Faithful learning

When older sister and I were finishing up middle school, my parents decided that the local public high school (in a very liberal town) nearby would be better for our faith than the nominally Catholic high school nearby. Better to experience a frontal assault on our faith than to absorb a watered-down version that would only inoculate us against the real thing.

And then when we began looking at colleges, a well-known Catholic professor told us that the most Catholic college in Michigan was a small, non-Catholic college called Hillsdale. