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Pope: Catholic Colleges Must Shape Hearts as Well as Form Catholic Minds

By Deacon Keith Fournier
May 8th, 2012
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Catholic identity requires that the academic community understand its ecclesial nature. In an institution, just as in persons, it begins from the inside and works its way throughout like leaven or yeast in a loaf. Catholic identity must be the beating heart of a Catholic College and provide the infrastructure for its entire educational mission

ROME, Italy (Catholic Online) - On Saturday morning, May 5, 2012, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the bishops of USCCB Region XIII, representing Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. His full address is available at Whispers in the Loggia, the outstanding blog of Rocco Palmo.Here is an excerpt concerning the Catholic College:

"On the level of higher education, many of you have pointed to a growing recognition on the part of Catholic colleges and universities of the need to reaffirm their distinctive identity in fidelity to their founding ideals and the Church's mission in service of the Gospel. Yet much remains to be done, especially in such basic areas as compliance with the mandate laid down in Canon 812 for those who teach theological disciplines." (Editor's Note: Requires Catholic theologians have a mandate to teach from their Bishop, reflecting their orthodoxy and fidelity)

"The importance of this canonical norm as a tangible expression of ecclesial communion and solidarity in the Church's educational apostolate becomes all the more evident when we consider the confusion created by instances of apparent dissidence between some representatives of Catholic institutions and the Church's pastoral leadership: such discord harms the Church's witness and, as experience has shown, can easily be exploited to compromise her authority and her freedom."

"It is no exaggeration to say that providing young people with a sound education in the faith represents the most urgent internal challenge facing the Catholic community in your country. The deposit of faith is a priceless treasure which each generation must pass on to the next by winning hearts to Jesus Christ and shaping minds in the knowledge, understanding and love of his Church. It is gratifying to realize that, in our day too, the Christian vision, presented in its breadth and integrity, proves immensely appealing to the imagination, idealism and aspirations of the young, who have a right to encounter the faith in all its beauty, its intellectual richness and its radical demands."

"Here I would simply propose several points which I trust will prove helpful for your discernment in meeting this challenge. First, as we know, the essential task of authentic education at every level is not simply that of passing on knowledge, essential as this is, but also of shaping hearts. There is a constant need to balance intellectual rigor in communicating effectively, attractively and integrally, the richness of the Church's faith with forming the young in the love of God, the praxis of the Christian moral and sacramental life and, not least, the cultivation of personal and liturgical prayer."

"It follows that the question of Catholic identity, not least at the university level, entails much more than the teaching of religion or the mere presence of a chaplaincy on campus. All too often, it seems, Catholic schools and colleges have failed to challenge students to re-appropriate their faith as part of the exciting intellectual discoveries which mark the experience of higher education."

Catholic identity requires that the academic community understand its ecclesial nature. In an institution, just as in persons, it begins from the inside and works its way throughout like leaven or yeast in a loaf. Catholic identity must be the beating heart of a Catholic College and provide the infrastructure for its entire educational mission. When it does, the building of a Catholic culture on campus becomes a fruit. This Catholic culture then helps to ensure the integration of the faith in every aspect of the academy, through both word and witness.

Catholic identity flourishes when all who are involved in this educational mission, from the Catholic College President to the Professor in the classroom, first view themselves as disciples, lifelong learners, followers of the Teacher, Jesus Christ. The Christian life is lived within the Body of Christ, the Church, into which we have been incorporated through Baptism. The Catholic College is an expression of that Church.

The Church is by its very nature, a teacher. Those involved in serving at a Catholic College participate in the educational mission of the Church. Education is the very heart of the ecclesial mission. In speaking of herself, the Church often notes that she is an "expert in humanity" who "walks the way of the person". In the words of Pope John XXIII echoed in so many pronouncements of the Magisterium, The Church is, both "Mater et Magister" "Mother and Teacher." She is an educating community and institution.

Education is not something the Church adds something to, as though the process of educating were some kind of nakedly secular pursuit which the Church somehow makes "religious". Rather, education is the very heart of the Churches' mission. On August 15, 1990 Pope John Paul II, issued his apostolic letter  "Ex Corde Ecclesia" (At the Heart of the Church) affirming the vital mission of the Catholic College.

In that letter, Blessed John Paul II wrote: "Since the objective of a Catholic University is to assure in an institutional manner a Christian presence in the university world confronting the great problems of society and culture, every Catholic University, as Catholic, must have the following essential characteristics:  1. a Christian inspiration not only of individuals but of the university community as such; 2. a continuing reflection in the light of the Catholic faith upon the growing treasury of human knowledge, to which it seeks to contribute by its own research; 3. fidelity to the Christian message as it comes to us through the Church; 4. an institutional commitment to the service of the people of God and of the human family in their pilgrimage to the transcendent goal which gives meaning to life"

The Catholic College is not a private College with a church affiliation. It is a Catholic College. Catholic identity is not an "add on" to its mission but the very lifeblood which animates it. In his masterful letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul calls all Christians to a "renewal of their minds". (Romans 12:2) This renewal of the mind is the essence of Catholic education.

In an age being enslaved by the Dictatorship of Relativism, the Catholic College affirms the existence of truth and insists that there is a constitutive connection between truth, freedom, education and the ability to form an authentically human and just culture. This commitment to truth characterizes the entire Catholic educational mission.

The Purpose of a Catholic College is to teach, form and prepare students in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ, who has been raised and continues His redemptive mission through the Church. It is that Church which is vested with His authority to teach the whole world concerning truth.
In the words of the great Western Bishop Augustine:  "Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God's grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man. . . . The fullness of Christ then is the head and the members. But what does "head and members" mean? Christ and the Church."

The living Christ still teaches and directs His Church. Through that Church he continues to influence all of human culture. The faithful of the Church are called to inculcate and live the truth as articulated under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit by the teaching office of the Church. At the forefront of the mission of the Catholic Church is the education of the next generation of faithfully Catholic men and women who do just that. It is Christ the Teacher who teaches His children in the Catholic College. As Blessed John Paul II said so succinctly in an address to educators in 1979 "Catholic education is above all a question of communicating Christ, of helping to form Christ in the lives of others."
 

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