What I needed, and what many of us desired, were intelligent and winsome ambassadors for Christ who knew the intellectual basis for the Catholic faith, respected and understood the solemnity and theological truths behind the liturgy, and could explain the renewal movements in light of these.
Unfortunately, he didn’t find this in his Catholic education, and so he went looking elsewhere. Like Francis, I also was puzzled when I discovered later in life the depth of the intellectual basis of the faith and the great theology woven into the liturgy. Why didn’t our Catholic religion classes open this up to us?
Religion classes in Catholic schools form the most important part of the course of studies, because through them—perhaps more than in any other portion of their lives—students form their impression of the weight and significance of the Catholic Church: “This is eternal life, to know thee, the one true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
Our age prides itself on its knowledge. Every day we hear of new discoveries that scientists have made about the universe, the natural world, the human body, even the mind. People of faith can easily be led to feel inadequate in the face of all this. Faith teaches us that God loves us, but can it answer the questions and challenges that modern life forces upon us?
The Catholic Church has long considered sacred theology to be the “Queen of the Sciences.” Of course, God cannot be an object of observation, hypothesis and experiment. But we can know much about Him, both through thinking about His creation, and through carefully, prayerfully, wisely sifting through what He has revealed to us about Himself. Theology presents this knowledge in an ordered format, teaching not only what we believe, but why we believe it, why it makes sense, and why it is beautiful and holy and satisfying.
Catholic theology has been developed by the most holy, the most intelligent, the most astute men and women who have ever lived: St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nanzianzen, St. Bernard of Clairveaux, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Teresa of Avila—just a few of the great names that have built an impressive, deep, subtle understanding of our faith.
Young Catholics need to see this. They need to gain confidence that their faith, their Church, has a saving doctrine to offer to our times. They need to see the deep respect for the natural world built into Catholic moral teaching, the attention to the plight of the underprivileged and the respect for private property in the Church’s social teaching. They need to see her penetrating, reverential reading of Scripture, her devotion to Jesus Christ found in the doctrine of the sacraments, the reinforcing balance of personal and communal prayer in her spiritual teachings. They need to see that the Church believes that the Holy Trinity is a mystery, not because it can’t be known, but because there is so much to know that we will never be able to exhaust it even in eternity.
Religion teachers, especially at the high school level, want to ensure that theology, forming the heart through the mind, has pride of place in the curriculum. When tolerance training, pop psychology and even contemporary issues replace theology, the Francis Beckwith’s of the world turn their minds elsewhere for satisfaction. We need to offer our students the glories and challenges of the rich history and abiding truths of our Faith so that they can chart the confused waters of modern life.