in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, far from denigrating human reason, illuminates it and guides it more surely toward truth as it investigates the world in all its wonder.
"Knowing the truth," the Holy Father said, "leads us to discover the good."
For that to happen, however, the pope challenges us "to commit our mind and heart to God; to allow the faith to be tangible in our universities and schools, not only in the classroom but also liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, concern for justice, and respect for God's creation."
It's not easy, of course, for Catholic schools at any level to be the bearers of this truth. In spite of the undeniable excellence of our Catholic schools and universities, many in our culture look upon doctrine as intellectually suspect and even dangerous. Others look upon moral teaching as a constraint on freedom. As a result, we may sometimes be tempted to downplay Catholic identity by adopting the view that being a good school is incompatible with being fully Catholic.
In his talk, the Holy Father challenged educators to take the opposite tack. He urged them (and all of us) to what he called "intellectual charity."
"This aspect of charity," the pope said, "calls the educator to recognize that the profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love."
Helping young people discover the beauty and truth of God's Word as it comes to us through the Church, leading them to understand and accept the Church's doctrinal and moral teachings, helping them to see the unity of truth, and to exercise their freedom as a response to God's truth and love - this is the most loving thing we can do for them and with them! It is a more precious gift than all the other advantages we can give them. It is a gift that lasts more than a life time - a gift that leads them to the eternal life and love of God Himself.
The Holy Father was a messenger of hope, not merely because he is nice man with a reassuring manner. The pope was a messenger of hope because he loves us enough to show us the link between truth, love, and freedom.
As we seek to educate and form each succeeding generation, may we exercise the intellectual charity that has been the hallmark of the Holy Father's entire service to the Church.
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