Other schools teach the “test”; in Catholic schools we teach the “yes”. We want our kids to follow the example of Mary, the first disciple, who with complete freedom – for she was sinless – said “Yes” to God when he asked her collaboration in bringing to fulfillment his plan for the salvation of the world.
How’s that for a “mission statement” for our Catholic schools. To be sure, we are faced with a formidable task and if it were not for the sacrifices of our parents and the dedication of so many of our priests and teachers both religious and lay, it would be “mission impossible”. Because of Anti-Catholic prejudice, translated into law by “Blaine amendments” in most of our states, parents are penalized by the state for sending their kids to Catholic schools. They pay twice – once through their tax dollars for public schools and then with their non tax deductible tuition payments for their parochial schools. This injustice has been deeply embedded in American jurisprudence for more than 150 years. And because it is not going to change anytime soon, the costs of a Catholic education will continue to rise.
In today’s culture, our children have a difficult road to travel. Which is why we invest in Catholic schools – because, we can teach the “yes”. Today American popular culture which is certainly individualistic – and perhaps narcissistically self-absorbed (it’s all about me, isn’t it?) – holds that any “yes” is necessarily a limitation on “my” freedom. We see this in the numbers of people who flee from commitment – especially anything that might lead to a permanent commitment. We want choices – but when faced with myriad of choices, how difficult it is to decide. We don’t want to constrain ourselves. We want to keep our options open – because if I say yes to this or to that, or to him or to her, I may be in fact saying “no” to myself.
It goes back to the fall from grace in Paradise. Adam and Eve thought that their “no” to God would be translated in a “yes” for themselves. They were so wrong; but, because of that original sin, our idea of freedom is corrupted. Freedom comes to mean ‘doing as I please”, that “I can decide for myself what is good and evil”; that “I am my own arbiter of truth”; that “if I am to be truly free, I must defy God, I must refuse to submit to his rules”.
Christian revelation teaches the exact opposite – and Christian revelation offers us as models two of the freest persons ever to have lived: Jesus and his Immaculate, that is, his sinless, Mother. They were free precisely because they were not dominated or enslaved by sin or than tendency to sin we inherited from our first parents, what St. Augustine called concupiscence. In Catholic schools, education informed by faith can teach about what truly makes us free – and about who (namely, Jesus) who makes us free.
True freedom is the ability not to do as we please but to do as we ought, to be the persons that God created to be. It’s the ability to say Yes to God and his plan for us – and not only to say Yes but to live the Yes.
Catholic schools still offer a unique blend of Catholic doctrine, moral values and academic excellence. A Catholic education, supported by parental example in the home, can teach character and form our young people in the virtues, i.e. those qualities that will make them free to say yes, to say yes to excellence as in the sense of St. Ignatius of Antioch’s maxim: the glory of God is man fully alive. This is freedom for excellence, the freedom to commit oneself to the pursuit of the good; it is the freedom to say yes to God, it’s the freedom to become holy, to become a saint.
The mission of Catholic schools is to make our kids love God’s plan for their lives. It is to teach them that they can be holy – and to encourage them to embrace the pursuit of that holiness with a resounding yes, a liberating yes to the knowledge of the truth, the truth that makes us free – free to discipline their desires towards achieving the good for which we were created, free enough to do the good that God asks of us.
Can we afford not to invest in Catholic education?