Thursday, February 21, 2013
Practicing Catholics, Social Justice, and Educational Reform
Dr. Pence writes:
Catholic education involves a generation of parents and teachers transmitting to students a communal practice that tells them the story of the world; and introduces them to the main characters of that drama eliciting love of God, hatred of Satan, affection for Mary, admiration of the saints, and love for one another. The daily and weekly rhythm of prayer, penance, Mass, and confession introduces students to a realistic comprehensive explanation of the external world while cultivating within them the beginning of a reflective interior life. The story we tell them and the characters we introduce to them are more fantastic than any movie or play. So our challenge is to communicate that a tale so incredible is, in truth, the nature of reality.
This starts with a daily insistence for young children that they are the bearers of a spiritual soul that sets them quite apart from their pets and plants. This personal awareness of the human spiritual soul and a distinct language describing the soul’s faculties and characteristics are not to be confused with “we are all special.” The practice of examining one’s conscience and receiving the Eucharist in one’s soul are experiences of interiority that are utterly foreign to the modern psychology of personal identity. Yet many of us enjoyed a firm grasp of this interior reality at age seven – and so did our best friends. These sacramental practices are the educational pillars of the interiority needed for young people to eventually grasp the larger reality that the physical universe manifests a spiritual cosmos.
Genuflecting in a sacred space to a Sacred Presence orients muscles and memory to a sacred order. Seeing a pregnant woman as a temple harboring a sacred life is a lot easier for children brought up genuflecting to a tabernacle holding the Body of Christ. The special days of feast and fast – telling an annual narrative – turn the “one thing after another” of chronos time into the historical sense of religious time imbued with both direction and purpose. Finally, the sacralized and forbidden speech patterns of the Catholic liturgy and commandments impress upon our students the terrible power of language and the word for good or evil. We train our students with actions that inform their thoughts and words. These practices permeate the life of a normal Catholic school, parish, and family.
Prayer and public worship are the inevitable consequences of learning about and knowing God. Proper worship orients faculty and students to the hierarchy of knowledge that orders them in relation to time, place, purpose, and person. Fortunately, these acts of religious piety do not make students or teachers forget periodic tables, geometric relationships, historical events, or English grammar. Acts of piety, keeping time together, and sharing an ordering language toward the ultimate truths establish a powerful communal lattice for learning. This corporate characteristic that gave the University its name is precisely what modern overspecialized schools have lost. It is the unitive mark of any truly Catholic school.
The restoration of Catholic education by first insisting on Catholic practices permeating the student experience of time, space, and language will involve a serious redeployment of funds, and a renewal of religious mission from the self-serving employees' cartel that now control most of our institutions. The ecclesial duty to educate the Catholic faithful who fill our parishes (but are unable to afford our University and high school tuitions) will not be embraced by many of the lay and clerical ministers who presently absorb the bulk of our annual $12 billion parish and diocese income. They will counter all significant movements of reform with an inflationary view of workplace justice, a parasitic generational subversion of gender equity, and an attempt to elevate bureaucratic tenure as a sacramental of infinity.
The proper disposition of land, buildings, and job opportunities is a true social justice issue which will pit Catholic careerists who have lost their faith -- but maintain control of the Catholic infrastructure -- against immigrant and large-family Catholics, as well as the urban poor, who need to be educated, married, and buried inside the dense social capital capacity of the Catholic Church and her institutions. The bishops will decide the matter after they face it.
Less than 15 percent of parish income (fifty years ago it was 63%) is dedicated to Catholic grade schools. Meanwhile, salaries for nuns and clergy in the justice ministries, hospital systems, and Catholic universities make even a previous purse-snatcher like Judas Iscariot seem like a fool for chump change. (Annual salaries of Fr. Larry Snyder of Catholic Charities - $220,000; Sister Carol Keehan of Catholic Health Association - $600,000 with $900,000 total compensation; Fr. Dennis Dease, President of University of St. Thomas - $300,000. The female discrepancy here is retributive payback for historical institutional sexism).
A large subsection of the Sixties generation of clerics, nuns, and lay ministers have interrupted the great inter-generational transmission of faith, wealth, and sacrificial service which constitutes Catholic Tradition. Those spiritual truths which they did not accept in humble gratitude, they have not transmitted with convincing authority. Those material possessions lent to them for service to the next generation, they have expropriated for themselves as a “just wage.” This generational act of narcissistic disruption has betrayed the evangelical promise of Vatican II, and squandered the Catholic immigration potential for the Christianization of American civic culture.
The restoration of Catholic education awaits a return to the practice of the sacramental faith by Catholic educators and parents. It will involve closings and firings, and re-openings and conversions, and lots of talented volunteers and lots of very low-paid clergy and nuns. Practicing Catholics are the best social justice movement of all because we start by giving God His due in worship and end up educating and integrating the immigrants, the widows, and the orphans in the life of the Church and city.