I read my former bishop’s column on “authentic Catholic schools.” Bishop Finn (image credit: Joe Cory, Catholic Key) says a lot of good things, including the headline that schools should be forming saints. I agree. I also agree with this point, related from Pope Benedict’s address to Catholic educators:
Catholic identity, the Holy Father said, “demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith.” Our schools must be defined by a unique culture of faith, hope and charity.
Catholic identity is part of what I would term a Catholic culture: parishes and other faith communities reinforcing a wide range of expressions that enhance the faith and develop it.
Catholic identity certainly starts with sound, authentic presentations of the teaching of the Church. This is that “without which” we would not be providing helpful formation in the tradition and life of the Church. Living and life-giving Christian Faith is also necessary: faith in God the Holy Trinity, and faithful participation in the life of the Church. Our students should know the sacraments, not only from having studied them in coursework. They must live them, and practice them as the foundation stones for their Catholic lives.
Everything is here, but the ordering of these virtues is misaligned.
Catholic identity, as Pope Benedict calls it, touches on the essence of faith. We don’t begin with head knowledge. We begin with liturgy, liturgy as the school–or more accurately, the apprenticeship of faith. Catholic students should be urged to live the sacraments, and that comes from the practice of celebrating Mass, as well as living them, giving personal and communal example that imitates Christ’s paschal mystery–his sacrifice, dying, and resurrection.
To Bishop Finn’s credit, he does emphasize something important, but unfortunately at the very end of his essay:
In our schools we pray. We need to pray. Prayer is a response to our sense of God’s presence with us always, our readiness to be intercessors for one another, and the realization that we are persons constantly in need of God’s light and grace. God is first, and when we put Him first, all the other good things find their proper place. We worship him in the community of the Church and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the font and highest expression of our life.
Many good families sent their kids to Kansas City Catholic schools. Unfortunately, Sunday Mass attendance rates vary little to none from other parishioners. If schools were doing their job, children and their families would take more of the lead in parish life. Unfortunately, schools often promote their own identity at the expense of ecclesial aspects.
This isn’t to say I think a hard line is needed in dealing with parents of students. Pastors and school personnel should treat students as agents of evangelization to their own families. Whatever positive thing will get students into Sunday Mass: choirs, altar servers, greeters, food after Mass, might also lasso in parents. Religious formation could be Lectionary-based. Homilies could be addressed to entire families, not just adults. There are lots of ways to utilize Catholic educational institutions as schools for sainthood. We need to start doing it, and cut out the thinking that tickling the intellect is the main way or the first way to get there.