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Catholic Higher Education: Heart of the Church’s Evangelization

Celebrating 5 Years of Pope Benedict XVI

BY Timothy T. O’Donnell

| Posted 4/25/10 at 1:07 PM

2008 CNS photos/Greg Tarczynski

Editor’s note: Timothy T. O’Donnell is the president of Christendom College.

There are so many outstanding achievements that Pope Benedict has already accomplished during his five-year pontificate. It would be very difficult to prioritize, but to be allowed a personal reflection, I for one will never forget the beautiful and deeply stirring reflection he gave to the presidents of Catholic colleges and universities at Catholic University in April 2008. The Holy Father spoke with such paternal solicitude. I found myself deeply moved by his words. He clearly had a deep appreciation of the beauty and nobility of being involved in the work of Catholic higher education.

He clearly set forth in his address the fact that education at all levels was integral “to the mission of the Church to evangelize.” Rather than seeing the college or university as something separate and distinct from the Church, he placed this educational mission right at the heart of the fundamental mission of the Church itself, which is to evangelize. He pointed out very clearly that a Catholic school is first, above all other considerations, in his vision, “a place to encounter the living God who in Christ Jesus reveals his transforming love.” He immediately went on to point out the absolute centrality of faith in Catholic higher education. Flowing from this encounter with the living God and the relationship established with Jesus Christ, Catholic education is meant to “elicit a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ.” 

Although many felt that the Holy Father in this address had affirmed those present in their work and mission, I think the Holy Father did something far more profound. Although he clearly recognized the nobility, beauty and importance of Catholic higher education, he did challenge everyone present to go far deeper in their reflection upon their commitment to this vital part of the Church’s mission.

Pope Benedict asked radically fundamental questions. Rather than simply affirming those who were present in their mission, he provided an opportunity for a deep examination of conscience. He asked these questions with gentleness and with the love of a father’s heart:

? Do we really believe that only in the mystery of the Word made flesh does the mystery of man become clear?  (Gaudium et Spes 22) 
? Are we ready to commit our entire self — intellect, 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, concern for justice, and respect for God’s creation?

After asking these crucial questions, he went on to say, “Only in this way do we really bear witness to the meaning of who we are and what we uphold.” Our Holy Father clearly acknowledges the fact that we are living in a society that is dominated by what he has termed the “dictatorship of relativism.” Clearly, there is a crisis of truth that is affecting both the contemporary culture and the academy, which is really rooted in a crisis of faith. The Holy Father’s talk points the way out of the current morass by leading us once again to contemplate the face of Christ. For me personally, and I believe for many others in the room that day, that address may very well mark a turning point, serving as a guiding light that will help lead to the restoration of authenticity once again in Catholic higher education in our beloved nation.

About This Series

Now more than ever, we need to be reminded of what a Pope is. On the rock of Peter our Church is built. To him and his successors — Christ’s vicars — have been entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of heaven. Christ prayed for him that his faith might not fail, that he might strengthen his brethren.

The untold story right now in the media is how much God has worked through Pope Benedict XVI in his first five years as Pope. That’s why we began to commission short essays to honor him for his anniversary just a few weeks ago.

As the media tries in vain to pin the lion’s share of the blame for the developing abuse scandal on him, those essays are now taking on a meaning and depth we couldn’t have imagined. We’re fortunate to have this man leading us, and these tributes tell why.

We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did.

—  The Editors