The values of Catholic education

Challenges ahead

'The task of Catholic educators today ... is to offer to learners the possibility of an encounter with Jesus Christ.' Nicholas King SJ suggests how Catholic can do so.

- Thinking Faith

There is an unfortunate and growing temptation on all sides of the field of education to turn ‘learners’ into ‘customers’. A consequence of this is to see the task of Christian educators as just another job, whereas in fact it is an awesome responsibility, one which all of us involved in education would do well to think about.

The following words from the Rule of St Benedict, that treasury of succinct and hard-won wisdom, may be an apt place at which to begin our reflections: "It should be very clear to superiors that those who undertake the guidance of souls must in the end prepare themselves to give an account of that guidance. However many the souls for whom they are responsible all superiors may be sure that they will be called to account before the Lord for each one of them and after that for their own souls as well.

Frequent reverent reflection on that future reckoning before the Good Shepherd who has committed his sheep to them will, through their concern for others, inspire them to greater care of their own souls. By encouraging through their faithful ministry better standards for those in their care, they will develop higher ideals in their own lives as well. The task of Catholic educators today, those who have been called to this ‘guidance of souls’, is different to that of their predecessors.

We live now in a world where the Spirit is inviting us to a much greater openness in our religious education. The challenge today is not to offer the present set of learners that – in many ways very attractive – set of coherent and confidence-inducing beliefs that their direct ancestors received, but something different: it is to offer to them the possibility of an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Now it needs to be said right away that you cannot possibly make this encounter happen, all you can do is create the conditions of possibility; and a Catholic school is a very good place to do it, for the question about Jesus, and the ancient faith of Catholicism that frames that question, is part of the wallpaper.

But today’s learners are very different to those of the 1950s and 1960s. I hazard the guess that most children in Catholic schools do not go to church on Sunday of their own accord, that their parents are not always practising in that narrow sense of being at Mass on Sunday; but that today’s students are nevertheless remarkably more open to religious faith, to Christianity, and even to the Catholic expression of that faith than such people were even ten years ago.

That is my impression from the youngsters with whom I am dealing. I hazard the further guess that modern learners know almost nothing of this Catholic faith, even though they are quite open to it.

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