Back to School
Some folks are naturally wary when a new teacher comes into class to speak to their children. That was certainly the case when President Obama announced he would speak to the nation’s school children. Conservatives cautioned that the back-to-school speech would constitute indoctrination into the president’s “socialist” ideals.
Their fears were overblown. The Sept. 8 speech turned out to be a routine pep talk about hard work, responsibility, setting goals and persevering. All good stuff, if a bit generic.
The speech took place on the day after Labor Day, when most everyone was back in school. By a happy coincidence this year, the day after Labor Day coincided with a feast day in the Church: the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Long before she and St. Joseph raised the Christ Child, Mary was a student under the tutelage of Sts. Anne and Joachim. Her education was directed not so much toward making her best contribution to her country, as was Obama’s emphasis, but in working toward the ultimate goal in life: eternal happiness with God.
By another coincidence, the Congregation for Catholic Education released a letter the same day. The letter, directed to the presidents of bishops’ conferences, deals with religious education in schools. It not only emphasizes the right and duties of Catholic parents to educate their children in the faith, but also warns against secularism in state-run schools.
While we wouldn’t expect Obama to preach religion, he could benefit from a reading of the education congregation’s letter. It contains valuable advice for all parents and children, and it would be instructive for Catholics — especially those in public policy — to read it at the beginning of this school year.
“The nature and role of religious education in schools has become the object of debate,” the letter begins. “In some cases, it is now the object of new civil regulations, which tend to replace religious education with teaching about the religious phenomenon in a multi-denominational sense, or about religious ethics and culture — even in a way that contrasts with the choices and educational aims that parents and the Church intend for the formation of young people.”
The letter focuses on the idea of a complete education, which doesn’t stop at learning facts and skills. “A form of education that ignores or marginalizes the moral and religious dimension of the person is a hindrance to full education,” it says.
It quotes the Second Vatican Council document Dignitatis Humanae in saying that “the rights of parents are violated if their children are forced to attend lessons or instructions which are not in agreement with their religious beliefs.”
The authors of the letter would be aghast at some of the things taught these days, such as promotion of homosexual lifestyles or instruction in so-called “safe sex.”
Certainly, we can all agree that schools need to work into their curricula the teaching of basic virtues, which are common to people of all faiths. Especially in a day when youthful violence and suicide are on the rise and premarital sex is all too common, lessons in honesty, forgiveness and modesty, to name a few, would do a world of good.
And if parents are upset that their public school is not reinforcing the good values they and their Church instill in their offspring, the letter offers one more point: the ability to choose between a public education and a Catholic one. Parents “must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools,” it says. “Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children.”
This is a lesson we’d like the government to listen to.
‘We Cannot Live
Every Sunday, all over the United States and beyond, people rise early from their sleep, dress in their finest regalia, make special food and basically plan their whole day in anticipation of what is about to transpire.
There will be seas of admirers in purple, gold and white — royal colors — celebrating this day. It is, after all, National Football League season, now in full swing.
However, often lost amid the honor heaped upon Tom Brady, LaDanian Tomlinson and Troy Polamalu for their on-the-field exploits is the honor due to the One on whom this day is supposed to be centered.
Consider: How many of us who would spend a whole day, sometimes in bitter cold, just to catch a glimpse of Brett Favre would spend it in the same way honoring Christ? How many of us who would pay $500 for one front-row seat to watch Tony Romo perform his play-calling magic spend as much to see Our Lord perform a true miracle?
Thankfully, we don’t need to. Jesus is there for us every Sunday, every day, in tabernacles all over the world — for free.
Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to the 2005 Italian National Eucharistic Congress in Bari, Italy, focused on what should be the real reason for Sunday jubilation. Recalling the Abitene Martyrs of the early fourth century, the Holy Father talked about how the 49 Christians gathered in one of their homes to celebrate Sunday Mass, disobeying Emperor Diocletian’s order that “the celebration of sacred rites and holy reunions of the Lord were to be prohibited.”
After being caught by surprise, arrested and taken to Carthage to be interrogated and tortured, the emperor’s proconsul asked one of them, “Why have you received Christians in your home, transgressing the imperial dispositions?” His response: “Sine Dominico non possumus” (We cannot live without Sunday).
The Pope said, “Deep down was the conviction that Sunday Mass is a constitutive element of one’s Christian identity and that there is no Christian life without Sunday and without the Eucharist.” That’s the best kickoff we have.