Saturday, July 16, 2011

Our Lady of Good Help and the New Education

"You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more..."

Our Lady of Good Help, 1859


The New Education? You may have heard of the New Evangelization which was inspired by Pope John Paul II but not the New Education. However, there can’t be a New Evangelization without a New Education. Both evangelization and education are two halves that make up one whole; that is, two essential components of one mission. You may not have heard that the Blessed Virgin, in the first approved apparition in the United States of America, gave us a general blue print of the New Education. Although not unknown to our spiritual ancestors, it has become unknown to us precisely because it has not been given emphasis in recent years.

Catholic Education: From 1859 to the present

In 1859, when Our Lady of Good Help- otherwise known as the Mother of God -appeared to a young girl by the name of Adele Brise in Champion, Wisconsin, she instructed her on how to win souls to Christ through conversion and education. The directive given by Our Lady of Good Help on how to carry this out had been relied upon by the Catholic Church for centuries; but especially during the first millennium.

However, a little over a century following her appearance to Adele- in the mid to the latter part the twentieth century -much of Catholic education began to rely heavily on conventional practices such as lectures and using text books. Such instruments of education are no doubt necessary but woefully insufficient if we consider the purpose of Christian education. And the ultimate purpose of Christian education is not only to prepare the youth for their careers and duties as citizens; it is, more importantly, to prepare them to see God face to face in heaven. As Bishop Fulton Sheen said, if the soul is not saved, nothing is saved! We are just beginning to see what happens in our culture when conversion and repentance are not the foundation of education.

The Cost: Conversion and Holiness

You heard the saying: “What is old is new!” Our Lady’s message and directive to Adele is new precisely because it is so old and forgotten. It bears striking similarity to the apparitions at Lourdes and Fatima. Like St. Bernadette and the three children at Fatima, Adele (later known as Sister Adele) was unlearned and simple. Nevertheless, in her simplicity she possessed the willingness to obey the Blessed Virgin Mary at any cost. And let there be no doubt, there is a cost when we ransom souls from the world and the Evil One. Our Lady of Good Help tells Adele what that price is. It is not just preparing lesson plans for children; nor is it just giving lectures and having the students read text books; it is much more than that! What the Blessed Virgin said must be done is simple and achievable for everyone…even for those who do not have a theology degree.

A Queen Who Prays for Conversions: Foundation of Christian Education

The Lady from heaven said to Adele, “I am the Queen of Heaven, who prays for the conversion of sinners, and I wish you to do the same.” Conversion is a series of beginnings; a process that involves repeated efforts of getting back up from the ground, dusting ourselves off and continuing our journey to heaven. And if this journey of seeking God’s will and turning away from sin is not the very foundation and essence of Catholic education, then the Church’s mission will be largely ineffective.

Book Knowledge and the Doing

The problem of Catholic education, as I see it, in the latter part of the twentieth century and in the twenty-first century is that it puts the primary emphasis on the knowing; knowledge of the Creed, the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Sacraments and other articles of Faith. Nevertheless, what is equally or even more important than book knowledge is the doing; that is, doing God's will in daily life. In short, the doing is faith and love in action.

Our Lord, whenever making a reference to the salvation, said that his criteria would be based on how much one loved God and how much one loved his neighbor. Indeed, our reward in heaven is based on an active life of faith and love. The criteria of our salvation at the hour of our death, therefore, is not so much a test of one’s knowledge of the Catholic Faith as it is a test of how much a person’s faith in Christ in put into action.

Here, I am referring to emphasis and priority. Learning the Catholic Faith is absolutely essential but what is more important than this is learning how to use it. A useful analogy might be driving a car. No doubt, classroom instruction on how to drive a car is a necessary tool in learning how to drive any vehicle. However, the actual skill in driving comes when a person gets behind the steering wheel and begins driving the car. A person can never be a good driver until he or she actually drives the car. In the Christian life as with driving, experience is an important and indispensable source of knowledge. And the best kind of Christian experience is holiness.

