On the first day of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI marked the 45th World Day of Peace by urging the faithful and all educators to instill in the young “a profound sense of justice with respect for their neighbor.”
Media outlets covered elements of his address, but few stories did justice to his rich, holistic vision — perhaps because he stressed the need to match youthful dreams for a better world with an adherence to Christian faith and moral absolutes.
After a year in which the now stymied “Occupy Wall Street” movement expressed an inchoate anger of the 99% with the privileges of the 1%, the Pope reminds us that passion alone cannot change the world.
Moreover, this shepherd’s articulation of inconvenient truths serves as a wake-up call for Catholics who have remained on the sidelines, allowing others to define the needs, principles and goals of Americans weakened by the economic crisis and pessimistic about the future.
The Holy Father encouraged educators to instill a capacity for “peaceful coexistence.”
This part of his counsel will find ready agreement across a broad spectrum of opinion. After all, who is against “peaceful coexistence”?
But just as the Occupy Wall Street effort lost traction as it failed to articulate common principles — perhaps because its leaders feared that an approved platform would fuel divisions — so any human effort fails when it lacks a clear mission and purpose.
In the United States, the education of the young, the transmission of skills and knowledge, is typically conducted in a spiritual and moral vacuum that ignores questions about our purpose as human beings and our mission on earth.
But in his Jan. 1 address, the same Pope who warned about the “dictatorship of relativism” notes that an increasingly dominant “culture of relativism raises a radical question: Does it still make sense to educate? And, then, to educate for what?”
Human hope and a desire to serve others cannot survive on a thin diet of unspecified “tolerance” and “peace.” Indeed, the 20th century offers a salutary reminder of the many failed efforts to resist war and secure peace.
For Benedict, a common commitment to truth and reason builds bridges that connect disparate cultures, but faith in Christ provides the only true foundation for a sustainable hope.
For Catholics, and for many families, an education for peace and justice begins at home, where adults model “peaceful coexistence, mutual respect, dialogue and understanding,” as the Pope explains.
Thus, societies that uphold the rights and stability of the family advance the work of social justice and peace.
Catholic schools, unlike their public counterparts, can build upon the experience of the domestic Church by explaining the connection between our human hopes and the painful need for sacrifice and perseverance.
“Every pathway of authentic religious formation guides the person, from the most tender age, to know God, to love him and to do his will,” Benedict stated. “God is love; he is just and peaceable, and anyone wishing to honor him must first of all act like a child following his father’s example.”