Have you ever felt like a nobody in the world? To be in the world but not of the world is surely a frustrating reality in the normative workplace environment. But in the Catholic Education world? I never thought it would be such lonely, difficult work to teach, preach, and witness an orthodox Catholic message as a theology teacher in the typical American Catholic High School. Where to begin? The dark stuff.
The problems begin as always in the home. When we went to the other children’s birthday parties and I chatted with the other parents, I noticed in the Catholic elementary schools my own children attended it seemed like more than half were living with the complexity of divorce. I have read that Catholics on the whole have statistical rates for most societal vices on par with non-Catholics. We aren’t leading (morally speaking) even though we have plenty of Catholic “leaders” in our communities and nation.
I also find the divorce phenomena in my high school classrooms, and try to share my own damage assessment from growing up in a divorced home and not being raised a Christian even though I was baptized as a child. The problem is for the kids today, like for me back then, you don’t realize how the divorce thing is harming you on the inside and affecting all kinds of relationships- starting with God the Father and working down to preparing for your own Marital Vocation. “Everyone’s Fine” is the theme for the “Love, American Style” post sexual revolution. Awareness that everyone isn’t just fine is the first step- and for many of the sons and daughters of divorce that awareness doesn’t come until much adulthood has already passed and cycles of dysfunctional relationships continue on until one finally is awakened. The fact is that parents who have divorced have a vested interest in perpetuating the false myth that “the kids are alright.” Few people like to admit fault and fewer still will entertain thoughts that they have harmed their own children.
I would list Divorce as the first cause of the diminished faith of the Catholic school students I have encountered in my decade and a half of teaching experience. The causes of Divorce of course go back to the unorthodox treatment of Catholic teachings on matters to do with sexuality. The litany of anti-Catholic influences and abuses is legion- pornography exposure from early ages, masturbation addictions, premarital sex, same-sex exploration and experimentation, ‘my body my choice’ hardened feminism. These are the diseases that plague marriages from before they even begin. If you add other spiritual sicknesses like general hedonistic life philosophies “Seize the Day!” “If it feels good, do it!”, along with consumerism/materialism, sports and entertainment obsessions and so forth, you really have to wonder how anyone is supposed to live as a typical American and find their way Home to Rome!
If Catholic schools were factories, the end product would be lukewarm Catholics. The Catholic school is already disadvantaged by all of the home and cultural realities that are doing the primary shaping of the young American Catholic mind and spirit. I still believe we could do a heck of a lot more to raise the odds that more of these young Catholics/Christians/Other would find the shortcut to the Way of Christ if only we had our act together as Catholic Education Centers. I could recount many nightmarish stories of how most of the Catholic school educators and administrators I have encountered have been men and women of little or no faith in Christ and Church. Even in the religion departments it is common to encounter ex-nuns who feel the Church is in sin because they can’t be priests, homosexual men who are more interested in defending the lifestyle than in teaching the straight Catholic faith, and a range of those who are in dissent on some or another important Catholic doctrine.
If there are problems of personnel inside the Religion departments, the other disciplines are almost completely immersed in doing exactly what they would be doing in a public school. I have often wondered what small percentage of Catholic high school teachers actually like the Catholic Church? It is obvious that in hiring these folks, the biggest unspoken question is not “Are you enthusiastic about your Catholic faith?” but “Can you tolerate pretending to be on board with the Catholic stuff you will encounter from time to time here?” For the most part, average Catholic school teachers are solid as dispensers of information and want to bond with their students, but there is no real faith present in their hearts, and certainly not in the worldview presented in their classrooms.
Faithless teachers would not be so rampant if those charged with responsibility for the school’s Catholic mission were sincerely focused on a “Faith First” approach and philosophy. I have been at schools where I have spoken directly to administrators about this and to my face I was told that “only one-third of the parents of Catholic school kids are there for the religious education, another one-third are there for sports, and the other one-third for the safety and academics.” So, the piecemeal system of making a show of the faith for P.R. purposes becomes the smart strategy for keeping things appearing Catholic-enough for the one-third of parents primarily interested in the faith dimension, but for the two-thirds who are not, there is a wink-wink given that the real show is the academic and sports achievements.
And, now after a brief flurry of pressure coming from the Bishops for re-establishing a “Catholic Identity” in our Catholic schools, the primary focus around the country is on getting technology into the classrooms at breakneck speed. There is even a strange development whereupon in Communist China, the buzz is that Catholic schools are the best schools in America, and for the children of the elite who do not do well on their placement tests, they are coming to American Catholic schools so they can go to American universities and bypass the more difficult to get into Chinese universities. The Chinese students come here never hearing the name Jesus Christ before. This could be an excellent opportunity for evangelization, but evangelizing was never spoken of as part of any serious plan. Just drop them into religion classes with everyone else, and they end up being exposed to a very lukewarm variety of Catholicity- makes them probably wonder what the big fuss is back home, the faith doesn’t seem to alter the lifestyle of typical American Catholic students.
I have tried to make noise about all that I have written above. I’ve sent my letters to Superintendents and invited Bishops to dinner, but all I have received has been either polite thanks, or direct negative consequences. But here are my recommendations anyway:
1. Catholic identity is #1- hire right. Seek and find enthusiastic wanna-be orthodox Catholics to fill in the ranks of at least 90% of the faculty and staff positions. Help the teachers out by getting serious about locating textbooks that include positive Catholic worldview even in non-religion subject areas. As it stands now, the textbooks outside of religion classes are the same one would see in public schools, with all the problems of the culture seeping in.
2. Praise and worship should be given primary place in school activities. The mainstream music that is played throughout Catholic school sporting events, dances, gym classes etc. is the same junk that is being played everywhere, songs full of obscenity, sexual immorality, violence and despair. Why can’t Catholic schools be bastions for Christian music promotion? One only has to attend a sporting event, a dance or a school play to assess the strength of an actual Catholic influence and identity.
3. Catholic schools should be centers for Eucharistic Adoration. They could offer Theology of the Body classes, Pro-life activism, Catholic Relief Services, Fair Trade marketing, nurturing future community and political leaders with our full Catholic social doctrine and sexual ethics. Wow!
4. I have seen that the male-female interactions of the current generation are just not very healthy. One of the sad results of the Sexual Revolution is the pressure on young girls to get involved in sexual relationships, and even regard themselves as sex objects to match the mainstream culture. With divorce comes along a lot of girls who are going without a daily dose of a father’s affectionate love. They turn to the boys who often are addicted to pornography and don’t comprehend chastity. To combat this we need return to more traditional schools of all-boys and all-girls, or at least have classes separated into boy and girl classrooms with teachers best suited as role-models teaching one gender or the other.
© 2013. Tim. All Rights Reserved.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: TIMI'm an adult Catholic convert, who has experienced the highs and lows of the Faith ever since that pivotal introduction to Byzantine Rite Catholicism. Having a holy wife and several incredible children sealed the deal on my "dynamic orthodox Catholic" beliefs and practice. I have taught Theology in Catholic high schools for the past 15 years. I also ran for State Office and was active in the leadership of Democrats for Life. I am an NPA ( No Party Affiliation) so that I can better uphold the non-partisan/non-ideological nature of the Catholic Social Doctrine. I keep my last name private so that I can speak freely on the pros and cons of Catholic education without jeopardizing my day job!