Letter to Frieda Begue, concluded!
So what now? The first step is to admit that the changes in the world are more sweeping than anyone would have imagined. Peter Kreeft said very simply at a recent lecture “...the sexual revolution is the greatest revolution in 2000 years.” We are living in the midst of the most sweeping redefinition of human life since the time of Christ. At the same time, we are witnessing a technological revolution that may be still more profound than the sexual revolution. It simply has no precedent. To continue to “stay the course” when that course has already demonstrated its inadequacy goes beyond foolish. It borders on insanity. The aging progressives who have dominated the life of the Church for the past 50 years had no idea of the whirlwind that they were unleashing. They cling to business as usual in the midst of the earthquake. The structures of the past 50 years are not sufficient for the future. I am so tired of hearing that the schools are our best means of evangelization. They are not. They could however become the best means of catechesis. It is time to end the parish school.
Archbishop Listecki and Dr. Lichter as principal are doing something creative at All Saints Catholic School in Kenosha Wisconsin. It is a regional model for Catholic education. The ten parishes of the area have decided to quit fighting one another in the desperate quest for students. They are combining their resources. In order to keep the numbers up and make a school viable, parishes struggle to enroll students. The thought of limiting the student body to those who genuinely want Catholic, and not simply private education, means that numbers would sink so low and tuition would fall off so badly that the school would cease to be viable. This is happening anyway despite our efforts to “be inclusive” and to “reach out.” In fact, the schools may be dying because of our efforts to “reach out.” We dilute the effectiveness of our message in an effort to keep the numbers up, and all the while poor Catholics who could never afford to send their children to a Catholic school get the crumbs that fall from counting table. This is not what the Lord told us to do.
If a person is committed to the Catholic life, the Catholic community should do its absolute best to give them a genuine, and forgive me if I use an offensive word, “authentic” Catholic education. There. I’ve don it. I’ve uttered an obscenity “Authentic!” This word is offensive because it implies that there are “real.”
There are Catholics and then there are Catholics who are just “part time” not quite as “gung-ho” about the faith. Grow up. This is the fact. If a person does not assist at Mass, they are not living the Catholic life. There is more to the Catholic life, but Mass is the cornerstone of the Catholic life. If a person does not participate at least minimally in the Catholic life, why should we design our Catechesis around them, why should we try to teach them about a God and a Church in which they have no real interest.
Evangelism means bringing people into a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, not just a historical knowledge, not just a theological knowledge and certainly not a nodding acquaintance, but a saving knowledge. Those who want a private education, but not necessarily a Catholic one are candidates for evangelization, not for Catechesis.
You cannot catechize the unevangelized. You cannot teach about Christ to those who have never met Him. We are like that boring neighbor whom all of us dread. Perhaps we find ourselves on a bus or train seated next to him. He takes out pictures of his two year old and goes into endless discussion of the child’s merits and above average intelligence. We haven’t ever met the child and wish we hadn’t met the parent. Perhaps if we knew the little darling, or still more loved him, we would want to know all there is to know about him. We don’t. We are merely being polite because for some reason or other, we have to put up with this tedious neighbor on what has turned out to be a very long train ride.
So it is with Catholic schools for those who just want a good private school education. This even applies to religious education classes for those who are just there to “get their sacraments” so their children can have a church wedding and Grandma won’t cut them out of the will. They are so happy when it’s over. They bid their troublesome neighbor goodbye and resolve to avoid him in the future. Let us introduce them to the Lord first and then perhaps they will want to hear our stories.
I am not saying that we should exclude anyone from our schools. We should just be realistic. The schools should teach the Catholic life to those who wish to live it. If, for some reason, a person wants to send his child to a Catholic school, but has no intention of living the Catholic life, fine. It‘s just that the real cost of educating your little dear in a safe and moral school will be about $12,000 a year -- twelve thousand dollars a year! Who will be able to afford it?
An integral part of this scheme is that it is a regional school and will be supported by the local Catholic community. It will not be part of, nor attached to any parish. Parents and children will have to remain faithful to the parish in which they are participating to maintain their status as practicing Catholics. It will be the apostolate of the Catholics in a given area. If a person is living the Catholic life and participating in the real and daily life of a church community, that child should be in a Catholic school, and my hunch is that the little old ladies who see Johnny and his ten brothers and sisters in church every Sunday, may not mind helping Johnny and his siblings go to school. They are part of the family that is the parish.
