As Americans, we treasure religious liberty. Let’s look at what it means to be religious. Many in our country emphasize the notion that everyone’s religion is their own personal matter. Along this line of thinking, everyone is free to have their own religious convictions, as long as one keeps one’s religious beliefs to one’s self. From the Catholic perspective, there is truth in this assumption as far as it goes. If our faith is to make a difference in our lives, it has to be personal.
At the same time, our religious faith is meant to be lived out there in the world in a manner that invites all persons to look at the way in which we relate to ourselves, to others (both as individuals and as members of the various groups to which we belong), to the environment, and to the Lord.
The key word is to invite. Some skeptics to religious freedom maintain that religious people try to impose their faith upon others.
In concrete ways, Catholic schools embody religious freedom as the Catholic Church understands this in a manner that respects the consciences of all persons who attend these schools. A phenomenon that has been growing in more recent years is that an ever-increasing number of non-Catholic parents are choosing to send their children to a Catholic school. No one is twisting their arms to do this. Let’s look at what is contributing to this phenomenon. It needs to be stressed that Catholic schools do give clear expression to their Catholic identity. Catholic theology is taught in the classrooms. Catholic prayers and devotions are used on a regular basis. Catholic school communities celebrate weekday Masses faithfully and offer the Sacrament of Reconciliation on a regular basis. And yet, persons who are not Catholic are not pressured to join the Catholic Church. The decision to join the Catholic Church always needs to come from within non-Catholics who choose to explore the Catholic Faith.
In addition to ways in which the Catholic Faith is explicitly expressed, Catholic schools seek to embody values with which many non-Catholic persons can identify. The first and foremost of these is the worth and dignity of each person.
This stems from the conviction that every person has been created by God and redeemed by the Sufferings, Death and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are not valued on the basis of our giftedness or our so-called usefulness as our society understands this.
This God-given dignity serves as the basis of self-respect that Catholic schools strive to instill into each student who attends them. Growth in self-respect leads to the ability to reverence and to respect every other person for the same reasons for which we respect ourselves.
In spite of our differences from one another, all persons are striving to find our rightful place in this world. Catholic schools enable this to happen by challenging each student to pursue academic excellence as a way of responding to the abilities with which one has been endowed and to recognize and respond to opportunities to serve others.
Catholic schools seek to express a saying with which many in our country can identify, that it takes a village to raise a child. Each of us is that child who is capable of being formed to develop in a diversity of ways. Catholic schools also highlight that each person is a part of that village who can make a profound difference in the lives of persons with whom we associate and interact.
At their best, Catholic schools invite students to seek to find God’s rightful place for themselves. At the same time, students are challenged to realize that they have a significant role in enabling those with whom they interact to find their rightful place in this world. Whether people are Catholic or not, are not these values with which all persons can identify?
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Nelson Beaver – Pastor