Magazine article Momentum

Catholic Education: Making Citizens and Saints

Magazine article Momentum

Catholic Education: Making Citizens and Saints

Article excerpt

It's time to revisit Catholic education and its place In today's society. Is the mission to produce exemplary citizens or aspiring saints? Are the two mutually exclusive? Let's consider.

Catholic schools possess a long-standing, well-deserved reputation for academic excellence. In spite of the frequent material challenges of poor funding and few resources, dedicated teachers provide an education to all American children, including and especially the poor. Today, many graduates of Catholic schools rank competitively in standardized test scores, college admission test scores and admission to reputable universities. Strong academic formation prepares graduates of Catholic schools for productive employment. However, cultural challenges to Church teaching and growing threats to religious liberty prompt us to rediscover the fundamental reason that Catholic schools exist: forming the students into disciples of Jesus Christ who realize their eternal destiny with God in Heaven (Vatican II, 1965). Renewing our commitment to this essential purpose of Catholic education will produce citizens who work for the benefit our society. How?

At its heart, Christianity is a religion of love. Thomas Aquinas defined love as "willing the good of the other" (St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 26, 4). Scripture tells us that "God is love" (1 John 4:8), indicating that God's very identity is willing the good of others. Created in his image and likeness (Catholic Church, 1994, no. 1700), humans are created by love himself to be loved by him and then to share his love with others. This means that he wills and works for our good and we, in his image of love, will and work for the good of others. Because we are wounded by original sin, we don't always know what is truly good, and even when we do know, we often fail to do it. We cannot overcome this wound on our own. God knows our weakness and limitations, so in his love he gives us commands to help us know what to do and he gives us grace (merited by the saving life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and poured out especially in the sacraments) to strengthen us to carry out those commands. When Jesus says, "If you love me, keep my commands (John 14:15)," he is telling us how to act in love: for our own good and the good of others.

Many people think that Christianity involves following all the rules. But really, Christianity is about cultivating a relationship with the God who loves us. When the Christian knows Jesus as a person and a friend, he doesn't want to hurt him. He seeks deeper union with him, especially through prayer and the sacraments. This union empowers him to do good and avoid evil, even in challenging circumstances, thereby making his friend happy. As one grows to love Jesus, he progressively turns away from sin and embraces a life that imitates that of Jesus, thus becoming a disciple, a saint in the making.

Further, disciples work for the good of others because they recognize that in doing so they are working for the Lord and his good, which is the building up of his kingdom. They hear Jesus say, "When you fed and clothed and sheltered and visited the least of these, you fed and clothed and sheltered and visited me (cf. Matthew 25:31-46)." Students whose love for the Lord is sparked and nurtured want to love and serve others because they want to love and serve Christ in them. …

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