Monday, January 30, 2017

Catholic Schools as Centers for the New Evangelization

The promise and the peril of Catholic education in the U.S. may well hinge on questions related to schools becoming "Centers for the New Evangelization":
  • Will Catholic schools continue to help students and families foster a personal relationship with Jesus in and through the Church, or will they merely strive for worldly goals and measure their successes by SATs rather than Saints? 
  • Will Catholic schools manage to transform almighty athletics into a virtue-based and character-building dimension of the educational experience (Christ-centered, even?), or will they blindly adopt the sports-olatry of these obsessive times? 
  • Will Catholic schools continue to explore new funding models and sources to make their counter-cultural alternative accessible to families of all socio-economic backgrounds, or will they quietly become elite private academies?
  • Will Catholic schools serve the mission of the Church by finding new ways to convey a Catholic world view in an aggressively secular context, or will they merely mirror the values and mores of the prevailing culture--blindly separating reason from revelation, knowledge from faith, mind from heart, science from religion? 
While cultural, economic and academic questions rightly gain much attention in conversations about Catholic schools, Pope Francis' evangelical challenge cuts to the root of all these issues: "I hope that all communities will devote the necessary effort to advancing along the path of a pastoral and missionary conversion which cannot leave things as they presently are...Throughout the world, let us be 'permanently in a state of mission'" (EG, n. 25).

To advance along this path of pastoral and missionary conversion, Catholic schools must recognize and celebrate the fact that they are meeting places for families at various places on the "faith spectrum." From those who are highly engaged ("intentional disciples," in the key phrase of Sherry Weddell), through those who might be seekers and those who are marginally engaged, to those who might be passively or actively disengaged--all of God's people are welcomed.

Accordingly, to meet people "where they are" and accompany them on the path of discipleship will require that Catholic school communities continue to think in terms of multiple processes of formation. One size no longer fits all, if it ever did, and merely maintaining the status quo will clearly not prevent the erosion of the next generation of young adults from embracing their identity as Catholic Christians.

Needless to say, this work of the New Evangelization cannot fall solely to teachers or principals or pastors. It must become the work of the entire school community. To be "Centers for the New Evangelization" will require that the entire community embrace the target--universal call to holiness and to mission--and then strive together on this adventuresome journey.

In other words, families must not be merely the object of evangelization, but must also become the subject (again, per Pope Francis): That is, they must not just passively receive the Good News of the Gospel, but must also actively help reach out to other families. Parents must think in terms of engaging not only themselves but also their peers in ongoing faith formation and Christian service.

Thankfully, in this golden age of resources within the Church, a wide array of content is available to inform the various processes which a school community might promote:
  • Bishop Barron's Catholicism: School Enrichment program.
  • The Augustine Institute's clearinghouse of resources called Formed, which includes a wide variety of multimedia content and programming.
  • Paradisus Dei's engaging programs for married couples, for fathers, and for teens--as well as a mother-daughter retreat for early adolescent years.
The need is clearly urgent.  The time is clearly now.  The call for a New Evangelization is as timely as ever. And the solutions are becoming increasingly clear.

The Church needs her schools to continue transforming themselves into Spirit-filled hubs of new life. These "Centers for the New Evangelization" will become "a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (Jn 4:14), for the greater glory of God and the salvation of countless souls!

St. Elizabeth Seton and St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us--

P.S. If you haven't heard Cardinal Dolan's powerful preach from the Vigil Mass for Life in Washington, DC last Thursday, check out this meditation on the Sanctuaries not made of human hands.