Bishop's Column

Education: to be fit for living

“We are all drawn to the pursuit of knowledge,” said the Roman philosopher Cicero. “We desire to see, to hear, and to learn; we consider the knowledge of what is hidden or wonderful, a condition of our happiness.”

Our desire to know ourselves and to know the world around us is a gift from God—a grace. We are created to delight in discovery, in understanding and in knowledge.  God created us to seek out the unknown and the undiscovered, to marvel at the mystery of creation, and to wonder at its meaning.

We’re made to be curious because we’re made to discover God himself, to seek him out and to abide in him.       

In short, the desire to know is a part of what makes us human beings, setting us apart from every other creature on earth.  And education helps us to channel our desire to know—to train our wills and intellects to know the world as well as we can, and to live in the world as well as we can. To seek the “good life.”

The great lay theologian and Catholic evangelist Frank Sheed said that “education is to fit men for living.”  He was right. The purpose of education is to teach us who we are, and how we’re made to live and flourish as human beings. We’re children of God, of course. We’re made to live virtuously, justly, and heroically.  We’re made to live as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.  To be educated is to understand that we’re made for eternity in heaven.

The Second Vatican Council taught that by education, students should be formed “to the mature measure of the fullness of Christ.” And it is only in Jesus Christ that we discover our true meaning and purpose in life. In the words of the Second Vatican Council, “Christ reveals man to man himself.”

My own education was deeply formed by my experience in the Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas. I learned to read there, critically and meaningfully. I learned to think clearly and logically about objective truth. I also learned to listen to music, to read poetry and to listen to people. My education taught me to marvel at the world, to appreciate how much I didn’t know, and how much more I could learn. And I’m still learning.

Most especially, I learned how to live justly, virtuously, and richly.  Education should reveal the truths of history, and mathematics, and science, and literature in order to reveal the truths of our life in Jesus Christ. Education should draw from the wealth of our Christian and Catholic tradition: from Dante and Milton, from Mozart and Michelangelo, from G.K. Chesterton and from Christopher Dawson. Education should illuminate the truth of our existence.   

The greatest hope for educators should be that their students live fully, richly, and eternally in Jesus Christ.

Today, education has often become preparation for earning, but not for living. We’re taught as consumers and producers, but not as creators or cultivators. We’re trained as taxpayers, but not as citizens.  Our culture has lost the sense that education should form men and women who know what goodness is, and who can choose it.

Parents, who are the primary educators of their children, should want more for their children than training for a career, as important as that is.  They should want training for living, and training for holiness.

This week, the Church celebrates Catholic Schools Week. I’m extremely proud of our Catholic schools; I’m proud of their commitment to formation for holiness. I’m proud of our teachers and administrators, who dedicate their lives to the ministry of education. I’m proud of our curriculum, which uses texts like the Catholic Textbook Project to reveal the truth of Jesus Christ. And I’m proud of our students, who are committed to the challenging formation of Catholic schools.

Education is a lost art.  Fewer people are taught today how to live the “good life.”  Our natural curiosity is too often stifled or muted. But our Catholic schools remain bastions of true, beautiful and lasting education. We can all be proud of that.

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Bishop Conley

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