Applying the Encyclical Letters of Pope Benedict XVI to Catholic Schools

By Simonds, Tom | Momentum, November/December 2009 | Go to article overview

Applying the Encyclical Letters of Pope Benedict XVI to Catholic Schools


Simonds, Tom, Momentum


Careful attention to the themes and ideas presented in three recent encyclical letters will enable Catholic educators to craft innovative programs to meet the needs of a new generation of students

Catholic elementary and secondary schools provide excellent opportunities for young people to learn and live the Catholic faith. At the same time, Catholic schools must explore how to engage in ongoing renewal so as to serve new generations of students. The recently published encyclical letters of Pope Benedict XVI provide some themes Catholic educators can use to consider directions for renewal.

Encyclical letters are written by popes for all the Christian people and for all the people of the world. These letters are a way for popes to reflect upon human existence in light of the Gospel of Jesus. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has written three encyclical letters. "God is Love" was published in 2006. "Saved in Hope" was published in 2007 and "Charity in Truth" was published in 2009. These letters build one upon the other. The Holy Father develops themes and then returns to these same themes in later letters. By reading all three encyclical letters in sequence, one can discern the development of a line of thought that explores human living in today's world.

Four Themes for Renewal

Four themes within the Holy Father's letters can be used by Catholic educators to consider the renewal of school programs. One theme that emerges from the encyclical letters is that Jesus is our master teacher. It is in the personal encounter with Jesus that each person learns the true meaning of self. How can this personal encounter with Jesus occur within Catholic schools? This is a mission critical question for Catholic educators to consider. Catholic schools traditionally have offered opportunities for prayer, celebration of the sacraments, faith formation and a living community of practicing Catholics as primary ways for students to encounter Jesus within the school. Leaders in Catholic schools can explore how these opportunities can be offered today in new ways to meet the needs of this present time.

A second theme that emerges from Benedict's encyclical letters is the importance of educating the whole person: body, mind and spirit. There is a tendency today in our culture to focus only on the body and the gratification of the body. To counteract this tendency, educators in Catholic schools can explore new ways to teach students about the human person and how humans find true happiness. For example, an educator might ask students to write an essay about how they think God is calling them to use their gifts in his service. By helping students to explore their calling, Catholic educators can encourage their students to embrace a more complete model of human living.

A third theme in Pope Benedict's encyclical letters is the relationship between faith and justice. The personal encounter with Christ brings about interior transformation of the heart and the mind, and the young Christian begins to consider how to serve God and neighbor. The whole process begins with faith formation. The next step is direct service of those in need: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked and providing homes for the homeless.

Students in the upper elementary school grades and in secondary schools can reach out to help those in need. As students learn from those they serve about the realities of our society, their teachers can help them engage in reflection on how to help those in need by changing social structures that are unjust.

Jesus' principal work was to love those he met by lifting their heavy burdens, healing them, teaching them and caring for them. Christians are called to live in this way, to be men and women for and with others - people who live in community, not in isolation. Students and teachers in Catholic schools engage in works of charity because they see people in need through eyes that have been transformed by a God who is love. …

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