One thing is necessary: the apostolic mission of the Catholic school
Discipleship seeks to bridge the gap between faith and culture, helping what we believe to take shape in everyday life.
Are Catholic schools refuges or mission centers? Many people may come to our schools simply to escape the negative influences of culture or ideology that permeate public schools. Even so, when they arrive they should find a community of mission-oriented disciples, living an apostolic mandate to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Even though enrolling in a Catholic school cannot remove the negative influences of culture, as places where Jesus is encountered they can offer healing, transformation and hope – something I have experienced as a seventh grade transfer student many years ago.
Although it is common for Catholic schools to develop mission statements, their mission was given to them by Jesus as part of the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you, and behold, I am with you forever to the end of time” (Mt 28:19-20). As an apostolate of the Church, the Catholic school is a concrete expression of the general mission of the Church to form disciples. Education flows naturally from this task, for the word “disciple” literally means “student” and Jesus says that his disciples must be taught School is a place of learning about the Christian life.
Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila identified discipleship as a central task for Catholic education, writing as part of the Denver Archdiocese’s “School of the Lord’s Service”: “Jesus is truly the reason for the existence of our Catholic schools, and He wants to guide us in all that we do…. Our schools are to be places of encounter with Jesus; nothing is more important. What does it mean to become a disciple of Jesus Christ? It means that we have truly encountered and encountered Jesus as the Son of God, personally experienced his love and mercy, and accepted him as our Lord, living with him in a committed, daily relationship.” A graduate of a Catholic school should have the opportunity to meet Jesus and have regular opportunities to grow in friendship with him.
Although this has been the mission of the Catholic school through the centuries, making disciples today brings unique challenges. Some educators are tempted to give up in the face of the growing divide between church and culture, which is increasingly alienating parents and students from a Christian worldview and way of life. On the other hand, this divide makes the mission of the school even more important, because the young disciples need more training and support. In the past, Catholic schools had much more support for their mission, including from the surrounding culture. Today we can no longer assume knowledge of the gospel. We must offer it explicitly, by sharing the kerygma (the message of salvation in Jesus) and by inviting teachers, students and parents to a deeper, internalized and lived faith.
Discipleship seeks to bridge the gap between faith and culture, helping what we believe to take shape in everyday life. The Vatican Congregation for Education, in its document entitled “The Catholic School”, even defined it as the primary goal of the Catholic school, whose “task is fundamentally a synthesis of culture and faith, and a synthesis of faith and life: the first is achieved by integrating all the different aspects of human knowledge through the subjects taught, in the light of the Gospel; the second in the growth of the characteristic virtues of the Christian A Catholic student-disciple learns to think from a Christian vision of reality and develops the virtue to be able to live according to this vision.
An apostolic school cannot solve all the problems of our society or even of the family, even if it takes seriously its call to help its students to live in friendship with Jesus, the one who can solve our problems. Catholic education provides the one thing necessary (Luke 10:42) which, once possessed, will help everything else fall into place. Putting Jesus first reinforces all that is done in school: instruction, drawing students to the Word that made the universe; the formation of character by the grace it bestows; preparing for the future by being ready to serve; and build a community united in faith and charity. An apostolic school has much to offer the world, giving it what it really needs most.
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