Patrick J. Reilly is president and founder of The Cardinal Newman Society, which promotes and defends faithful Catholic education. He also teaches at Aquinas Learning, a classical Catholic homeschool program led by his wife Rosario. They have five children.
Cardinal Raymond Burke last week gave us yet another trove of wisdom to contemplate, just as the Synod on the Family came to a close. This time, it was about Catholic education, and it came with a stern warning.
In prepared remarks last week given to representatives of Voice of the Family, Cardinal Raymond Burke, patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, warned parents about the threats to their children from wayward Catholic schools while arguing that faithful Catholic education at home and in schools is needed to transform the culture.
“Today, parents must be especially vigilant, for sadly, in some places, schools have become the tools of a secular agenda inimical to the Christian life,” said the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta in prepared remarks last week in Rome. Corrupted Catholic institutions can lead young people “to their slavery to sin… profound unhappiness, and to the destruction of culture,” he said.
Cardinal Burke has received a lot of attention for his courageous opposition to those who sought to hijack the Synod in support of Communion for remarried, divorced Catholics. So it may seem odd that he chose to focus on Catholic education during the Synod’s last week. The topic of education got surprisingly little attention at the Synod, even after scholars Theresa Farnan and Mary Hasson publicly urged the Synod fathers to devote more time to it.
But education and the good of the Catholic family are essentially linked, and Catholic education is a key solution to the challenge of secularism. In a lecture last week at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio—which is a model of faithful education—I expressed my concern that we not limit the New Evangelization to strategies that excite young people about the Faith, but also focus more attention to the renewal of Catholic education. It is in Catholic education that young people experience the deeper formation that prepares them for sainthood in a difficult and often hostile culture.
The timing of Cardinal Burke’s comments also are relevant to today’s 50th anniversary of the Vatican II declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum Educationis. Next month, the Vatican will celebrate the documents while addressing the “crisis of education” in the modern world, meaning the modern failures to truly bring young people to know, love and serve Jesus Christ. The result is a deep despair and aimlessness in today’s societies—what Cardinal Burke calls a “profound unhappiness.”
And ultimately, happiness in God is the promise of a genuine Catholic formation.
It is important that “children know happiness both during the days of their earthly pilgrimage and eternally at the goal of their pilgrimage which is Heaven,” said Cardinal Burke. And it is no contradiction that such happiness means preparing for the Cross.
“Education, if it is to be sound, that is, for the good of the individual and society, must be especially attentive to arm itself against the errors of secularism and relativism,” Cardinal Burke stated, “lest it fail to communicate to the succeeding generations the truth, beauty and goodness of our life and of our world, as they are expressed in the unchanging teaching of the faith.”
He addressed particularly the modern confusion in sexuality, including the “so-called ‘gender education’ in some schools, which is a direct attack on marriage at its foundation and, therefore, on the family.”
“Good parents and good citizens,” said Cardinal Burke, “must be attentive to the curriculum which schools are following and to the life in the schools, in order to assure that our children are being formed in the human and Christian virtues and are not being deformed by indoctrination …Today, for example, we sadly find the need to speak about ‘traditional marriage,’ as if there were another kind of marriage.”
He referred to Gravissimum Educationis in support of parent-directed education: “As it is the parents who have given life to their children, on them lies the gravest obligation of educating their family. They must therefore be recognized as being primarily and principally responsible for their education.”
And most profoundly, he reminded his audience of the encyclical by Pope Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri, and the task of Catholic education to form “the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatual light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished man of character.”
In light of the confusion surrounding the Synod and the greater confusion in the world about marriage, family and even the value of human life, we are in great need of Catholics with this sort of formation. Renewing Catholic education should be among our highest priorities.