In this weeks video for Going Deeper, our popular new online Catholic staff formation program, I spent some time looking at the very foundation of Catholic education.
To do this, we explored the engineering marvel that is the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
The foundation of the Burj Khalifa is over 50 feet deep and consists of 192 columns, each 1.5 metres in diameter, with 55,000 tonnes of reinforcing steel and 22 million hours of combined labour.
The result is a structure that is almost one kilometre high.
The basic principle is that the more important the structure, the greater the need for an adequate foundation.
Bad foundations equal all sorts of problems down the road.
In Going Deeper this week we used the video to take that metaphor and apply it to Catholic education.
Beyond the mission statement
What, regardless of whatever might be on the mission statement at reception, is the ultimate foundation of Catholic education?
Try and really come to terms with that simple yet incredibly important question. I really mean it. Try sitting in silence in the chapel and ask yourself what you are really doing in Catholic education at all. What’s it all about?
Think of the millions of hours of the lives of students and staff around the world spent inside Catholic schools in a single week! What is the deepest foundation upon which this massive global endeavour is built?
Thankfully it’s a very simple answer.
The problem with its simplicity is that it is incredibly easy to overlook it or to agree in principle but to rob it of its seismic and very real power.
According to the Church documents on which we base every weekly episode of Going Deeper, the single foundation of all Catholic education is Christ.
Christ is the bedrock foundation of all we undertake in a Catholic school.
The direct quote from the Church documents is:
“Christ is the foundation of the whole educational enterprise in a Catholic school.” (The Catholic School Paragraph 34)
The Obvious Question
So it raises the obvious question that tends to make some people very uncomfortable; what happens when the critical mass of staff in a Catholic school have not been supported to deepen in their Catholic faith?
How can they give what they do not possess?
What will the school look like and feel like over time as the core foundation becomes weaker and weaker?
As you dig deeper into the documents it becomes obvious that it truly is a team effort. It’s not enough to have one or two deeply evangelised staff.
Another quote states: “The fact that in their own individual way all members of the school community shares this Christian vision makes the school Catholic” (Para 34)
Read that again slowly. The Church understands that there will be differences in the level of formation but what matters is, to borrow a term from Twitter, that enough of the staff are trending in the direction of deepening in their faith in, and knowledge of, the person of Jesus Christ.
These quotes, in summary, make it clear that Christ is the foundation of all we are about in a Catholic school and that a school’s Catholic identity will have everything to do with the degree to which the bulk of staff, in their own individual manner, are deepening in that faith.
The task is to create as many opportunities as possible for each staff member to deepen in their relationship with Christ.
Primarily, through getting back to a decent liturgy and celebration of the Eucharist in the school community. One of the main foci of Pope Benedict was that we get liturgy right. Many schools have been trying to make their liturgies look like a Justin Bieber concert and the evidence is clear. It is an epic fail!
As well as liturgy, we need to stop treating staff like simpletons and offer them access to deeper theology. What’s the point in having a Church full of saints and mystics like Catherine of Siena, John of the Cross and Therese of Lisieux if no one gets to hear about them?
We also need to offer more times of prayer, silence and reflection.
The important and necessary focus on social justice and meeting the needs of the poor (physically, emotionally and financially and spiritually) can only take place when we have been filled interiorly from a deep sacramental and prayerful relationship with Christ. Contemplation leads to action in the world. We cannot give what we have not received.
In Going Deeper, we didn’t try to please everyone. I believe that what we need is a deep vibrant and authentic Catholic faith to energise the wonderful mission of Catholic education.
If you feel the same way then come and join us.