From the Bishops The importance of a true education

Saint Thomas More, the patron of the Diocese of Arlington, was martyred because of his refusal to swear an oath of loyalty to King Henry VIII. The king defied the authority of the Pope and declared himself the head of the Church of England because he did not wish to accept the Catholic Church’s teaching on marriage. Saint Thomas More’s principled resolution in refusing to swear the oath was not only the result of much reflection, but also of his keen intellect, which contributed to forming his conscience in order to make wise decisions. His holy example of martyrdom demonstrates the true value of an education: the ability to apply the reality of our faith to concrete life decisions that occur on our path to holiness.

So often, we are preoccupied with statistics, no less so in the field of education. “Did I receive an A- or a B+ on my last test?” or “Is this SAT score high enough that I will receive a scholarship?” Statistics are often indicators of academic success and I am certainly proud of our Catholic students for their achievement in these areas. Students from across our diocese excel in their SATs and many are awarded college scholarships. Our alumni are leaders in today’s workforce. While all of these achievements are laudable, there is an even richer component to Catholic education.

In a quote popularly attributed to him, Saint Thomas More wrote, “Education is not the piling on of learning, information, data, facts, skills, or abilities — that's training or instruction — but is rather making visible what is hidden as a seed” (Attributed to Saint Thomas More). It is not that practical subjects are unimportant, but rather that everything a student learns in the classroom should be related to who he or she is as a human person. The very first article of the Catechism teaches us, “He (God) calls man to seek him, to know him and to love him with all his strength” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1).

Without a sound education in the faith, Saint Thomas More would not have known God in the way the Catechism describes. He would not have recognized the importance of loving God with all of his strength to the point of losing his elite status in society and, eventually, his life. In a similar fashion, we too must recognize God’s call to learn about our faith and to teach that faith to others. Primarily, children learn from their parents, through their words, their instructions and, most of all, through their example. What better way to learn about the importance of prayer than by a daughter watching her mother rise early to pray each morning? How much does a son learn from a father who will occasionally give up watching a favorite sports game to spend an hour at Eucharistic Adoration? Parents know that children learn by imitation. The next time you are caught in an ethical quandary — Should I drive excessively over the speed limit? Should I cut corners on my taxes? Should I allow others to take responsibility for my mistakes? — think about the persons you wish your children to become. Yes, adults have a great responsibility in educating children, not only about the truths of the faith, but also in the way in which they live out that faith in their daily lives.

We are blessed here in the Diocese of Arlington to have over forty Catholic schools across Northern Virginia which are committed to the mission of “providing an education rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ where Catholic doctrine and values and academic excellence prepare each student for a life of faith, service and integrity” (Mission Statement, Office of Catholic Schools). Our parishes also offer extensive religious education programs for both children and adults which focus on providing the catechesis integral to developing their spiritual lives and informing their consciences.

Young people also take in much information from the world around them: at school and at the mall, from their Ipods and from their friends. Too often, youth are exposed to the falsehoods that there is no such thing as the sanctity of life, that there is no true religion and that, in the end, each person must only do what makes them happy, instead of what is right. Sadly, relativism has become prevalent in our culture, making it a challenge for young people to receive a true education which will prepare them for the challenges of living a life of holiness. For these reasons, we must vigilantly defend and teach the truth not only in our classrooms, but in our homes and workplaces, ever witnessing to our faith and the gift of life the Lord has given us.

Though we may never be called to martyrdom like Saint Thomas More, each of us is called to use our education every day. The focal point of our education is that “Man is made to live in communion with God in whom he finds happiness” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 45). When young mothers are faced with the “option” of abortion, they must recall that each of us is imbued with dignity by God and that life is precious. When an entrepreneur is offered a job in a morally corrupt corporation, he or she must remember we have a responsibility to defend the truth in the public sphere. When we are tempted to treat another with disdain because of the person’s race or creed, we must remember Christ calls us to love our neighbor.

Yes, at some point in our lives, we are each asked to make difficult decisions. These dilemmas are not easy; the alternatives to making ethical decisions can often be very attractive. Hence, we must value our own true education and seek to teach others that Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life. The next time you are confronted with a difficult decision, I challenge you to pray to Saint Thomas More for the fortitude and the wisdom to glorify the Lord with your educated choice.

Reprinted with permission from the Arlington Catholic Herald.

Our mission is the truth. Join us!

Your monthly donation will help our team continue reporting the truth, with fairness, integrity, and fidelity to Jesus Christ and his Church.