He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter said in reply,
“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” - Matthew 16:15-16
One of the things I love the most about Mount Royal Academy is the strength of its Catholic identity. I do not believe that a stranger visiting campus for the first time could mistake who we are or what we are about. From the icons above the doors of each classroom, the crucifixes on the walls, the rosaries prayed as students stroll through campus with their teachers, Masses said, intentions offered, to the very presence of Jesus himself in the Eucharist, we are fundamentally and fervently Catholic.
Our Catholicity informs the education we offer here in a profound way. Catholic education, by its very nature, must differ from other forms of education. In the book, “The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools,” Archbishop J. Michael Miller describes the purpose of a Catholic education as “the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, loving God and neighbor and enriching society with the leaven of the gospel, and who will also be citizens of the world to come, thus fulfilling their destiny to become saints.”
He also offers a vision of what Catholic education is not: “Unfortunately, far too many in government, business, the media, and even the educational establishment perceive education to be merely an instrument for the acquisition of information that will improve the chances of worldly success and a more comfortable standard of living. Such an impoverished vision of education is not Catholic."
Catholic educators simply cannot view education in a strictly utilitarian sense. We must offer more. Authentic Catholic education is a humanizing endeavor. Our classical pedagogy is oriented toward, and built around the three transcendentals of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness. It perfectly aligns with an authentic, humanizing Catholic education in that it recognizes and respects the dignity and developmental stage of the child, leading them into knowledge and truth “in order to cultivate men and women characterized by wisdom, virtue, and eloquence,” (Dr. Christopher Perrin, Classical Academic Press).
Drawing inspiration from our physical surroundings and proud history, I am reminded of something statesman Daniel Webster, a New Hampshire native, once wrote (referring to the Old Man on the Mountain): "Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoemakers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the Mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men." With apologies to Daniel Webster, I believe that here at Mount Royal Academy, we form authentic human persons.
One of the beautiful qualities of human beings is that, while we can be united in mission and values, we are still unique and separate beings. Over the years I have come to an appreciation of the different expressions of authentic, orthodox Catholicism.
What does it mean to be authentically Catholic? Certainly there are some non-negotiables -- things you must believe if you call yourself Catholic. Tenets of the faith, dogma, the Ten Commandments, the Works of Mercy all point us to Truth.
Catholicism represents the fullness of the Truth. However, within the Truth, and within these “non-negotiables” there is room to explore our own response to the gift of faith, our own specific calling, and our own spiritual tastes. As Pope St. John Paul II once said, “Each person is a unique and unrepeatable gift from God.” We each bring different strengths, talents, and perspectives to the table of the Lord.
St. Paul says this better than I: “In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.” (Romans 12:6-8)
I have to confess, as a young adult and brand new Catholic, I held the pharisaical belief that to be a “good” Catholic, one must say the “right” prayers, read the “right” books, worship the “right” way, etc. In my ignorance, I put limitations on the worship of God. In effect, I attempted to put God and His people in a box. God is without limits and he has gifted all people with their specific uniqueness which, when directed in Truth, reflects His Glory.
This fact was highlighted to me during an unexpected visit from a priest from Ghana. Several years ago, we were having a cookout at our house and our pastor was invited. He brought with him a visiting priest, Fr. Jacob. I was concerned that there might be a language barrier and Fr. Jacob might feel uncomfortable. Once again, I was so wrong! He got out of the car and enthusiastically greeted everyone with a big hug, a wide smile, and the exuberant love of Christ pouring out of him. He proceeded to charm us all with tales of Africa. He spoke of the joy-filled worship of the Ghanian people, who had to walk miles to attend Mass under a tree, carrying their own chairs. He spoke of their deep love of Christ and the inexpressible joy they held in their hearts in spite of their abject poverty. He sang African worship songs for us. We were spellbound, and a bit like the disciples who, unknowingly, accompanied Jesus to Emmaus on the day of the Resurrection -- our hearts were burning within us. This was Catholicism as I had never experienced it before. Was it authentic and orthodox? You bet it was.
The diversity that God has gifted his people with is also his gift to the Church. Consider that the saints came from every walk of life: hermits, priests, nuns, mothers, fathers, children, fishermen, alcoholics, prostitutes -- sinners all. Yet the Church and our culture is richer for the contributions of people like Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Ignatius, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and more. Could any two saints be more different than Augustine, the great sinner, brilliant thinker, and Doctor of the Church, and poor St. John Vianney, who was thought to be so uneducated and simple that he was once forbidden to hear confessions? But, their unique benefaction to the Church cannot be measured. Contrast the differences between Our Blessed Mother, the Immaculata, sinless and perfect, and Mary Magdalene, sinner, who was once possessed by seven demons. Despite the disparity that marked their lives, they both ended up at the foot of the cross, loyal and suffering, for the love of Christ.
Each glorious variation of humanity is necessary to the rich tapestry that comprises the Church. It is an art to form students in the Truth while nurturing their individuality; yet, it is our privilege and duty to do so, and thereby assist in weaving God’s great work.
- Lisa Sweet, Academic Dean