If you speak with enough Catholics, you will eventually become familiar with the phrase, “I used to be Catholic.” Sometimes, it seems as if being Catholic is more a matter of ancestry than anything else. Just as some choose to celebrate certain traditions that pertain to one’s ethnicity, so too, they accept only certain teachings of the faith. However, there are still those who remain steadfast, seeing their Catholic identity as something more.
I recently read an article about visitation policies upon Catholic college campuses, and was intrigued by the Land O’ Lakes Conference of 1967. I had never heard of this meeting before and after studying it, my eyes were opened (and some questions answered.) Yet, I am still concerned about the future of solid faith formation on Catholic college and university campuses across our nation.
For those institutions that participated, this must have proved to be a revolutionary undertaking. I wonder how much the events of the 1960s (e.g. Vatican II, Vietnam War, and an over-sexualized culture) contributed to this assembly. I have to believe each played some role. Regardless of the events that prompted it, the fruits that resulted from this meeting have not become what one would consider encouraging. Times have certainly changed since the late 1960s, yet the number of Catholic institutions choosing to disaffiliate from Church authority (on the basis of autonomy) is only rising.
The Church has never stifled autonomy. On the contrary, she has given it greater clarity and substance. One is truly free in the Church – free from inconsistencies and subjective truth. We are inspired and encouraged by the saints and angels, who rally around us in support of our efforts, offering us wisdom at every turn. The words of St. John Paul II ring out, “Be not afraid!” The Catholic faith ensures that one will ever be misguided, unless he or she chooses to reject God’s grace.
In viewing the aforementioned document, I took note of the some of the statements. In Section 9, Special Social Characteristics of the Catholic Community of Learners, it reads:
Within the university community the student should be able not simply to study theology and Christianity, but should find himself in a social situation in which he can express his Christianity in a variety of ways and live it experientially and experimentally. The students and faculty can explore together new forms of Christian living, of Christian witness, and of Christian service…
…Thus will arise within the Catholic university a self-developing and self-deepening society of students and faculty in which the consequences of Christian truth are taken seriously in person-to-person relationships, where the importance of religious commitment is accepted and constantly witnessed to, and where the students can learn by personal experience to consecrate their talent and learning to worthy social purposes.
Catholics are called to bring hope and guidance to the world so all may experience a more meaningful sense of truth, freedom, peace, and purpose. We cannot simply stand back and allow those who are walking astray to continue down that path. (Admonishing the sinner and instructing the ignorant are indeed Spiritual Works of Mercy.) It is disheartening to hear about Catholic students fighting their campus administrations (to no avail) for their Catholic ideals to be respected.
Catholic Schools Need to Teach Truth
Now, I realize that it may not always be my place to intrude and rebuke others at my own leisure. Therefore I don’t, unless prompted to do so by the Holy Spirit (Who always knows best)! However, as a Catholic high school teacher, it is imperative that I exercise a curriculum that is in union with the Church, just as all Catholic educational environments (especially at the college level) should be. Students are free to express their own beliefs, but we set the tone for the next generation of the Church, and we will be held accountable. Failure is not an option for us. In Section 8, Some Characteristics of Undergraduate Education, it states:
With regard to the undergraduate — the university should endeavor to present a collegiate education that is truly geared to modern society. The student must come to a basic understanding of the actual world in which he lives today. This means that the intellectual campus of a Catholic university has no boundaries and no barriers. It draws knowledge and understanding from all the traditions of mankind; it explores the insights and achievements of the great men of every age; it looks to the current frontiers of advancing knowledge and brings all the results to bear relevantly on man’s life today. The whole world of knowledge and ideas must be open to the student; there must be no outlawed books or subjects. Thus the student will be able to develop his own capabilities and to fulfill himself by using the intellectual resources presented to him.
There is usually a level of distortion among the facts and details regarding various issues of the faith today. Although many have a fair grasp, others believe all that matters is you are a good person. But what exactly does this mean? Is goodness based on a personal evaluation or upon the majority of public opinion? If so, where does that majority come from? Shouldn’t it have at least some basis in universal truth?
Are students truly presented with all of the necessary knowledge, without boundaries and barriers? Remember, an opinion is only as good as the evidence that backs it up, and there are many weak opinions circulating these days on Catholic campuses. These students deserve better.
The fact remains, as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said, “There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.” How many were led to these perceptions by attending a Catholic institution? In 1972, Archbishop Sheen reportedly also said, lamenting, “I recommend that my relatives send their college-bound children to secular colleges where they will have to fight for their faith, rather than to Catholic colleges where it will be stolen from them.” In Section 4, Interdisciplinary Dialogue in the Catholic University, it states:
In a Catholic university all recognized university areas of study are frankly and fully accepted and their internal autonomy affirmed and guaranteed. There must be no theological or philosophical imperialism; all scientific and disciplinary methods, and methodologies, must be given due honor and respect. However, there will necessarily result from the interdisciplinary discussions an awareness that there is a philosophical and theological dimension to most intellectual subjects when they are pursued far enough. Hence, in a Catholic university there will be a special interest in interdisciplinary problems and relationships.
One has to consider what colleges Catholics attended following their high school graduations when you consider how many choose to leave the Church by their early 20s. Aside from the small number of authentically Catholic colleges, many of today’s strong Catholics most likely attended many of our public colleges and universities. This may have proved to be a joyous blessing. Perhaps this was where they had to be proactive in their faith, and confident in their defense of it.
Furthermore, there may have been more autonomy exercised that was actually in favor of the Church, where truth was never stifled for the sake of good order (but encouraged for the sake of scholarly discourse and enlightenment). I have witnessed the vocations that have come out of attendance at public colleges and universities, along with the caliber of priests and religious they have become. I can say that the future of our Church is in very good hands because of these men and women.
New Era of Catholic Education?
The document closes with the following line:
In fine, the Catholic university of the future will be a true modern university but specifically Catholic in profound and creative ways for the service of society and the people of God.
The Church promotes truth, virtue, and love (not to mention comfort, support, and mercy). The decisions on the part of these institutions to remain separated from the Church have continued to result in a betrayal to both students, and to their parents, many of whom attended these same schools themselves, and were hoping for a similar experience for their sons or daughters. Instead, they have been alienated as their alma maters have striven to garner allegiance to social popularity over fidelity to papal authority.
The essence of being true ambassadors of Christ is in properly guiding others to Him (and His Church). This exemplifies real community. The desire to embrace these truths still remains solely with the individual, but he or she should never be deprived of the many moments, within their educational development, to experience a sense of real, infinite beauty, the kind that inspires one to never cease wondering, inquiring, and seeking. Catholic colleges have been able to achieve this distinction before, and they can all do it again.