Thursday, August 26, 2010

How It Should Be

I write this with a certain degree of hesitation, as it reflects somewhat critically on an institution within Rapid City toward which many Catholics bear a great deal of devotion and zeal.  Moreover, it was recently suggested that I approach my relationship with said institution as though it were an enemy to be defeated.  Though I am deeply fond of the institution and possess a deep love for those associated with it, this assessment is not entirely false.  This topic has been weighing on me for some time; what I am going to say needs saying.  In reading this, one should not assume that I speak magisterially.  Such is not my role in the Church.  Mine is a particular reading of the teachings of the Church, and though I believe it to be true, reasonable, and supported by the teachings of the Church, it does not necessarily represent the opinions of those legitimately responsible for the philosophy and operation of the institutions about which I opine.

The foundation of all reality is the Holy Trinity.  This truth, so fundamental to all of Christianity, is the litmus test by which all Christian denominations determine who is and is not legitimately considered Christian.  It is a basic Dogma common to all of Christianity that God is one while simultaneously consisting in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  These persons are distinct from one another; they are not various modes under which a single God operates in his relation with man and the world.  Nevertheless, the thing which makes God the Father God is common as well to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  These three persons exist within a relation of love so intense that from this love flows all of creation upon which the Holy Trinity has left his fingerprints.  Creation - all of reality - is reflective of this God albeit in imperfect ways.  Among the things which reflect God is man, who, unlike the rest of creation, is made in God's image and likeness.

It is a fundamental assumption of Orthodox Catholic Theology and reasonable philosophies that all things exist for a purpose.  A thing is known by the purpose for which it is created.  One will always necessarily not know what a hammer is unless one knows first and foremost the purpose for which the hammer exists.  One need not know how a hammer is made, of what it is made, or by whom it is made to know that it exists for the purpose of driving a nail.  So it is with the human person.  We will never know ourselves until we know the purpose for which we are made.  Though the ink spilled in answering this question is voluminous, three short propositions seem sufficient to address the question.

1) God created man out of love.
2) God created man to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this life, and to be happy with him in the next life.
3) Jesus Christ fully reveals man to himself, and in Christ, man discovers that he is only truly happy (thus, only truly what he is made to be) and only serves and loves God well when, out of love, he sacrifices himself for the sake of becoming a gift to another.  This sacrificial love is prerequisite to happiness in the life to come.

It is further an assumption of all reasonable philosophies that all actions of a thing are ultimately directed toward the final end of a thing.  In other words, the action of a hammer in being lifted, of being  swung, and of striking the head of a nail are intermediate ends that move the hammer toward its ultimate end of driving a nail.  So too with man should his actions all be deliberate movements toward his final end (service and love of God in this life and happiness with him in the next).  Man, unlike other created things, however, finds that besides the angels, he alone is free.  He alone is able to choose actions that do not coincide with his final end.  Such actions are the things to which we refer when we use the word "sin."  Man is devastatingly corrupted by the reality of sin in the world, and as a result, cannot, without the aid of grace (i.e. the presence and action of God in our lives) always choose those actions which direct man toward his end.  God, recognizing the plight of his creation, through his son, has created a conduit by which man can acquire the necessary grace.  This conduit is what Catholics commonly refer to as the Church. 

Most obviously, the Church attains this purpose in the administration of the sacraments.  The Church assists God's people, though, in other significant ways.  For this purposes of this writing, the Church assists in a significant way by helping people understand reality correctly.  Most specifically, the Church teaches people what is true.  This Truth she teaches is all directly consequent of the propositions suggested above.  As a result, the Church, in all of her institutions must, by her very nature, insist upon these propositions and all of their logical consequences.  Any institution, be it parish, hospital or orphanage, that does not reflect and teach these propositions in all of her actions presents an impoverished and inadequate representation of reality.

As a result of all of this, it becomes particularly incumbent upon a Catholic School to ensure that in everything it does, the foremost goal is always that every student would attain paradise in the life to come.  A Catholic School which is not determined to do this in every aspect of its life ceases to be Catholic.  Thus every aspect of Catholic Education must bear in mind creation's inherent reflection of its creator.  The Sciences and Mathematics should emphasize the orderliness of creation, and what can be known of God through these disciplines.  The liberal arts and humanities should focus on the reason for man's existence, his historical self-reflection on this question, and his historical response to his own answers.  When man has answered these questions incorrectly (e.g. Islam, Protestantism, the Enlightenment, Modernism), Catholic Education should not hesitate in saying so.  Moreover, the discipline of history should be addressed in such a way as to reveal God's Providence at work as he draws all of time toward its consummation.  Religion classes should be the centerpiece of a Catholic Education, and therein, the logical details of the propositions I noted above should be taught unflinchingly.  These lessons must be reinforced by the educators assigned to the other academic disciplines. 

