As someone who spent a career teaching RE at Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Glasgow, I always wanted to share fully the Church’s teaching and the Gospel with my pupils. Catholic schools made this possible for people like me because of their distinct character and duty. The economic and political constraints on Catholic education we see today are, therefore, a threat to the next generation’s ability to live out this same vocation as a Catholic teacher.
In Pope Paul VI’s 1965 declaration on Christian Education, Gravissimum Educationis, Catholic schools are called to prepare “the youth who are the hope of the Church”. Those in authority in the Church are required to “see to it that youth is never deprived of this sacred right” to a Christian education. Pupils are to be equipped to “appraise moral values with a right conscience” and to “contribute to the good of the whole of society”.
Catholic schools can and must offer to parents, first educators of their children, a bulwark against the many organisations whose effect or stated intent is the destabilisation of society and the deconstruction of the family. Such forces have a growing influence in national and international education and openly seek to “liberate” Catholic pupils from their traditional harbours: the influence of parents, Church and faith schools. This conflict is not going to go away. What the world calls liberation of children is actually a corruption of the Gospel.
The pressure on Catholic schools to conform to the world is great and non-conformity is regarded as troublesome, or even dangerous. But isn’t that what Christ forewarned? When we refuse to defend marriage, the sanctity of life, the commandments and Church teaching in full, we are refusing to believe and trust in Jesus.
Catholic schools, of course, remain imperfect. Yet where else might a schoolchild experience the sacraments or encounter a belief like the Real Presence? Where else might Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body be taught as a natural part of a school curriculum to help pupils develop a positive understanding of sex and relationships? Where else might parents who are not Catholic but who seek shelter for their children from their “liberators” turn? Where else would unchurched pupils literally encounter God on earth: body, blood, soul, and divinity? And what can compare to the treasures of Catholic faith and culture?
A Catholic student of mine who is currently discerning a vocation to the priesthood said this: “Jesus Christ is not a mere life-choice or matter of familial persuasion, but a necessity for us as created beings, one that is etched into our soul. A Catholic school can become, by its very nature and highest calling, a sacramental body which points to Jesus Christ and helps manifest his presence to the world. During his 2010 visit to the UK, Pope Benedict XVI told our Catholic schools that he hoped their pupils would become the ‘future saints of the 21st century’. This is the sublime and daunting task for which the whole Catholic community is ultimately responsible before the Divine Teacher.”
Pauline Gallagher is a retired teacher from Scotland and co-founder of Catholic Family Voice
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