Would he see a school that lives and breathes with Catholic truth? If not, why not?
This week we are observing “Catholic Schools Week.” To mark the occasion, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops released this statement, with the theme, “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.”
So here’s something to think about: What does Jesus think of your Catholic school? If he were to enter its hallways, what would his impression be?
And we are not referring to how good the fries are in the cafeteria, or how well the boiler is operating. (Seriously, what is it with Catholic schools and their boiler issues?) We mean, would Christ readily recognize the Gospel being lived out faithfully? In such a school, is Jesus being recognized as “the Way and the Truth and the Life” (John 14:6), standing at the center of all that the school does? Is human life in all its stages celebrated, per John 10:10 (“I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly”) and Matthew 25:40 (“whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me”)?
Speaking of the section of Matthew 25 titled the “Judgment of Nations,” are there ample opportunities for serving the marginalized, such as directly supporting the materially poor, the refugee, the ill and the otherwise substantively disadvantaged, per Matthew 25:31-46?
For older students, is marriage taught as being the unitive, procreative and lifelong union of a husband and wife, per Matthew 19:1-12 and Mark 10:1-12? Is chastity embraced throughout the community per Matthew 5:27-28, with students encouraged to abstain from sexual activity until marriage? Do students have access to the celebration of the sacramental life, particularly focused on the Holy Eucharist, per John 6:22-71?
Is bullying repudiated, and respect fostered between students and among the faculty and staff, ensuring that the various members of the school community “do to others as [others] would have them do to [them]” (Luke 6:31)?
Ultimately, in sum, is it clear within your Catholic school that God is loved first, and neighbor subsequently (see Mark 12:30-31)?
The word “Catholic identity” is often used when taking into consideration the extent to which a Catholic educational institution, whether K-8, high school or college/university, is devoted to operating according to the Good News of Jesus Christ. While Saint John Paul II’s 1990 apostolic constitution Ex Corde Ecclesiae: On Catholic Universities is, of course, focused on Catholic colleges and universities, its implications nonetheless span the spectrum of Catholic educational settings. (If you have not yet read this remarkable document, I advise you to do so).
It is with good reason that an educational institution that intends to be taken seriously would not teach alchemy as a valid alternative to chemistry, or fascism as a valid alternative to democracy, or astrology as a valid alternative to astrophysics. So, why while attempting to grasp at reality would a formally Catholic educational institution at any level undermine Christ’s salvific nature by furthering an agenda that directly contradicts timeless Christian principles as posited by the Gospel?
The sad news is that myriad examples abound. Yet, there are fortunately many good and decent schools that live and breathe their Catholicity, and you can tell as soon as you set foot on campus.
During Catholic Schools Week and beyond, it is imperative for Catholic educational institutions at all levels to ensure that their mission remains aligned with what Jesus demanded of his Apostles. Those charged with providing any sector of Catholic education should commit themselves to acquiring a sound familiarity with the teachings of the Catholic Church, for the prospect of their students’ eternal reward.
We look especially to the example of Saint John Bosco, whose memorial was just celebrated Jan. 31, for devoting ourselves to serving our students most effectively by being the face of Christ to them.
The Lord would be pleased with a Catholic educational institution that takes such a resolution, if he were to conduct a site visit. After all, forming present disciples and future saints is the crucial component that must rest at the heart of every Catholic school, for the enduring benefit of the Kingdom of God.