Benedict XVI’s Charge to Catholic Educators

This month marks the 10th anniversary of Pope Benedict’s historic address to American Catholic educators at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. Today it remains a key to the renewal of faithful Catholic education.

Benedict’s theme was that the destructive “crisis of truth” in the world today—and especially in education—is rooted in “a crisis of faith.”

It appears that this was one of the central themes of his too-short papacy, his priesthood and his professional life as a teacher, theologian, and key collaborator of St. John Paul II.

This holy professor-pope saw the West and Christendom rushing down a path of secularization, by which faith is increasingly viewed as contrary to reason and truth. Pope Benedict warned that this was one of the great dangers of our time.

When named the archbishop of Munich in 1977, he adopted the motto “Cooperators of the Truth” and explained it thus:

On the one hand, I saw it as the relation between my previous task as professor and my new mission. In spite of different approaches, what was involved and continued to be so, was following the truth and being at its service. On the other hand, I chose that motto because in today’s world the theme of truth is omitted almost entirely, as something too great for man, and yet everything collapses if truth is missing.

Everything collapses if truth is missing.

Doesn’t that describe the rapid decline of Catholic education, culture and fidelity in recent decades? For Pope Benedict and his saintly predecessor, the renewal of Catholic education was a priority. But the crisis of truth had already corrupted so many Catholic colleges and schools in America.

So even before his 2008 address, Pope Benedict had been sounding the alarm that the Church and the West face what he called an “educational emergency.”

Benedict publicly lamented the loss of hope among many young people—hope that was missing, because so many young people do not know the truth about God and man as His creation.

In his address to American educators, Pope Benedict argued that it is the special privilege and obligation of Catholic education to unite faith and reason, and to teach truth that is revealed by God as well as truth that is observed and reasoned. Even more, faith is not just to be understood, but to be lived.

Therefore, in addition to orthodoxy, the Catholic identity of schools and colleges:

…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.

Catholic schools and colleges, therefore, can never limit their focus to the intellect. They also bear responsibility for the spiritual development of their students.

How many Catholic schools or colleges today enthusiastically embrace this responsibility for forming their students for sainthood?

Surely not enough of them. This, then, is at the heart of the problem in Catholic education for which Benedict proposed his solutions.

Pope Benedict charged the Catholic educators:

A particular responsibility therefore for each of you, and your colleagues, is to evoke among the young the desire for the act of faith, encouraging them to commit themselves to the ecclesial life that follows from this belief. It is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth. In choosing to live by that truth, we embrace the fullness of the life of faith which is given to us in the Church.

Amen! The work today of The Cardinal Newman Society is profoundly shaped by the vision of Pope Benedict. He could have justly scolded the leaders of America’s wayward colleges and secularized Catholic school systems, and we would have welcomed it. But instead he provided a way forward, a gift of immeasurable value. He gave Catholic educators a mandate to end the crisis of truth by embracing and teaching our Catholic faith, from the classroom to the dorm room.

Together in partnership with our members and the growing number of faithful educators at Newman Guide colleges and Honor Roll schools, the Newman Society takes up Pope Benedict’s charge. With the grace of God, our important mission to promote and defend faithful Catholic education will help bring about the renewal that Benedict so greatly desired.

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