By Father Phillip De Vous
The witness and work of Catholic education is all the more important when we recognize the diabolical power and persuasion of the culture of death — aptly described by Blessed John Paul II — which suffocates the souls and suffuses the lives of so many, leaving in its wake a great spiritual, moral, psychological and personal poverty. The idea that fuels the hateful, anti-human and atheistic worldview is that of secularism.
Secularism has become the regnant ideology in our time. Secularism, both as a philosophical idea and an uncritical ideology, artificially separates truth into two domains. The image of a two-story house is instructive to understanding the secularist worldview: The first "floor" of the house is the realm of "facts," generally narrowly defined in an empiricist and totally materialist way. So only the truths of science, as secularists define and understand them, are admitted to the first floor. It is only on this "floor" that "facts" are to be known and where "real truths" about the world — truths that are objective and verifiable — are found. Note the narrowness of this view and how far from actual human experience and reality it is.
Secularists confine "values" such as statements about beauty, morality, and God, to the second "floor" of the house. These are considered by secularists to be expressions of mere personal preference only, which have no basis in objective reality and thus are unverifiable. And since they have no foundation in objective reality and are unverifiable, according to secularist renderings, they cannot form the basis for public discussion or actions, personal or communal. So religion, which is the lived-life of the Faith, is treated like an eccentric aunt shut up in the attic.
The practical conclusion that one reaches if they buy or breathe in this worldview is that the Christian life, which the Faith gives us and forms in us and among us, is not really true and, if it happens to be true, then it doesn't really matter. Given the low rates of Mass attendance and participation in the whole life of the parish by those who have received and are in the midst of receiving a Catholic education, it is clear this pernicious and humanly-unfulfilling idea has been breathed in and bought by many in our day.
Catholic education in our time is a witness to a fuller, authentically human, and true way of life. In this our Faith forms the foundation, the first "floor" and second "floor" of the "house," as well as providing all the furnishings, as the human spirit is lifted to God on the twin wings of faith and reason. Authentic Catholic education stands over and against the materialist and secularist worldview that would define us as nothing more than the sum total of our possessions and earning power. The work of Catholic education in our Catholic schools is about teaching the next generation of Christ's disciples how to be men and women in full, not "folks full of stuff." In that regard our schools seek to educate the whole person, not just in the technical skills of living in the world, but in the truths that are indispensable in reaching their eternal destiny: life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The challenges of carrying out the work of Catholic education are faced by every generation who would apply themselves to this holy and necessary vocation. And it is often the case that at precisely the moment when something becomes the most challenging and difficult to accomplish is when the work is most necessary and urgent. I believe that to be the situation as it pertains to the work of Catholic schools. Catholic schools are more necessary, and their survival more urgent, than ever, especially as we recognize the debilitating and toxic moral, spiritual, intellectual, and spiritual environment our children and their families are exposed to on a daily basis.
It is a fact that the challenges involved and the sacrifices required in achieving and maintaining a Catholic school that provides an authentically Catholic education are formidable. The consequences, however, of not meeting those challenges and making those sacrifices in order to succeed in keeping the holy and necessary work of Catholic schools alive in our parishes and in the world are even more daunting and devastating, given the alienation and toxicity of contemporary lifestyles.
Catholic schools are islands of moral, spiritual, intellectual, and spiritual sanity in world that has been turned upside down. Catholic schools, and the work of Catholic education, provide the witness to hope and truth that our world needs to see in action, to which we all need to contribute, and that our children must receive. As our Bishop, the Most Reverend Roger J. Foys, D.D., has taught us on many occasions, "[W]hen it comes to Catholic education, there are many alternatives, but no substitute."
Blessed John Paul II was fond of saying that "Jesus Christ is the answer to the question that is every human person." Catholic schools, in carrying out the work of Catholic education, are foundational and necessary in helping our children answer that question for their own sake and for the life of the world, now, and that yet to come — but already in our midst in the gift and mystery of the Church. All the sacrifices it takes to accomplish the work of St. Joseph School are nothing compared to the blessings we shall reap for our fidelity to this Godly task. That is the splendor of a Catholic education!
There is really nothing more to add. I truly do pray that Catholic Education remains strong and viable. God knows it is taking a real beating in our Colleges.
Jesus Is Lord!