Tuesday, September 10, 2013


   In a recent article in "America" magazine, a writer noted that the fundamental threat to Catholic colleges and universities is the erosion of the value-added dimension of their Catholicity, manifested in commitment to Gospel values, liturgy, prayer, theology, social justice/service learning and fidelity to church teaching.  I typed value-added dimension in bold type because I believe that this itself is the threat to Catholic higher learning.

   I recently asked a group of students from a Catholic university what made their university Catholic.  I received blank stares.  Later, I asked a graduate of a Catholic university, where I had taught Theology late in the 1960's, "Were you taught that you are an expression of Christ in and for today's society?"  Again, I was met with a blank stare.  Then the student said that he had received a secular education,with theology and Mass added if he was interested.  So much for the value-added dimension of his Catholic education.

   Long ago, when I taught at that student's university, the Catholic students came from Catholic neighborhoods and a strong parish culture in which they were immersed.  They therefore easily accepted the "value-added" dimension of their education.  Today's Catholic students come from depleted parishes and our hyper-individualized, economically driven culture that hides God's presence deep within its fast-moving, shallow activism.  Our Catholic universities must go far beyond just a value-added dimension.  They must become centers of deep Catholic formation.

   I believe that Catholic colleges and universities should see education as an academic incarnation of the universal/global Christ.  They should be centers of a true and deep Catholic formation that prepares their Catholic students to live discerning, prophetic lives as contemporary expressions of Christ in a world where God is present in the streets, among the poor, sick, vulnerable and outcast, and in our politics, economics, sciences, arts, etc.

   In specially designed seminars, Catholic students (and others who may be interested) should be taught to discern and relate to the Mystery of the divine presence that shines within every subject and activity in their curriculum.  For example, they would be taught that every subject shows them a way to be human.  People do math, science, history, art, etc.  And since God is present in the students, as in all people, every subject shows the students a way, not only of being human but of becoming luminously human expressions of Christ.  And they should be taught to imbue their careers and lives with the spiritual disciplines, e.g., order, trust, peace, hope, joy of life, respect for labor, and loving and compassionate service to others, without imposing our religion on anyone.

   Catholic colleges and universities should ritualize contemporary ways to discern and express the presence and intentions of God in today's society and culture, so that the students can prayerfully, and even contemplatively, be inspired to actively work to fulfill Jesus' prayer (and the church's mission) that God's kingdom may come "down here" on earth as it is in heaven.

    In sum, I believe that with serious spiritual effort, our Catholic colleges and universities can change their Catholic students' and graduates' blank stares into the discerning and prophetic outlook of youth fully expecting to transcend their present self and grow into ever more luminously human expressions of Christ in and for the world they will live in and influence.



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