Pope Benedict XVI in his Thursday evening address at Catholic University of America, delivered a speech in which he emphasized that Catholic education should lead to an encounter with Jesus, who teaches us the truth. Any failure to do so leads Catholic institutions to fall short of their Catholic identity, Benedict said.
“I warmly greet each of you - bearers of wisdom - and through you the staff, students and families of the many and varied institutions of learning that you represent,” the Holy Father began.
Benedict XVI then launched into his address by quoting from his encyclical “Spe Salvi”, saying, “First and foremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth,” he said.
This encounter with Christ, sustains people through “personal struggles, moral confusion and fragmentation of knowledge,” he said. According to the Pope, “scholarship and education, founded on the unity of truth and in service of the person and the community, become an especially powerful instrument of hope.”
After pointing to the historic service of the Catholic Church to the less privileged in the US, the Holy Father posed the question: How do Church institutions “contribute to the good of society through the Church's primary mission of evangelization?”
“A university or school's Catholic identity is not simply a question of the number of Catholic students. It is a question of conviction - do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man truly become clear? Are we ready to commit our entire self - intellect and will, mind and heart - to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the faith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given fervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts of charity, a concern for justice, and respect for God's creation?”
“Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold,” the Pope replied.
Reflecting on the modern doubt about whether truth does exist, the Pope said that “the contemporary ‘crisis of truth’ is rooted in a ‘crisis of faith’.
Academic freedom is not true freedom if it becomes disconnected from the truth. Academic freedom, and indeed, freedom in general is often thought of as an “opting out”, the Pope said. However, freedom should be thought of as an “opting in - a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God.”
The particular responsibility, for every Catholic educator, “is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief,” the Pope instructed.
“Clearly, then, Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy of course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect of your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial life of faith, the Pope said of truly Catholic schools.”
The Holy Father also came to the defense of the contribution of Catholic institutions in the public square, saying “The Church's mission, in fact, involves her in humanity's struggle to arrive at truth.” “In articulating revealed truth she serves all members of society by purifying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration of ultimate truths, he added.”
Most importantly, the Pope said that the Church serves society by reminding society that it is not how people live that creates truth but rather that truth should serve as the basis of how we live.
“In the educational forum, the diakonia (service) of truth takes on a heightened significance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and faith.” This type of society dismisses any argument that is metaphysical, that is to say, not based on material evidence, he said.
This “relativistic horizon” leads to the situation where “the goals of education are inevitably curtailed.” Without any reference to transcendent truth, a slow “lowering of standards occurs,” the Pope explains. “We observe today a timidity in the face of the category of the good and an aimless pursuit of novelty parading as the realization of freedom. We witness an assumption that every experience is of equal worth and a reluctance to admit imperfection and mistakes. And particularly disturbing, is the reduction of the precious and delicate area of education in sexuality to management of 'risk', bereft of any reference to the beauty of conjugal love.”
Faced with this situation, the Pontiff posed the question: “How might Christian educators respond? These harmful developments point to the particular urgency of what we might call "intellectual charity".
Being intellectually charitable means guiding “the young towards the deep satisfaction of exercising freedom in relation to truth, and it strives to articulate the relationship between faith and all aspects of family and civic life. Once their passion for the fullness and unity of truth has been awakened, young people will surely relish the discovery that the question of what they can know opens up the vast adventure of what they ought to do,” he said.
The Holy Father also spoke about the debate over religious freedom that has been raging over the last few decades. Academic freedom calls on educators “to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you,” he explained.
Nevertheless, “any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the Church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission; a mission at the heart of the Church's munus docendi and not somehow autonomous or independent of it,” Benedict XVI explained.
Catholic institutions must fulfill their duty and privilege of ensuring that students receive instruction in Catholic doctrine and practice, Benedict emphasized. “This requires that public witness to the way of Christ, …both inside and outside the classroom. Divergence from this vision weakens Catholic identity and, far from advancing freedom, inevitably leads to confusion, whether moral, intellectual or spiritual,” the Pontiff insisted.
In closing, the Holy Father called on Catholic educators to “Help them to know and love the One you have encountered, whose truth and goodness you have experienced with joy.”
He left the educators with the words of St. Augustine: "we who speak and you who listen acknowledge ourselves as fellow disciples of a single teacher.”
To read the entire address click here.