Christ Must Be the Center of a Catholic Education

“What greater work is there than training the mind and forming the habits of the young?” —St. John Chrysostom

(photo: ‘JFPerry’, CC BY-SA 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons)

Going to a public high school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, (known as the “Santa Cruz of the Midwest”) was quite the soul-jarring experience. In fact, I still have scars, and I think I always will. In 10th grade or so, I distinctly remember being overjoyed when I found out the girl next to me actually went to church. As she explained that her mom lived with her lesbian girlfriend, and that they went to a Unitarian church where they had the freedom to call God whatever they wanted, “such as a pink elephant,” I was actually pretty tickled. Sure, I knew a few things were strange about what she was describing to me, but at the same time, hey, the kid actually went somewhere on Sundays, on purpose, to worship someone other than herself, on purpose, and she was sitting next to me. I remember being equally as thrilled when I found out that another girl in one of my classes was a Mormon, which implied that she actually had a moral system that she was supposed to be observing.

And then came time for my advanced Humanities course in 12th grade, when my teachers gave us a “progressive” take on Catholicism by ranting and raving about the Crusades, the misdeeds of the Popes, etc., so much that it brought tears to my eyes. I wasn't Catholic at the time, but I was a Christian, and somehow, I could feel that their comments offended Our Lord deeply.

Looking back, I see I was longing for even just a measly, grisly morsel of Christian companionship or Truth during my most formative years of life. I see what my young heart was aching for — to be in the presence of God my loving Father — while I was at home and at school. I was just one of the countless young Christians who are sent off to the bloody battlefield of the school day to fight without the companionship of fellow comrades in Christ, or the proper intellectual or spiritual ammunition with which to be victorious.

How many dedicated Catholic parents give their children all they can in regards to faith and morals, only to find that their tireless efforts have been unraveled by teachers with obnoxiously politically correct agendas, hogwash textbooks endorsed by Bill Gates, and the influence of a scandalous group of buddies at school? How many of these same parents — despite all of the love they have poured onto their children — find their teenage girl with a ravaging drug addiction, or a boyfriend who makes Jimi Hendrix look like a dream date?        

Sure, you can feel sorry for “teenage me.” I did. And I still kind of do. My secular high school experience caused me to suffer from all styles of emotional wounds and life-threatening rounds of trauma-dramas; not to mention wrapped me into a terribly sticky net of anti-Christian ideologies and theories that took me a decade to wrestle my way out of.

Of course, not every child in public school will be hammered with the hailstones of the culture of death like I was. Some of them may have a pretty decent school environment and sail through to graduation day on St. Raphael's very wings, relatively unharmed (although I argue this is a rarity). But at the same time, what I had to endure does raise some pressing questions about the importance of ensuring that our children are educated in a Christian environment as much as possible. Without judging Catholic parents who do send their children to public schools, and with all due understanding, I think it is important to ponder what some of the Church's leaders have had to say on the matter. The Charter of the Rights of the Family in Article 5 states:

Since they have conferred life on their children, parents have the original primary and inalienable right to educate them; hence they must be acknowledged as the first and foremost educators of their children... Parents have the right to educate their children in conformity with their moral and religious convictions… Parents have the right to freely choose schools or other means necessary to educate their children in keeping with their convictions.

The enviable freedom in America to have such well-developed Catholic schools and home school curricula is not a blessing to scoff at. By taking advantage of this freedom as much as we can, we are not only being true Catholics, but we are being true patriots as well. And we are also keeping our eternal goal in mind, and helping our children do the same. As Pope Pius XI wrote in his encyclical, the Christian Education of Youth:

In fact, since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be, and for what he must do here below, in order to obtain the sublime end for which he was created, it is clear that there can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man's last end, and that in the present order of Providence, since God has revealed Himself to us in the Person of His Only Begotten Son, who alone is 'the way, the truth and the life,' there can be ideally no perfect education which is not Christian education.

There is no better time than today to be avid supporters of Catholic education. We should let these words of Pope Pius XI call us on to greatness. Our response may propose a challenge or a change of lifestyle, but Catholics have long been known to flourish in the face of such trials. And in the words of Pope Leo XIII:

It is necessary not only that religious instruction be given to the young at certain fixed times, but also that every other subject taught be permeated with Christian piety. If this be lacking, if this sacred atmosphere does not pervade and warm the hearts of masters and scholars alike, little good can be expected from any kind of learning, and considerable harm will often be the consequence.

In essence, Jesus must be in the center of all we do, and all we encourage our children to do – including their education. By doing so we will not only live up to the love we bear for our children, but we will make Catholicism come alive for them. We will help them come to know and surrender their lives to their Eternal Friend, who longs to be Lord of their hearts, souls, and minds.