But You Must Do More: Spiritual Sacrifices

Back to Our Lady of Good Help. She had more to say to Adele: “You received Holy Communion this morning, and that is well. But you must do more. Make a general confession, and offer Communion for the conversion of sinners. If they do not convert and do penance, my Son will be obliged to punish them.” It wasn’t enough that young Adele participated in the Sacraments herself. No. She was called upon to do more- to make spiritual sacrifices for sinners. Gathering them so as to give them instructions was the next step.

Therefore, before teaching the Faith to the people of North East Wisconsin, praying for the conversion of sinners and making reparation for them had to be an established practice. Why? Because holiness is not only the best means by which we get to know God, holiness is instrumental in teaching others about God as well. The more we pray, practice spiritual sacrifices (otherwise known as penance) and engage in spiritual reading, the closer we draw to Jesus Christ. And the more we draw closer to Christ, the more we can take with us for the journey. With holiness, the Holy Spirit enjoys considerably more freedom to do his work; namely, to instruct us in the interiority of our souls about the mysteries of the Christian Faith.

Our Lady of Good Help and the Early Christians

The early Christians understood this well. If we turn the pages back to the early the third century (or 200’s), we will find that hearing lectures and reading books was an instrument of learning but holiness was considered far more important. Clement of Alexandria, a Father of the Church and a teacher at one of the first Christian schools located in Alexandria, Egypt, said the following: “We do not assert that knowledge consists in merely in concepts, but it is a divine science and a light that has arisen in the soul through obedience to God; it reveals everything to humanity, teaching human beings to know themselves and God.”

The Little Way

When we come to the nineteenth century, we find an unexpected master of this “divine science.” Her name was St. Therese of Lisieux. She was recently declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II but yet, at the same time, she was a young cloistered nun who was not known for her theological expertise. Her “Little Way” of loving and serving God in the Carmelite convent was a source of profound insights into Scripture and Christian living. Her favorite book was not a scholarly theological book but a simple book on how to live out the life of Christ. The book is entitled, The Imitation of Christ. This classic is not just about the life of Jesus as it is illustrated in the Gospels. Thomas a Kempis, the author, pays particular attention on how the Christian is to live out the life of Christ from day to day. As he said, it is better to personally know the Holy Trinity than to know how to define it. With that said, to do both is the ideal.

What We Can't Assume Anymore

Today, the best Catholic colleges, seminaries and high schools make it the highest of priorities to offer courses such as Catholicism 101, Christology, Eschatology, Biblical and Theological Foundations. This is good. After all, Our Lady of Good help told Adele to teach people their catechism, how to sign themselves and how to approach the Sacraments. But many of these curriculums, rich in theological and catechetical content, assume that the student knows the spiritual exercises that are necessary for spiritual progress. The truth is that many do not.

Exercises such as mediation, adoration, spiritual reading, fasting, doing penances and spiritual acts of reparation for sinners are left to the students to work out on their own. Also, knowing how to live out the Christian virtues as the Saints lived them is a non-essential in most Catholic schools.

Take for instance, St. Francis of Assisi. He said that being silent when you are criticized is worth more to God than ten days of fasting. This kind of humility goes a long way in building-up relationships. But how many people know about the value of humility in the circumstance just given?

We forget that the life of Christ is not only illustrated in the Gospels but that it continues throughout the ages in the lives and writings of the Saints. What can’t be gleaned or gathered from Scripture, can be in the lives of holy men and women who found themselves in similar circumstances that we find ourselves in. As such, the proposal that every Catholic curriculum or faith formation program ought to have, for its foundation, the study of the Saints and learning how to be holy is a reasonable one that the early Christians took for granted. Such a foundation ought not be expressed in the form of abstract theological truths but as they are illustrated in the biography and writings of the Saints.

And this is where I would like to conclude: Implicit in the message of Our Lady of Good Help is that education and evangelization is two-fold: First, it must begin with conversion and all of those spiritual practices that bring it about. Second, with conversion or holiness firmly laid as the foundation, catechetical or theological learning can prosper all the more. With this, the New Evangelization and Education can have results similar to those of early Christianity. The Church will once again possess, as she once did in her early years, well formed and educated Catholics who will be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.