1. Allow me to begin my presentation by giving you the answer to tonight’s question right up front. The answer has three parts. First, for a Catholic school whether it be an elementary school, or a high school or a college or university, that academic institution must provide an education that is Christ-centered. Second, it must provide an education that is transformative both for time and eternity and third, an authentically Catholic school provide an education that mentors its students to pursue, to discuss and to love for a life-time, the good, the true and the beautiful because in pursuing and discovering and what is loving good true and beautiful, we will find God who alone can make us truly free and truly human. I suppose that now you know the answer I should sit down and quit while I’m ahead, but for the next fifteen minutes, I will try to provide the reasons for my answer.
2. In many of the Catholic schools I visit through the Diocese, there is a plaque on the wall, often at the entrance to the school, which reads: “Christ is the reason for this school.” As a matter of fact, our Superintendent, Delma Josephson, has such a plaque behind her desk in her office. That succinct statement is absolutely true but what does it really mean?
3. Two weeks ago I was in Washington, DC at a meeting attended by a small group of bishops and a number of theologians who teach in some of our Catholic colleges and universities throughout the United States. One of the theologians during his talk said the following which captivated me. He said “If there is one insight that I wish my students to take away from my courses in Catholic theology is this: “Jesus Christ is the meaning of life, history and the cosmos”. An authentically Catholic school finds its meaning and purpose in the person of Jesus Christ because a Catholic academic institution seeks to provide answers to the most fundamental questions of life that precisely concur the meaning of life, history and the cosmos. Often when I speak to Catholic school educators, I remind them that unless our students leave our schools knowing the answers to the three crucial questions of human existence: “Where have I come from?” “Where am I going” and “How do I get there?”, our students may be well-informed and well-educated but they will not be truly wise. And by the way, we learn the answers to those three questions by meeting and falling in love with Jesus Christ who alone is our Way, our Truth and our Life.
4. When Pope Benedict XVI visited the United States nine years ago in April of 2008, I had the privilege to be there, in a speech to a group of Catholic school educators, the Holy Father gave the reason why the Church has a worldwide network of Catholic Schools. The pope said the following: “Every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth and those who meet Christ will be drawn to lead a new life that is characterized by all that is beautiful, good and true”. Plain and simple, this is why Christ is the reason for our schools and we make no apology.
5. Now for the second reason for my answer: If a Catholic school is to be authentically Catholic, the education it provides must be transformative both for time and eternity. The motto of our Adopt-A-Student Program puts it another way: “Adopt-A-Student-Change a Life.” Those of us who studied the Baltimore Catechism in our youth were presented with the following two questions and answers when we were seven years old. The first question was: “Who made you? And the answer was: “God made me” and the second question and answer were intended to be life-changing, to be transformative. The question: “Why did God make you” and the answer: “God made me to know, love and serve Him in this world so as to be happy with Him in Heaven.” You see, my friends, when we know who we are and why we exist, we are transformed. Our horizons are broadened and our understanding of what constitutes “a good life” is deepened. At this same conference in Washington that I just mentioned, a rather disconcerting consensus among the theologians present emerged. It was that the students who sit before them in class are generally quite bright and are driven to succeed but the theologians also stated that many of these same students seem to lack a coherent reason for living and as a result, many of them do not have a sense of hope for the present and the future. Their horizon is collapsed into the here and now of today.
6. A Catholic education seeks to provide a coherent vision of life, both for time and eternity, that will inform how our students should look at God, themselves and others. Technology and the various media we have at our daily disposal on one level is supposed to help us to communicate more quickly and more effectively but on another level, computers, I-pods, I-phones, instagrams; twitter have made us overly self-referential, locking our attention for hours each day on a screen that can isolate us from others. I’ve been in restaurants where a family is sitting in a booth or at a table and everyone begins to look at their I-phone. There is little or no conversation. A Catholic education is meant to help our students to look beyond their own limited world and to be attentive to people, places and events around them in order to search for what is true, good and beautiful. So in the curriculum of a truly Catholic education, our student’s attention is turned to religion, to literature, to art, to language, to music, to science, to mathematics in order to discover and appreciate in these intellectual disciplines what is true, good and beautiful. In a word, these fields of study and learning will expose our students to a world that is the handiwork of the God who is Truth, Good and Beauty itself.
7. From the month of March until the beginning of July, the Worcester Art Museum is hosting a magnificent display of Catholic art and artifacts from 17th and 18th century South America. The title of the exhibition is: “Highest Heaven.” I mention this exhibition simply to make the point that our Catholic faith tells a magnificent story that began with God’s creation of the world and ended with Christ returning in glory at the end of the world. And this story has captivated the imagination of artists, poets, literary giants, architects, playwrights and through them, has given to civilization objects of beauty that profoundly are transformative and can remind us of who we are and what we are called to: men and women created in the image and likeness of the God from whom we have come and are destined to return.
8. My third and final reason for my answer: If a Catholic school is to be authentically Catholic, it must show that faith and reason are not incompatible but rather faith and reason are two ways of arriving at the truth. As St. John Paul II put it so beautifully, “Faith and reason are two wings.” We live in a culture that has become deeply secular that has lost the intellectual conviction that objective truth exists and that human nature and reality itself are fluid and can be manipulated to reflect what is the prevailing culture trend of the moment. Yet our faith teaches, and science corroborates that we did not make the world. We are creatures and not the Creator and the world is not a construction of the human mind but has an inherent order and meaning. Another prevailing cultural conviction is that what is really real is only that which we can taste, touch, feel and weigh and examine under a microscope. But our Catholic intellectual tradition celebrates the fact that there is a profoundly harmonious relationship between faith and reason and the truth about human affairs and the world in which we live cannot contradict each other because the source of all truth is one; it is God who is truth itself.
9. When I became a bishop 18 years ago, I was so convinced intellectually of the unit of all truth; I chose for my episcopal motto the words, “Christus Veritatis Splendor”. Yes, Christ, who is God and man, human and divine, is the splendor of truth and it is his “Splendid Truth” that must inform our Catholic schools if they are to be authentically Catholic.
Keynote Address delivered by Most Reverend Robert J. McManus, Bishop of Worcester
April 6, 2017