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Father Roger Arnsparger: Catholic schools emphasize faith, academics, service
The Catholic faithful in the United States have long supported Catholic schools, with great personal and financial sacrifice, as a method of sharing the fruits of the great Catholic life of study and prayer that lead to authentic Christian service. It really is the gift of hope in the development of a culture of holiness and salvation. Catholic schools have been a great blessing to all of us, and our country and its citizens have benefited greatly from this monumental academic endeavor.
True Christian service flows from the transforming love and truth of Jesus Christ, the source of our hope. So the first aim of faith and academics is the service of offering truth in the context of faith.
As Pope Benedict XVI told Catholic educators at the Catholic University of America in 2008, "Education is integral to the mission of the Church to proclaim the Good News. First and foremost, every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals His transforming love and truth (cf. "Spe Salvi," 4). This relationship elicits a desire to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Christ and His teaching. In this way, those who meet Him are drawn by the very power of the Gospel to lead a new life characterized by all that is beautiful, good and true – a life of Christian witness nurtured and strengthened within the community of our Lord's disciples, the Church.
"The dynamic between personal encounter, knowledge and Christian witness is integral to the diakonia (service) of truth which the Church exercises in the midst of humanity. God's revelation offers every generation the opportunity to discover the ultimate truth about its own life and the goal of history. This task is never easy – it involves the entire Christian community and motivates each generation of Christian educators to ensure that the power of God's truth permeates every dimension of the institutions they serve.
"In this way, Christ's Good News is set to work, guiding both teacher and student towards the objective truth which, in transcending the particular and the subjective, points to the universal and absolute that enables us to proclaim with confidence the hope which does not disappoint. Set against personal struggles, moral confusion and fragmentation of knowledge, the noble goals of scholarship and education, founded on the unity of truth and in service of the person and the community, become an especially powerful instrument of hope."
Faith and academics, or faith and reason, lead to Christian service because truth leads us to serve God and our neighbors. Indeed, the first goal of a Catholic school is to approach the truth in faith. The shared goal of faith and academics leads to spiritual and corporal works of mercy, for in these the hope of Christianity is seen. They are the outcomes of a life lived in the ongoing encounter with Christ and His Church.
On the Feast of St. John Baptist de LaSalle in 1988, the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education presented a tremendous document: "The Religious Dimension of the Catholic School." Section 25 reads:
"From the first moment that a student sets foot in a Catholic school, he or she ought to have the impression of entering a new environment, one illumined by the light of faith, and having its own unique characteristics. The Council summed this up by speaking of an environment permeated with the Gospel spirit of love and freedom. In a Catholic school, everyone should be aware of the living presence of Jesus the "Master" who, today as always, is with us in our journey through life as the one genuine "Teacher," the perfect Man in whom all human values find their fullest perfection. The inspiration of Jesus must be translated from the ideal into the real. The Gospel spirit should be evident in a Christian way of thought and life which permeates all facets of the educational climate."
With faith and reason in an atmosphere of study and prayer, our Catholic schools offer the wisdom of the generations of great academics who were believers, as well as the fruits of the academic enterprise which is the reflection on the Divine Revelation entrusted to us by our Lord. Great strides in culture have come as a result of the essential relationship of study and prayer in our Catholic schools.
We are blessed to offer the service of providing Catholic schools, and making them available, accessible and affordable so that all our children may benefit from the gifts of faith, academics and service.
Father Roger K. Arnsparger is the vicar of education for the Diocese of Charlotte.
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