All extracurricular activity should be designed to continue to promote the lessons taught within the classroom.  In a particular way, athletics should help students learn stewardship of the bodies God has given them, and more importantly, athletics should become the testing ground for character and virtue.  As a result, every coach must be an exemplary model of these same virtues.  The teaching and reinforcement of virtue should be a goal the precedes the goal of winning.  Likewise, with theater and the other fine arts, students should develop a deeper appreciation for beauty (beauty reflects truth, after all) which becomes a window through which one catches a glimpse of God.  Any other goal of extracurricular activity must be secondary to the first aim of Catholic Education.

Catholic education must be shaped by a Catholic Anthropology.  It must take seriously the teachings about who man is and how his life is to be lived.  Catholic Education must take seriously the Church's teachings as regards the differences between men and women and the complementarity (as opposed to the undifferentiated equality assumed by popular culture) of the genders.  Catholic Education must take seriously the fact that parents must always remain the principle educators of their children.  As a result, Catholic Schools should do everything in their power to insist upon a vibrant practice of the faith in the home lives of their students.  Finally, Catholic Schools must see themselves as a powerful agent of change and evangelization in a culture inimical to the aims of Christ and his Church.  As a result, the Catholic School must deliberately remove itself from the center of the culture, as the state run public school system has systematically placed itself at the center of culture.  A Catholic Schools should recognize that it is an agent of the Church but not the Church itself.  In other words, the Catholic School must not usurp the place of the local parish, which is the principle means by which the Church accomplishes her mission in the lives of lay Catholics.

It is therefore my opinion that, though well-intentioned they may be, Catholic Schools who do not share this vision and do not zealously attempt to implement it, even at the risk of losing tuition dollars, enrollments, and football or basketball games, misrepresent themselves when naming themselves Catholic and do a great disservice to Christ and his Church.       


  1. After taking my consecrated life class this summer and many discussions with my sister-in-law who was a teacher at St. Bernard's (St. Paul Catholic school that closed this year), I have been wondering a lot about the future of Catholic schools generally, spiritually, and canonically. I admit that my experience with them is pretty much nothing, and I don't entirely understand them. But it was interesting to learn in my class about the role Catholic schools played in the history of the U.S. Not only were parents urged canonically to enroll their children in Catholic schools, but before there was the public education system we know today the Catholic schools paved the way in building and establishing an education system themselves. But now that the Code of Canon Law no longer explicitly notes that children should go to religious schools, free public education is plentiful, and the landscape of parish/school/community relationships has changed, what is the place of the Catholic or parochial school today? Should they be simply private schools with a Catholic identity? Parochial or diocesan schools? The vision you describe for a Catholic school sounds wonderful, but how should it be carried out? Because as educational standards become cast into law and charter schools abound, traditional Catholic schools find themselves feeling a need to compete, but without the same financial stability. Public schools are supported by everyone, whether they have kids to send to them or not. Maybe Catholic schools need to be funded the same way? That's where it gets interesting canonically, as the Code envisions that a parochial or diocesan school should be able to sustain itself financially, without the aid of a tax or other imposed form of support. Anyway, this is what keeps me up at night, quite literally, since I should have gone to bed 20 mins ago.

  2. Saw this article on Catholic schools by Abp. Dolan and thought of your blog post:

    I think Abp. Dolan is the greatest, and I admire his pitch for Catholic schools, but I'm not sure I'm willing to walk off the dock with him on the boat to the end of the world. There are some interesting responses to the article here:

    Most especially, I think, the point one commentor made that where there used to be a clear advantage to Catholic education, now that schools are supported by government funds and with other demographic changes, it just may not make sense to try to maintain the traditional U.S. parochial school system. And what if this form of faith formation and education all but disappears in our country? Despite our reputation, Catholics are innovative, particularly when it comes to meeting essential needs. We will find a way to raise our kids in the faith. But nonetheless, I appreciate what Dolan is doing, especially in a place like NY. God bless Abp. Dolan.


I appreciate your comments and thoughts. I do not appreciate vulgarity, attacks on me, the Church, or other people who comment. Comments of this variety will not be published.