Home / Church and Life / Dr. Kania: The Critical Mass – Part III (cf. Mark 4: 10 – 20, RSV)
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Dr. Kania: The Critical Mass – Part III (cf. Mark 4: 10 – 20, RSV)

On some occasions after an essay is published I receive a response from readers giving me their opinions and sharing perspectives from their life experiences.

After the publication of The Critical Mass – Part I, I was called by a teacher in a non-Catholic School, about an event that occurred recently in their classroom. Let me describe the situation. One of the students in their class, a sixteen year old young man, publically declared in front of this teacher and his entire class that they were to soon leave the school, and enter one of the nation’s premier academic Catholic Schools. Without any sense of shame the young man explained how to orchestrate his admittance into the school, and take up this much sought after position, his father, ‘inspired’ by a sense of religious fervour, had had all the children in his family baptised. The young man went on to ridicule the Faith of the Catholic Church, as well as the cupidity of the priest, and boasted about his father, (also not being a believer), being so clever in order to ‘pull this off’. It was, as his son attested, a stroke of ‘sheer genius’. The reaction of this young man’s peers, to their credit, was one of horror. Despite the class being of a diverse cultural and religious background they were appalled by the mercenary approach of the student’s father and the degree of cynicism in the voice of the son. One of his peers remarked that in taking the position at the Catholic School, this newly-baptized ‘Christian’ would be robbing a ‘true believer’ of an educational opportunity. His response, not surprisingly, echoed that their criticism had fallen on the deafest of ears. The teacher who called me remarked that what I had written about a person who believes in nothing being able to subscribe to anything, was vividly exemplified in the scenario that they had personally witnessed.

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Such cynical abuse of Catholic Education as is evidenced in this introductory vignette, is dangerous within a Catholic Education system already shaking from a fragile Faith among the hearts of even those families whose intention is good, but perhaps whose Faith adherence and formation is not so ardent. When the Critical Mass of practising Catholics within a School is very low, it takes very little to poison the well, and create a counter-culture in the School to the one that has been mandated by which the School should operate.

When the Critical Mass of practising Catholics within a School is very low, it takes very little to poison the well, and create a counter-culture in the School to the one that has been mandated by which the School should operate.

In 1997, the Congregation for Catholic Education, released the document, The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millenium. This document listed a number of critical issues that confronted the educational institutions of the Church. Among these the document stated: “1. On the threshold of the third millennium education faces new challenges which are the result of a new socio-political and cultural context. First and foremost, we have a crisis of values which, in highly developed societies in particular, assumes the form, often exalted by the media, of subjectivism, moral relativism and nihilism. The extreme pluralism pervading contemporary society leads to behaviour patterns which are at times so opposed to one another as to undermine any idea of community identity… 6. The school is undoubtedly a sensitive meeting-point for the problems which beseige this restless end of the millennium. The Catholic school is thus confronted with children and young people who experience the difficulties of the present time. Pupils who shun effort, are incapable of self-sacrifice and perseverance and who lack authentic models to guide them, often even in their own families. In an increasing number of instances they are not only indifferent and non-practising, but also totally lacking in religious or moral formation. To this we must add — on the part of numerous pupils and families — a profound apathy where ethical and religious formation is concerned, to the extent that what is in fact required of the Catholic school is a certificate of studies or, at the most, quality instruction and training for employment. The atmosphere we have described produces a certain degree of pedagogical tiredness, which intensifies the ever increasing difficulty of conciliating the role of the teacher with that of the educator in today’s context.” (par. 1 & 6).

An expensive Catholic Education, does not transfer by the process of osmosis to providing students with Faith and Character development if the primary role models of the students – the parents, are not providing the living example or affirming the Faith at home.

Parents and School administrators – be vigilant. A teacher in a Catholic School can only do so much, but the Catholic Formation of the student is one that works in partnership with the family of the student. The Catholic School should not be seen as some form of elixir that can be purchased in order to compensate for the lack of Faith Formation within the home. If cynicism is being taught around the family table, then the content and instruction taught at the School by the teachers will be filtered through the lens of scorn from home. An expensive Catholic Education, does not transfer by the process of osmosis to providing students with Faith and Character development if the primary role models of the students – the parents, are not providing the living example or affirming the Faith at home. Moreover, having taught now Religious Education across three decades at Catholic Schools, I have noticed a steady decline within Schools of support from families for the spiritual roots of the School. The work conducted in our Religious Education classes by our teachers is the most difficult; as frequently the teachers of this subject face ridicule and heartbreak, for the sole reason that they are teaching the Faith, and these teachers are judged not because they are poor educators, but that they are teaching a subject in which the students that they teach have been formed at home to be ambivalent or actively antagonistic to the Faith.

