Tuesday 20th August 2019

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Catholic Education Is Our Responsibility

August 9, 2019 Frontpage No Comments


I received a marvelous note from Dr. V — from Florida — talking about the state and condition of Catholic education in America. Buckle up.
It would seem as if the last few weeks have witnessed an entire crop of Catholic educators who seem to be neither Catholic nor educators, at least as it pertains to matters of faith. On this point, one can only point toward St. John Paul the Great’s disquisition in Ex Corde Ecclesiae where the target was not secondary education, but colleges and universities — particularly in America:
“It is the honour and responsibility of a Catholic University to consecrate itself without reserve to the cause of truth. This is its way of serving at one and the same time both the dignity of man and the good of the Church, which has ‘an intimate conviction that truth is (its) real ally…and that knowledge and reason are sure ministers to faith’.”
One might suspect that such inclinations would be cheerfully met by Catholic high schools and elementary schools of every size and shape. One is perhaps not so much disappointed that this is not the case as one is surprised not to be surprised at such disappointment.
One might also be inclined think that the role of the Catholic teacher would be in service to the Deposit of Truth as found in the Magisterium of the Church — both at the university as well in the secondary classroom.
Once upon a time, Catholics were feverishly obsessed with education, if for no other reason than we knew the truth of the old maxim: “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man,” as attributed to St. Ignatius of Loyola, but most likely an observation of that notorious anti-Catholic and French wit, Voltaire. As the kids say nowadays, game respects game.
Yet today we seem rather less interested in such questions. The state taxes us in order to pay for public education; Catholic parents must pay a double tax in order to finance a Catholic education.
Even then, rarely do Catholic students get an education worthy of the name.
The good news is that with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions such as Hosanna Tabor v. EEOC that schools do have the absolute right to hire and fire as they please, without state interference. Reform is possible, provided that Catholic principals, priests, and bishops share a common backbone that Tertullian might have recognized as the seed of the Church.
To my mind, the problem is not so much in Catholic teachers as it is in Catholic “first” teachers — parents themselves.
Children are sponges, and if the faith isn’t communicated to our children clearly in a way that explains why it matters to us, then how will it ever be transmitted by a teacher, priest, sister, or media?
Certainly the world doesn’t want that. Certainly our institutions aren’t providing it.
Let’s suppose for a moment that this brings us back to the general theme of this column, that parents — not educators or administrators or even the state — are the first teachers of our children. Even the Church takes a back seat to the primacy of parents and their role as first teachers, if for no other reason than that the Church fosters in each parent the opportunity to fulfill their vocations as parents, as teachers.
If we look around, what do we notice? We beg for the faith of our fathers, but in many ways it is still there. Unlike our fathers and grandfathers, we are surrounded by the trappings of postmodern culture. Sex is everywhere, commercialization is mundane, and we are mindlessly entertained to death with iPhones and computers. Go to any restaurant and find that one table where the entire family is tapping away at their smartphones rather than talking to one another.
Once upon a time, I was taught that self-love of the unhealthy sort — a preoccupation with self — was an enemy not so much because love was an enemy, but rather because if you pictured your soul as a cup, where would there be any room for Christ?
Picture today’s classroom and look at the distractions. Teachers no longer teach students, they teach up to tests. Parents no longer teach children, they drop them off at school. Priests no longer shepherd their flock, they administrate. Bishops no longer fend off the wolves, they “tweet” positive thoughts.
Of course, there are grand exceptions to the rule worthy of celebration. But the problem seems almost intractable unless one looks back in time and asks how our forefathers did it.
The short answer? Parallel institutions. Consider the Irish. We came to these shores penniless and persecuted, from Galway to Boston, from Dublin to New York. What did we do? We built parishes, schools, and clinics. We established our own health-care systems, provided our own life insurance to protect our loved ones, created our own colleges and universities and educated our own leaders.
The Irish experience in America did this with far fewer resources than our own, precisely because they saw the need for sacrifice in order to preserve something greater than themselves.
One wonders whether parents today really get that. I am afraid that the answer is a resounding no. Even for those of us who do get it…do we really get it? Or do we say we get it and then wait for someone else to do the heavy lifting? Are we sacrificing in any real way? Sponsoring that seminarian? Paying full tuition for Catholic schools? Switching off Netflix and sponsoring a good Catholic charity with that monthly donation instead? Subscribing to The Wanderer? (Shameless plug, I know….)
If we truly want to resurrect the fortunes of the Catholic Church in America, it will require a generation of heroes. Not half-hearted heroes, not quasi-Catholics, not rad-trads or “guitar and sandals” Catholics, but folks who are so deeply and passionately in love with the Church that they bring the faith to the one person it is most difficult to evangelize — ourselves.
This should hit a nerve, as it does with me. There are countless ways we could be building up the faith rather than being distracted. Our children and grandchildren are watching, and they will value what we value; sacrifice for the things we sacrifice; live the example we set.
I am absolutely convinced that a good generation of teachers — first teachers — would overwhelm and resolve many if not all of our social ills today. But it will not be an instantaneous change as if we were ordering fast food or swapping out a wardrobe.
One of the best realizations we could afford ourselves is that we simply do not live in a moral age anymore. We lost the culture war, and our children and grandchildren will have to pick through the moral debris to rediscover what was stolen from them. Our task? Like the Benedictines of old, to preserve what is good and pass it down to the future.
That will require an army of “first teachers” such as ourselves. But unless we are willing to take on the light yoke of Christ, we will condemn future generations to suffer under a far heavier yoke.

+ + +

Again, another slow week with my friend’s battle with alcoholism, but a critical one. I did not know this, but most relapses occur with 90 days of someone committing to end a bad habit? Who knew…just don’t tell my wife this vis-à-vis my insatiable demand for books. Lent is long enough…but by all means, please continue praying for my friend and his recovery.
One always wonders whether requests for prayer really do work, and whatever you are saying to God and the saints is working. So please, continue to pray with me for his physical and spiritual recovery (and thank you).
St. Louis de Montfort and Venerable Matt Talbot, pray for us!

+ + +

A number of you have written me by “snail mail” through the U.S. Postal Service and I am delinquent in responding to you, so please bear with me and I will do so! Some of you have tried to write to me via e-mail and for some strange reason, the gremlins at the University of Virginia have bounced some of your e-mails back.
Therefore, a new e-mail is listed below, which is my student account at the Catholic University of America. Feel free to write at kenneys@cua.edu, or if you continue to prefer, by regular mail (which frankly, is my favorite sort of correspondence…I love letters!)

+ + +

A new e-mail address! As always, please do not hesitate to send me your thoughts, views, opinions, and insights to the author directly, either via e-mail or by mail. Please send any correspondence to Shaun Kenney c/o First Teachers, 5289 Venable Road, Kents Store, VA 23084 or by e-mail to kenneys@cua.edu.

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