Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why have Catholic Schools? Thoughts on Catholic Schools Week

This week is Catholic Schools Week in this country, a time when we celebrate the Catholic parochial school system, interparochial schools and High Schools, and other Catholic Institutions of learning.  The teaching of our youth in both the ways of the faith and in the other areas of education have long been an important part of our Mission as  a church.  Parochial schools in this country have been in the forefront in many ways.  We established schools among the Native American peoples when most others were disinterested. We had the first desegregated  schools system in this country when the St Louis Catholic School system ended segregation in its school system, almost decade before segregation was struck down by the US Supreme Court.  We can look at great saints in this country such as St Elizabeth Ann Seton and St. John Nuemann who were champions of the early parochial schools in this country.  These schools grew despite the bias and prejudice leveled against Catholics.  These schools help to provide Catholic identity for generations of students through the American centuries.  We have a great legacy in our possession.

There has been much criticism leveled at Catholic Schools.  Some say they are a hiding place for the wealthy and elite who want their children away from the riff raff of public schools even though Catholic schools will bring in such students in an effort to help.  The popular media likes to portray the nuns who staffed schools for many decades as humorless witches who took delight in tormenting children even though many nuns happily served for most of their life in the education of our youth and most were good people.  Some say our schools have lost their Catholic identity and look and act no different than their public counterparts.  In some respects this has happened, but it is my experience that this is easily remedied and I have found both my teachers and administrators in the 4 Catholic schools over which I have been pastor most amendable to suggestions I have mad to bolster Catholic identity and change over catachetical programs.  In fact, I found our teachers and administrators to be overall good people, very active in other aspects of the parish other than the school, and dedicated to the Catholic mission even though teaching at a Catholic School means a substantial lessening of salary as compared to what they could get for the same position in a public school.

In my homily this evening, I reminded the congregants who were there for the Mass opening the Catholic School week, that we as a Church, are in, for lack of a better phrase, the business of the salvation of souls.  Our Mission is the Mission of Jesus Christ, through and through.  Any program or thing that is done in a parish is to be about the salvation of souls (as we see in this weekend's Gospel) and thus to share in prophetic role of Jesus Christ to announce and exemplify the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Our schools must be connected entirely in the proclamation of the Gospel and model themselves exclusively after Christ.

I also remarked that the message we hear in our education (which had better be the Gospel...otherwise great harm is inflicted) and in our Church's teachings are not the only message vying for the ears of our children.  Between basketball games this afternoon, I watched a selection of shows on channels who aim at our children.  I was appalled at the messages and models regularly presented as normative behavior.  Adult authority figures (parents & teachers) were portrayed as self-involved, distant, clueless, cruel, easily dismissible characters made to be circumvented or ignored.  Kids were precocious  know-it-alls.  Teen boys were either betrayed as hopelessly insecure and nerdy or as suave users with the moral compass of a tapeworm.  Teen girls were portrayed as hopelessly insecure or so absolutely mean and manipulative as to be outright demonic.  I will not even get into the hedonistic lyrics set to awful tunes that most music is.  The point is that parents need to be vigilant that the message consumed by their children at home and in how they entertain themselves does not undo what we teach them as matters of faith and morals.  There must be a consistent message or the purpose for having Catholic schools becomes undone.  Now, undoubtedly, some will read this and remark that we can't hide this stuff from children.  My answer is to ask whether you allow your children to eat from a garbage can or swim in a sewer lagoon?   Of course not, you protect your children from such things because of the adverse effect it has and explain how these things are dangerous and harmful.  That would be part of the parents' duty of being the primary teacher of their children.  If we wouldn't allow them to partake in things that would actively destroy their bodies which will eventually die many decades form now, why on earth would we allow them to engage in activities that will destroy their souls that are eternal?  The Catholic education given in our schools cannot end once the student leaves the school must continue throughout the rest of the day!   This is why I politely remind our parents (okay..not always so politely) that when the absent themselves from Mass on the weekends, they are undoing one of the core reasons we have Catholic Schools.  There can be no mixed message.

I, as a pastor, have absolutely no interest in running a private school.  None.  I am very interested in running a Catholic School.  Catholicism as we rightly teach it is not a light switch we turn on and off as a matter of convenience.  It is meant to inform and effect everything about us.  This is the foremost mission of the Church and any institution that calls itself Catholic.  As Catholics, we must remember, it is not our job to make the the faith more like the world, but to make the world more like our faith.  To do that, we must be armed with truth and not allow ourselves or our children to be influenced by worldly wisdom with its tales of violence, hedonism, materialistic attitudes driven by greed and envy, selfishness, revenge, and its cheap and disposable attitude about the value of life.  We, as adults in the Church, both parents, educators, and clergy are to be the watchmen at the gates and those who train our children when it becomes their turns to be those sentinels.  We have seen what happens when the aforementioned groups fail in these responsibilities, or worse yet, act in union with the enemy and prey upon our youth...we must want what is good and that which faithfully passes on our Catholic faith to the next generation.  That is why we have Catholic schools.

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