Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit thinks that graduates from Catholic schools should be different. They should have “a conviction about the truth… a sense of order… [and] a sense of one’s purpose or mission.”
But while speaking at a symposium sponsored by O’Meara, Ferguson, Whelan, and Conway, a Catholic financial advisory firm that has worked with several colleges and schools, Archbishop Vigneron began with a summary of what Catholic school graduates should not be:
Today, of course, we face a different, and perhaps even more daunting, threat to our children’s faith: the threat that they will become pagans. It might help us to understand this danger better if we were to think for a moment about what we do not want to happen to our children in the course of their education. Another way of launching this little thought exercise, or assessment, I am proposing is to ask, “What kinds of freshmen do we not want to send on to the university?” I have put together a list of qualities which, while certainly not comprehensive, provides us with a sense of where we do not want our students ending-up:
First, we do not want our students to become moral relativists. Our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has spoken of the “dictatorship of relativism,” and it is the unfortunate case that children are particularly susceptible to falling under the sway of this dictatorship. Our culture tells us that there is no objective truth, that the best I can do is figure out what is “true” for me and to follow my own heart wherever it leads me. For obvious reasons, this deception has a strong appeal for the young.
• Nihilism is another great danger for our students, and is closely related to relativism. If a young person does not believe in truth, then he or she has in a very real way already stepped off of the cliff’s edge and into the chasm of nihilism, viewing life as meaningless. We might see in the still-relatively-recent “Goth” movement some of the standard-bearers of nihilism among the young, but there are certainly others: recreational drug users, participants in the “hook-up” sub-culture, and countless other young people whose slogan—were nihilists inclined to create a slogan—would be, “Whatever.”
• If there is one personality type that is a perennial source of frustration for parents, it is that of a “slacker.” Of course, there have always been slackers of one kind or another, but in a time and place of such prosperity as we enjoy (even during relatively difficult economic times), when children and adolescents so rarely work in order to help support their families, as was common when our society was predominantly agricultural, and when the abundance of leisure time this prosperity produces is largely taken up with the ubiquitous “noise” of the world—Internet, pop music, video games, texting—we have a breeding ground for slackers.
• The final category I would like to mention is a bit more sophisticated, but I think you will see that it fits the religious perspective of many of our young people. Here I am talking about what the sociologist Christian Smith has called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” This could be described as the “default” religious perspective of young people today. Although it has an innumerable variety of expressions, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism has the following characteristics, generally speaking:
• A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth. However, this view is not tied to any affirmation of the Incarnation or the Redemption.
• God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
• The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
• God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
• Good people go to heaven when they die.
Archbishop Vigneron then offers a brilliant vision for Catholic schooling, reminiscent of Pope Benedict’s address to Catholic college and school leaders at The Catholic University of America in 2008. Here’s just a taste:
…I believe that in the case of our Catholic schools, we need to do more than the ordinary, day-to-day kind of self-examination and conversion. We need to go down to the very roots of our school systems and re-think everything we are doing, being sure along the way that we and all of our coworkers have a laser-like focus on the mission of sharing Christ with our children. We need to work towards nothing less than a re-foundation of our Catholic schools here in the United States, if we are to meet the challenges of the Third Millennium and give our children a more ready opportunity to save their souls.
…I would also propose that no matter what the composition of our classrooms between practicing Catholics, non-practicing Catholics, or non-Catholics, we need to be very clear about what we are offering to families as Catholic educators: a thoroughly Catholic environment in which all students will be offered a privileged opportunity to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ in the community of the Church and to achieve excellence in a range of academic disciplines and extra-curricular activities.
The entire piece is worth reading. Click here to read Abp. Vigneron’s piece in its entirety.
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