Dear Brother Bishops,
Distinguished Pro\ue004essors, \ue003eachers and Educators,
\u201cHow beauti\ue004ul are the \ue004ootsteps o\ue004 those who bring good news\u201d (Rom 10:15-17). With these words o\ue004 Isaiah quoted by Saint Paul, I warmly greet each o\ue004 you\u2014bearers o\ue004 wisdom\u2014and through you the sta\ue002, students, and \ue004amilies o\ue004 the many and varied institutions o\ue004 learning that you represent. It is my great pleasure to meet you and to share with you some thoughts regarding the nature and identity o\ue004 Catholic education today. I especially wish to thank Father David O\u2019Connell, President and Rector o\ue004 the Catholic University o\ue004 America. Your kind words o\ue004 welcome are much appreciated. Please extend my heart\ue004elt gratitude to the entire community\u2014\ue004aculty, sta\ue002, and students\u2014o\ue004 this University.
Education is integral to the mission o\ue004 the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and \ue004oremost every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his trans\ue004orming love and truth (c\ue004. Spe Salvi, 4). Tis relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding o\ue004 Christ and his teaching. In this way those who meet him are drawn by the very power o\ue004 the Gospel to lead a new li\ue004e characterized by all that is beauti\ue004ul, good, and true; a li\ue004e o\ue004 Chris- tian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community o\ue004 our Lord\u2019s disciples, the Church.
Te dynamic between personal encounter, knowledge, and Christian witness is integral to thed iak onia o\ue004 truth which the Church exercises in the midst o\ue004 humanity. God\u2019s revelation o\ue002ers every generation the opportunity to discover the ultimate truth about its own li\ue004e and the goal o\ue004 history. Tis task is never easy; it involves the entire Christian community and motivates each generation o\ue004 Christian educators to ensure that the power o\ue004 God\u2019s truth permeates every dimension o\ue004 the institutions they serve. In this way, Christ\u2019s Good News is set to work, guiding both teacher and student towards the objective truth which, in transcending the particular and the subjective, points to the universal and absolute that enables us to proclaim with con\ue001dence the hope which does not disappoint (c\ue004.R om 5:5). Set against personal struggles, moral con\ue004usion, and \ue004ragmentation o\ue004 knowledge, the noble goals o\ue004 scholarship and educa- tion, \ue004ounded on the unity o\ue004 truth and in service o\ue004 the person and the community, become an especially power\ue004ul instrument o\ue004 hope.
Dear \ue004riends, the history o\ue004 this nation includes many examples o\ue004 the Church\u2019s commitment in this regard. Te Catholic community here has in \ue004act made education one o\ue004 its highest priorities. Tis un- dertaking has not come without great sacri\ue001ce. \ue003owering \ue001gures, like Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton and
other \ue004ounders and \ue004oundresses, with great tenacity and \ue004oresight, laid the \ue004oundations o\ue004 what is today a remarkable network o\ue004 parochial schools contributing to the spiritual well-being o\ue004 the Church and the nation. Some, like Saint Katharine Drexel, devoted their lives to educating those whom others had neglected\u2014in her case, A\ue004rican Americans and Native Americans. Countless dedicated Religious Sisters, Brothers, and Priests together with sel\ue000ess parents have, through Catholic schools, helped generations o\ue004 immigrants to rise \ue004rom poverty and take their place in mainstream society.
Tis sacri\ue001ce continues today. It is an outstanding apostolate o\ue004 hope, seeking to address the material, intellectual, and spiritual needs o\ue004 over three million children and students. It also provides a highly com- mendable opportunity \ue004or the entire Catholic community to contribute generously to the \ue001nancial needs o\ue004 our institutions. Teir long-term sustainability must be assured. Indeed, everything possible must be done, in cooperation with the wider community, to ensure that they are accessible to people o\ue004 all social and economic strata. No child should be denied his or her right to an education in \ue004aith, which in turn nurtures the soul o\ue004 a nation.
Some today question the Church\u2019s involvement in education, wondering whether her resources might be better placed elsewhere. Certainly in a nation such as this, the State provides ample opportunities \ue004or education and attracts committed and generous men and women to this honorable pro\ue004ession. It is timely, then, to re\ue000ect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions. How do they contribute to the good o\ue004 society through the Church\u2019s primary mission o\ue004 evangelization?
All the Church\u2019s activities stem \ue004rom her awareness that she is the bearer o\ue004 a message which has its origin in God himsel\ue004: in his goodness and wisdom, God chose to reveal himsel\ue004 and to make known the hid- den purpose o\ue004 his will (c\ue004.Eph 1:9; Dei Verbum, 2). God\u2019s desire to make himsel\ue004 known, and the innate desire o\ue004 all human beings to know the truth, provide the context \ue004or human inquiry into the meaning o\ue004 li\ue004e. Tis unique encounter is sustained within our Christian community: the one who seeks the truth becomes the one who lives by \ue004aith (c\ue004. Fides et Ratio, 31). It can be described as a move \ue004rom \u201cI\u201d to \u201cwe,\u201d leading the individual to be numbered among God\u2019s people.
