Pope Benedict XVI is a hero to me, and I attribute my own intellectual and spiritual formation to the inspiration of his witness. He was both an intellectual giant and also a humble man. In college - which is when I first became enamored by this field of knowledge I never heard of before, theology - I would eagerly await every public address he made. And whenever I came into a little extra spending money, I bought books by Joseph Ratzinger. In fact, our little home library has more books authored by him than any other writer.
He was an academic, but his impact on Catholic education ought to inspire us all to see the dire need for an education grounded upon and seeking Truth. His words provide motivation to stay the course and remain faithful to the mission of authentic human formation.
I recall when Pope Benedict visited the United States in 2008, and I was just finishing my undergraduate degree. He spoke with Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America, and here are some of his remarks:
God’s desire to make himself known, and the innate desire of all human beings to know the truth, provide the context for human inquiry into the meaning of life. This unique encounter is sustained within our Christian community: the one who seeks the truth becomes the one who lives by faith. It can be described as a move from “I” to “we”, leading the individual to be numbered among God’s people.
This same dynamic of communal identity – to whom do I belong? – vivifies the ethos of our Catholic institutions. 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…
Freedom is not an opting out. It is an opting in – a participation in Being itself. Hence authentic freedom can never be attained by turning away from God. Such a choice would ultimately disregard the very truth we need in order to understand ourselves…
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. Only in faith can truth become incarnate and reason truly human, capable of directing the will along the path of freedom...
Truth means more than knowledge: knowing the truth leads us to discover the good. Truth speaks to the individual in his or her entirety, inviting us to respond with our whole being. This optimistic vision is found in our Christian faith because such faith has been granted the vision of the Logos, God’s creative Reason, which in the Incarnation, is revealed as Goodness itself…
It comes as no surprise, then, that not just our own ecclesial communities but society in general has high expectations of Catholic educators. This places upon you a responsibility and offers an opportunity. More and more people – parents in particular – recognize the need for excellence in the human formation of their children. As Mater et Magistra, the Church shares their concern. When nothing beyond the individual is recognized as definitive, the ultimate criterion of judgment becomes the self and the satisfaction of the individual’s immediate wishes. The objectivity and perspective, which can only come through a recognition of the essential transcendent dimension of the human person, can be lost. Within such a relativistic horizon the goals of education are inevitably curtailed. Slowly, a lowering of standards occurs. 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.
How might Christian educators respond? These harmful developments point to the particular urgency of what we might call “intellectual charity”. This aspect of charity calls the educator to recognize that the profound responsibility to lead the young to truth is nothing less than an act of love. Indeed, the dignity of education lies in fostering the true perfection and happiness of those to be educated. In practice “intellectual charity” upholds the essential unity of knowledge against the fragmentation which ensues when reason is detached from the pursuit of truth. It guides 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.
A Brazilian bishop recently authorized prayer for private devotion to Pope Benedict XVI. This is a necessary first step in the Church’s effort to learn if Benedict is in fact now a saint in heaven.
It is my prayer that the mission of Catholic education will remain faithful to the Truth of Christ through the fruits of another potential heavenly benefactor. And may parents seeking holiness for their children find support in the authentic human formation that can be found in the mission of Mount Royal Academy.
Eternal and Almighty God, who inspired in the heart of your servant Pope Benedict XVI the sincere desire to encounter you and announce you, becoming a humble “co-operator with the truth” and offering himself as a servant, for Christ and for the Church, make me also know how to love the Church of Christ and to be able to follow in my life the eternal truths that she proclaims. Deign, Lord, to glorify your servant, Pope Benedict XVI, and grant, through his intercession, the favor I now ask of you (mention your petition). Amen.
- Mr. Derek Tremblay, Headmaster