Education in the Practice of Virtue

Article excerpt

The talk of the decade of the nineties is virtue. Certainly the momentum is fueled by the need for a much more focused life, the thrust for reconnecting spirit and living, the drive to be reflective and meaning-centered, the move toward wholeness.

The talk doesn't surprise us. Rather, it encourages us, since it parallels what we have been committed to and struggled for all our adult lives. We paused to reflect on thirty-plus years of involvement in Catholic education and asked what we've accomplished, queried why we've done it. This response sought us out: "I have planted my word deep within you. . . . " We've done what we've done because that word was growing, pushing to sprout, anxious to bloom, desirous to pollinate, to impregnate, to enjoin the growth of that same word in others.

Virtuous living is enhancing growth, adding true "miracle grow." Virtuous living is Spirit-living; it's graceful living; it's accepting the gift of life and opening to its wonder.

Joel: Thirty years ago I was introduced to the spirit and thought of John Baptist de la Salle. Prior to that I was educated by the Christian Brothers in what I now consider a true education in virtue. After high school I joined their order, which brought me to a new level of commitment. Faith and zeal were the means to put virtue to work. This is what I've brought to my work, and I haven't wavered.

Marilyn: My education through college was with the Franciscans, whom I joined for a time. While I was personally attracted to academics, my Franciscan training stressed the need for the development of a more total person. By not allowing ownership, even of books, among his early followers, St. Francis pointed to a life of prayerful action--virtuous living, gospel living, which reached out to those in need and enveloped them in the love of God. Francis is not known for his love of learning, but for his love of life, all life, and his joyous celebration of life. The virtuous life might be summed up in the prayer attributed to St. Francis: "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace . . . let me sow love . . .pardon . . . faith . . . hope . . . light ... joy. . . . "

Over the years we have been involved in ministry education, religious education in Catholic schools, catechesis in human sexuality, the writing of teacher manuals for religion texts, adult education in parishes, and the catechumenate. Practically speaking, any form of catechesis is education in virtue. It is the forming of the human person who comes to us as the image of God and who seeks to fulfill that destiny.

Education in virtue is not telling, not pushing, but it is REALizing. Education in virtue is accomplished through the active use of Bernard Lonergan's method: experience, understanding, analysis/testing, and action. It is involvement in a balanced manner in culture, institution, tradition, and personal experience. The LIMEX program (out of Loyola University in New Orleans), the WORD program through Loyola University in Chicago, the University of the South's education for ministry program, all focus this method in ministry education for adult professionals and lay men and women seeking to grow in virtue.

Work with the catechumenate has reinforced this approach for us. In its ideal, Christian initiation is not an institution nor an inquiry program, but a discovery process which shows itself as education in virtue. The end result is not a person who can pass a long test on Catholic doctrine, but a living, breathing Christian who, in turn, reaches out to others with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Education in virtue is "seeing more clearly, loving more dearly, following more nearly." The ministry training programs just mentioned and the catechumenate are adult-centered. The content works for and with the learner to engage him or her in life. Engagement is the key.

Lonergan suggests four areas of conversion--intellectual, moral, religious, and affective. …