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The Role Of The Heart In Catholic Education

February 11, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By DONALD DEMARCO

I was watching the telecast of a baseball game between the Minnesota Twins and the New York Yankees. The Twins’ first baseman, Joe Mauer, was at the plate. The pitch count ran to 3 and 2 whereupon the unrelenting batter continued to foul off pitch after pitch. When the 13th pitch was about to be delivered, the broadcaster informed his audience that this is the greatest number of pitches ever thrown to Joe Mauer in a single at bat.
During his 14-year career with the Twins, he has had 7,417 plate appearances. I was amazed that this bit of information, which scanned a prodigious mass of data, could be retrieved so quickly. But this is the modern world of useless and trivial data: technological wizardry at the service of providing mind-numbingly unimportant information.
The American poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, was concerned about this problem of spinning out useless information and expressed it poetically:
“Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour, / Rains from the sky a meteoric shower / Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined / Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill / Is daily spun, but there exists no loom / To weave it into fabric.”
In retrospect, her observation was as perceptive as it was prophetic. Alongside the shower of information is the drought of wisdom. The “loom” to which she refers is no doubt the heart, for it is the heart that combines, unifies, integrates, and gives meaning to things. America’s most distinguished educator, Mortimer Adler, coined the term “alphabetiasis” to refer to the intellectual defect of arranging things alphabetically, but going no further.
According to Adler, this malaise is a fairly recent one and is far more widespread than ever before in history. From the standpoint of education, obtaining or receiving information is only getting to first base. Information should lead to acquiring knowledge, supplementing knowledge with understanding, and then reaching for wisdom.
We do not need schooling in order to obtain information. Facts and figures, data of endless variety are readily available from the computer. But the superhighway of information does not accommodate the needs of the heart. Literature, on the other hand, what Ezra Pound referred to as “news that stays news,” engages not only the mind but the heart as well. And yet, literature has been replaced these days to some extent by the likes of Shakespeare for Dummies. Pascal spoke of the heart and how it functions in an intuitive and integrative way (“Le coeur a ses raisons que la raison ne connait point — The heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of.)
Surely, mathematician Bertrand Russell was not enlisting his heart when he said that if there is a god, it is a differential equation.
The gap between the mind and the heart did not escape the attention of St. John Paul II. In his September 29, 1996 angelus address, he made the following comment: “Today’s prevailing scientific culture puts an enormous quantity of information at our disposal; but every day it is apparent that this is not enough for an authentic process of humanization. We have greater need than ever to rediscover the dimensions of the ‘heart’; we need more heart.”
The late Pontiff devoted more extensive attention to the problem in his encyclical on Catholic education, Ex Corde Ecclesiae. It is instructive to note that the title’s English translation reads, “Born From the Heart of the Church.” The words “born,” “heart,” and “Church” (ecclesia) all have a maternal implication. If there is to be a renaissance in Catholic education, for St. John Paul, it must incorporate these feminine elements. Again, it pertains to the feminine to give birth, to see things with the heart, and to embrace everyone in accordance with the mission of the Church.
Phyllis McGinley’s book, The Province of the Heart (1956), is a tribute to the unique sensibility that the woman brings to the world, a sensibility without which, everything would collapse into meaningless assemblage of facts.
Reality is an integrated phenomenon. Hence the appropriateness of the word “universe” which refers to one unified world. The Greek word “kosmos” referred to a universe that was not only, one, unified, and ordered, but beautiful as well.
Scientists may take the world apart in order to better understand it, but they need, in the final analysis, to reintegrate it. It was the genius of Newton to see that force equaled the product of mass and acceleration. And it was the genius of Einstein to see that energy equaled the product of mass and the square of the speed of light. Reality cannot be decomposed and left scattered. Deconstruction is a philosophy that is essentially unfaithful to the order and unity of reality. Jacques Maritain’s personal motto as a realistic philosopher was “Distinguish to Unite.”
Ex Corde Ecclesiae was well received in Spain, Latin America, France, and Italy. The most negative reaction to it came from the United States where the notions of autonomy and academic freedom were more entrenched. The role of the heart in unifying things did not seem to be as important for American academics as going their own way. Nonetheless, in rejecting the spirit of the encyclical, Catholic education in the United States became more heavily influenced by secular thinking. The debate concerning the Catholic identity of Catholic colleges continued throughout Pope John’s pontificate. Nonetheless, the integration of academic freedom with truth should be the aim of any serious educational institution.
Edna St. Vincent Millay was unduly pessimistic when she said, “There exists no loom.” The loom is the heart, which is personified by the woman. John Paul II had this in mind in his 1995 Letter to Women where he referred to their natural integrative capacities: “Thank you, every woman, for the simple fact of being a woman! Through the insight which is so much a part of your womanhood you enrich the world’s understanding and help to make human relationships more honest and authentic.”
That “insight” is rooted in the heart which is urgently needed in today’s world of education.

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