I know this works. I did this for twenty years. Every kid in the inner city school of my former parish was on “scholarship.” The sweet grandmothers of the North Shore forked over the shekels by the bushel because they believed in that school. Retired geniuses and business moguls came down to a very dangerous neighborhood to volunteer to teach reading and math to the kids. They developed relationships that were part of being Catholic. The education of those poor immigrant children became the apostolate of three or four parishes. Some kids who were born into the most desperate poverty ultimately got scholarships to Harvard and Yale, all because the school was a collaboration of many, and it taught the Catholic life to both child and volunteer. It works.
Well, how will you know if the child who wants in to your narrow-minded exclusive Catholic school is living your so called” Catholic life?” Easy. The pastors. A child would have to be recommended by his pastor. In the Kenosha experiment the 10 local pastors sit on the board. As pastor, I have to pay a certain amount of money for the education of my parish children in the local Catholic school. When I hear that a child whom I see every Sunday in the 5th pew from the front, whose name and whose parents I know, is enrolled in the local Catholic school I am delighted. I am happy to fork over the money to help subsidize his education.
But every September I get a few families who suddenly want to register in the parish. I have never seen them and will never see them again. They need to register, because if they do, they will get a discount at the local Catholic school. They are using me. They are using the school. They are using the name Catholic, and I resent it.
When I talk about the Catholic life, I am not talking about registered Catholics, or people who say they will start participating in the church. I am talking about providing education for those who are already genuinely part of the family, those who have faithfully done their best to raise their children in the faith. I am talking about the mother of four who, every Sunday, struggles with her squirming babies in the pew over on the side. When it comes time, she finds they can’t afford to put their children in a Catholic school because, having obeyed the teaching of the Church regarding openness to life, they haven’t two extra nickels to rub together. They couldn’t possibly afford to educate their growing brood in a decent school, because we have given their place to people who have never even entertained the thought of obeying the teaching of the Church regarding artificial birth control.
Our schools are failing for the precise reason that our congregations are dying. We have paid lip service to our faith but we simply haven’t believed it in our heart. We are maintaining institutions instead of making disciples. It is time for radical change, because the world around us is changing more radically than we can imagine. I have not addressed the problems of home schooling and non-school religious education programs. Religious education programs exist largely because so many we can’t afford our schools. If we have a collaborative effort that genuinely produces active Catholic adults, money will cease to be a problem.
Home schoolers exist because of the disaster of secular education. In a government school the chances that a child will be sexually abused by staff or other students are so huge as to be commonplace. Children in public schools are sexualized at a very early age not only by abuse but by design. The curriculum of the government schools has come under the control of the sexual revolutionaries whom Peter Kreeft mentioned.
I recently heard a horror story of a grade school in a large urban area in which the children were encouraged to make posters that showed both male/female couples and same sex couples holding hands. The posters bore the motto “This is traditional marriage.” Ten-year-olds learning the proper use of condoms is standard practice in government schools. Thus home schooling for those who can’t afford Catholic schools and don’t want their children subjected to the brutalization that passes for socialization in the government schools.
More horror stories. A priest friend of mine who also attended Krayola University on the shores of Lake Wobegon, a Catholic school, told me that he had a teacher for philosophy of God who was an atheist. Students of that era and of such teachers are now in charge of educating our children even in Catholic schools. Sometime home schoolers are avoiding Catholic schools as well as public schools and have reason to do so. The same classmate told me a story about a teacher in his Catholic parish school. The children wear uniforms but the teacher comes in with blue jeans that she painted on just that morning. It is not a government school, but the eighth grade boys are getting more of an education than their parents are paying for. Some teachers in Catholic schools are saints. My mother was one of them, but for some, a minority to be sure, it’s a job and in my experience of `perhaps 10 Catholic schools, the religious instruction is sometimes un-enthused and indifferent.
An addendum to my regional school suggestion: The teachers in the regional school should not be there for the sake of a job, but for, the sake of a calling as Catechists of the Catholic faith, and we should pay them a decent wage, defraying costs by as much volunteer work as possible.
If we have schools that are accessible and authentically Catholic (there’s that nasty word again) the Catholic home school movement and religious education will be much less necessary than we now find them. And money? Increasing the number of collections is not the way to increase church revenues. The only way to increase church funds is to increase the congregation. That will not happen until we teach the faith effectively. I recently heard a school board representative invite members of a congregation to send their children to his Catholic school. He bragged about high test scores, small classes and good computer labs. He didn’t mention Christ. We will fail until Christ is the clear purpose of Catholic education.
Here endeth the lesson.