Tis same dynamic o\ue004 communal identity\u2014to whom do I belong?\u2014vivi\ue001es the ethos o\ue004 our Catholic institutions. A university or school\u2019s Catholic identity is not simply a question o\ue004 the number o\ue004 Catholic students. It is a question o\ue004 conviction\u2014do we really believe that only in the mystery o\ue004 the Word made \ue000esh does the mystery o\ue004 man truly become clear (c\ue004. Gaudium et Spes, 22)? Are we ready to commit our entire sel\ue004\u2014intellect and will, mind and heart\u2014to God? Do we accept the truth Christ reveals? Is the \ue004aith tangible in our universities and schools? Is it given \ue004ervent expression liturgically, sacramentally, through prayer, acts o\ue004 charity, a concern \ue004or justice, and respect \ue004or God\u2019s creation? Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning o\ue004 who we are and what we uphold.
From this perspective one can recognize that the contemporary \u201ccrisis o\ue004 truth\u201d is rooted in a \u201ccrisis o\ue004 \ue004aith\u201d. Only through \ue004aith can we \ue004reely give our assent to God\u2019s testimony and acknowledge him as the transcendent guarantor o\ue004 the truth he reveals. Again, we see why \ue004ostering personal intimacy with Jesus Christ and communal witness to his loving truth is indispensable in Catholic institutions o\ue004 learning. Yet we all know, and observe with concern, the difculty or reluctance many people have today in entrust- ing themselves to God. It is a complex phenomenon and one which I ponder continually. While we have
sought diligently to engage the intellect o\ue004 our young, perhaps we have neglected the will. Subsequently we observe, with distress, the notion o\ue004 \ue004reedom being distorted. Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in\u2014a participation in Being itsel\ue004. Hence authentic \ue004reedom can never be attained by turning away \ue004rom God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves. A particular responsibility there\ue004ore \ue004or each o\ue004 you, and your colleagues, is to evoke among the young the desire \ue004or the act o\ue004 \ue004aith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial li\ue004e that \ue004ollows \ue004rom this belie\ue004. It is here that \ue004reedom reaches the certainty o\ue004 truth. In choosing to live by that truth, we embrace the \ue004ullness o\ue004 the li\ue004e o\ue004 \ue004aith which is given to us in the Church.
Clearly, then, Catholic identity is not dependent upon statistics. Neither can it be equated simply with orthodoxy o\ue004 course content. It demands and inspires much more: namely that each and every aspect o\ue004 your learning communities reverberates within the ecclesial li\ue004e o\ue004 \ue004aith. Only in \ue004aith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable o\ue004 directing the will along the path o\ue004 \ue004reedom (c\ue004. Spe Salvi, 23). In this way our institutions make a vital contribution to the mission o\ue004 the Church and truly serve society. Tey become places in which God\u2019s active presence in human a\ue002airs is recognized and in which every young person discovers the joy o\ue004 entering into Christ\u2019s \u201cbeing \ue004or others\u201d (c\ue004.ibi d., 28).
Te Church\u2019s primary mission o\ue004 evangelization, in which educational institutions play a crucial role, is consonant with a nation\u2019s \ue004undamental aspiration to develop a society truly worthy o\ue004 the human person\u2019s dignity. At times, however, the value o\ue004 the Church\u2019s contribution to the public \ue004orum is questioned. It is important there\ue004ore to recall that the truths o\ue004 \ue004aith and o\ue004 reason never contradict one another (c\ue004. First Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith Dei Filius, IV:DS 3017; St. Augustine, Contra Academicos, III, 20, 43). Te Church\u2019s mission, in \ue004act, involves her in humanity\u2019s struggle to arrive at truth. In articulating revealed truth she serves all members o\ue004 society by puri\ue004ying reason, ensuring that it remains open to the consideration o\ue004 ultimate truths. Drawing upon divine wis- dom, she sheds light on the \ue004oundation o\ue004 human morality and ethics, and reminds all groups in society that it is not praxis that creates truth but truth that should serve as the basis o\ue004 praxis. Far \ue004rom under- mining the tolerance o\ue004 legitimate diversity, such a contribution illuminates the very truth which makes consensus attainable, and helps to keep public debate rational, honest, and accountable. Similarly the Church never tires o\ue004 upholding the essential moral categories o\ue004 right and wrong, without which hope could only wither, giving way to cold pragmatic calculations o\ue004 utility which render the person little more than a pawn on some ideological chess-board.
With regard to the educational \ue004orum, thed iak onia o\ue004 truth takes on a heightened signi\ue001cance in societies where secularist ideology drives a wedge between truth and \ue004aith. Tis division has led to a tendency to equate truth with knowledge and to adopt a positivistic mentality which, in rejecting metaphysics, de- nies the \ue004oundations o\ue004 \ue004aith and rejects the need \ue004or a moral vision. \ue003ruth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. \ue003ruth speaks to the individual in his or her entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. Tis optimistic vision is \ue004ound in our Christian \ue004aith because such \ue004aith has been granted the vision o\ue004 theL ogos, God\u2019s creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is re- vealed as Goodness itsel\ue004. Far \ue004rom being just a communication o\ue004 \ue004actual data\u2014\u201cin\ue004ormative\u201d\u2014the lov- ing truth o\ue004 the Gospel is creative and li\ue004e-changing\u2014\u201cper\ue004ormative\u201d (c\ue004. Spe Salvi, 2). With con\ue001dence, Christian educators can liberate the young \ue004rom the limits o\ue004 positivism and awaken receptivity to the
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