The Catholic school does not lay claim to superiority

The Catholic school does not lay claim to superiority over another on purely secular lines, although in many cases its superiority is a very patent fact; it repudiates and denies charges to the effect that it is inferior, although this may be found in some cases to be true. It contends that it is equal to, as good as, any other; and there is no evidence why this should not be so. But it does pretend to give a more thorough education in the true sense of the word, if education really means a bringing out of that which is best in our nature.

Neither do we hold that such a training as our schools provide will assure the faith and salvation of the children confided to our care. Neither church, nor religion, nor prayer, nor grace, nor God Himself will do this alone. The child’s fidelity to God and its ultimate reward depends on that child’s efforts and will, which nothing can supply. But what we do guarantee is that the child will be furnished with what is necessary to keep the faith and save its soul, that there will be no one to blame but itself if it fails, and that such security it will not find outside the Catholic school. It is for just such work that the school is equipped, that is the only reason for its existence, and we are not by any means prepared to confess that our system is a failure in that feature which is its essential one.

– Rev. John H. Stapelton, Explanation of Catholic Morals (1913)

The Church: Our Safeguard Against Self-Destruction

For the past four weeks I’ve been facilitating a formation course for Catholic school teachers in Springfield on Catholic Social Doctrine. This past week we explored chapter four of Pope Benedict XVI’s social encyclical, Cartias in Veritate (Charity in Truth).

One quote from our reading stuck out at me in particular:

The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction. [my emphasis]

image by Zahorí/FlickrCCThe pope is speaking plainly here about the impact of unjust consumption and hoarding of resources by industrial nations without regard to the impact on underdeveloped nations or future generations. However, I think we can also read a spiritual truth into this statement; namely, that without the Church, the Body of Christ, we cannot avoid the self-destruction of our souls. It is the Church’s duty to safeguard the faithful and preach the Gospel unto their salvation. Without that preaching, preserved through the teaching of the Apostles and their successors, we are doomed to annihilation.

Benedict’s statement also points to a greater reality: that, while mankind is perfectly capable of destroying itself, we cannot save ourselves. It is only in community that we will avoid self-destruction. And not just any community will do — it must be a community rightly ordered, with Christ at the head. Without the Church we would not have the Sacred Scriptures, the sacraments, the teachings of Christ; in other words, we would not have the means of grace necessary to avoid our destruction.

Pope Benedict alludes to these realities again in the closing words of this chapter:

Truth, and the love which it reveals, cannot be produced: they can only be received as a gift. Their ultimate source is not, and cannot be, mankind, but only God, who is himself Truth and Love. This principle is extremely important for society and for development, since neither can be a purely human product; the vocation to development on the part of individuals and peoples is not based simply on human choice, but is an intrinsic part of a plan that is prior to us and constitutes for all of us a duty to be freely accepted. That which is prior to us and constitutes us ” subsistent Love and Truth ” shows us what goodness is, and in what our true happiness consists. It shows us the road to true development.

The one thing necessary

A young friend of St. Philip Neri came to see him, and knelt by the old priest’s chair as his custom was. In reply to inquires, he said he was studying for an exam. and hoped to do well in it. The saint listened attentively to his plans for the future, nodding encouragement, while his hand played with the lad’s hair.

‘And after the exam.; what then?’

‘Then I shall try for a degree in law.’

‘And then?’

‘I want to be a barrister: everyone tells me I’m cut out for it.’

‘And then?’

‘Well, if I make a name as a barrister, I could marry and settle down and be a rich man.’

‘And then?’

‘Oh, well, I might hope to end up as a judge, and obtain some high office in the court of Rome.’

‘And then?’

‘Some day I should retire with a big pension and be able to enjoy an honourable old age.’

‘And then?’

‘Then? Well, Father, some day I suppose I should have to die.’

The saint drew the boy’s head closer and whispered in his ear:

And then?

This talk made a lasting impression on the youth, whose name was Francesco Zazzara, and later he threw up his worldly ambitions as a danger to his soul, and joined St. Philip’s Congregation of the Oratory.

– Rev. F.H. Drinkwater, Catechism Stories Part I: the Creed (1939)