Returning to our vignette. The father in question who baptized his children in order to secure a position for his son, and his subsequent children, was shrewd enough to realize that the School, to its credit, required a baptismal certificate in order for his child to ‘join and jump the queue’. Whoever the priest was who baptized the child, undoubtedly did so with good Faith at the behest of the parent. The School can only gauge by the Baptismal form that the Family acted in good Faith. This is the level of cynicism to which our society has descended; even to the point of a family feigning a Faith commitment in order to ‘purchase’ an education. It is in fact a form of prostitution – using people solely for personal gain; desecration, sacrilege and blasphemy, in promising to be loyal to Christ and HIs Church, but in order to wear a school tie. On one level, performing what on the outside is in fact beautiful, a vow to God, but on a deeper level, an act, contextually reprehensible. How apt, how incisive the words of Christ: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 9 in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matthew 15: 8 – 9, RSV) The 17th Century Ruthenian Church reformer, Meletij Smotryc’kyi (1578 – 1633), prophetically issued the warning in his Thrénos, of how moral corruption, can be ingested into the Church, when he wrote: “I make known, with the blessed apostle Paul, that before the glorious second coming of Christ, that chief Antichrist is to come, by Satan’s cause, and settle in the Church of God.” (Smotryc’kyi, 2004, p. 75). What this father, and his family, have concocted is evil; for it strikes at the abuse of the Holy Mysteries/Sacraments, and the integrity of the Church’s Mission through the School system, set up for the transmission of the Gospel.

In order to preserve the integrity of our Schools, is it not important to recommend that there is an expectation that parents continue to practise the Faith in order for the child’s position to be maintained at the School?

Perhaps the time has arrived when the Catholic Education system must carry out another of Christ’s teachings: “‘Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.’” (Matthew 10: 16, RSV). In order to preserve the integrity of our Schools, is it not important to recommend that there is an expectation that parents continue to practise the Faith in order for the child’s position to be maintained at the School? In the case of our neophyte, the new ‘Christian’ scoffing at his baptism – the fervour that normally accompanies a fresh convert should not cause too much angst to this father and son to have a parish priest’s reference one year later attesting to their regular, active, and enthusiastic participation in Parish life; nor should this cause a problem for subsequent years. If a Parish Priest’s reference is required to enter a School, why should it not be required to stay at the School, in order for a student to be of ‘good standing’? We do not require a full reference – but a least a signed document from the priest stating that the family are fulfilling the promise in which they entered the school. Of course we run the risk of filling our pews with the embittered; but even hypocrites have their price, and early Sunday morning wake-up calls, soon become burdensome, no matter how vibrant the School tie. True, family and life circumstances, may change, but the responsibility of one hour’s attendance at the Divine Liturgy/Mass, on the weekend, is not excessive.

True, family and life circumstances, may change, but the responsibility of one hour’s attendance at the Divine Liturgy/Mass, on the weekend, is not excessive.

A further ramification, is when the milieu of the Catholic School is allowed to become so secularized that the School itself, to appeal to the masses, accommodates to the widest possible demographic in order not to disaffect the parental clientele. In this manner we not uncommonly see atheists among those appointed to Prefecture and Student Council roles – voted in by peer popularity vote. I am reminded also of a two School Captains of Catholic Schools being atheists, as with the recipient of a prestigious Christian Service Award being an avowed atheist as well. In such a School climate, what we tend to have is proof of Desiderius Erasmus’ adage that in the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man often becomes king. It is also possible, reflecting back on The Critical Mass – Part I, to understand such an election result by concluding that a culture among the staff of non-Church practise, means that staff search for candidates from students who share their world-view. If one is seeking a popularity vote among peers who do not profess Faith, then one can postulate that to be a practising Christian, is a politically incorrect state of being, at election time.

I am reminded also of a two School Captains of Catholic Schools being atheists, as with the recipient of a prestigious Christian Service Award being an avowed atheist as well

We read in The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew the parable about the weeds among the wheat; Christ taught: “‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. 27 And the servants[a] of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants[b] said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ 29 But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’” (Matthew 13: 24 – 30, RSV).

In order to keep our Schools populated with a sufficient Critical Mass among our student body, our process of selection should be stringent enough to provide a proportion within our Schools to be students of ‘active’ Catholic or practising Christian families, if this is not the case, our Schools, will only exist in order to tick the box of Faith so as to do the things that they are ‘meant’ to do: to climb the academic league tables and perform on the sporting fields. If this becomes the case, then we will reap what we sow, and we should be prepared for a harvest of sorrow, and a lasting indictment on our Church Mission.

Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania

This article was published in The Church and Life Newspaper, September 2019

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