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Catholic education: providing clarity in a struggling world

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Part of what it means to be Catholic is to educate yourself in what the Church teaches and pass that teaching on to your children and those around you. This education takes place in many different ways, including home schooling, parish religious education, co-op groups and Catholic schools. Parents throughout the Diocese of Arlington are preparing for another school year. As such, I take this opportunity to reflect on one effective model of Catholic education: our diocesan Catholic schools.

I begin by once again offering gratitude to all Catholic administrators and teachers of our parish schools and Diocesan high schools whose perseverance through the many challenges of the past 16 months ensured that the important work of our Catholic schools continued. In March 2020, they offered virtual education, and their work in the summer of 2020 made a return to in-person instruction possible across the Diocese.

This time of year, we also take time to reflect on the deeper meaning of Catholic education. Through the work of education, the Church responds to Jesus’ call to bring the Good News of salvation to all and cooperate with the Holy Spirit in building up the Body of Christ. In this way, the Church becomes, in essence, the soul of our world.

The Church’s duty in education flows from her mission and is rooted in the dignity of each human person, who has “an inalienable right to education that is in keeping with their ultimate goal” (“Gravissimum Educationis,” No. 1). True education is principally concerned with our “ultimate goal”: eternal life with God. Thus, a comprehensive view of education seeks to give the wisdom of good judgment, discovering the truth taught by previous generations, and to foster moral and spiritual values. That educational journey also nurtures the intellect and prepares people for their vocation, where we live out our Faith and invite others to meet the Risen Lord.

This harmonious and integral education takes place first and foremost in that most basic of society’s bonds — the family. Parents are the primary and principal educators of their children. It is a duty made explicit when a child is presented for Baptism and the parents verbally agree to “the responsibility of raising (the child) in the faith, so that, keeping God’s commandments, he/she may love the Lord and his/her neighbor as Christ has taught us” (Order of Baptism of Children, No. 77).

In their role, parents foster love and respect for God, for one another and for all people. The family thus becomes “the first school of the social virtues that every society needs” (“Gravissimum Educationis,” No. 3) and sends out missionaries to evangelize for Our Lord and his Church. In this courageous and tireless work, some families request the help of the whole community, and this is where Catholic schools assist and serve families in that journey of education and faith.

Catholic school faculties and staff partner with parents to help young people deepen their Christian Faith, which will illuminate their knowledge of the world (“Gravissimum Educationis,” No. 8). Through both example and instruction, teachers and staff encourage and fortify young witnesses of the Catholic Faith within our society.

We give thanks for our Catholic schools because, with God’s grace, they build up the Body of Christ by preparing our younger generations to “serve as a leaven and as a kind of soul for human society” (“Lumen Gentium,” No. 38) while also preparing our children intellectually and professionally. In this way, Catholic education provides clarity to students who live in a society that often teaches what is false and destructive. The education provided is founded on the principle that we should educate the whole person: body and soul, intellect and will. Educated in a holistic way, and founded upon the true and eternal teachings of our Faith, Catholic school students are ready to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead of them.

As we begin another school year and reflect upon the awesome task ahead, we ask for the intercession of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, a special patroness for our diocese and the saint who planted the seeds of Catholic education in our nation, as we entrust our work and study to God: “Direct, we pray, O Lord, all our actions by your holy inspiration, and carry them on by your gracious assistance, that our every prayer and work may begin in you, and through you, be brought to completion.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021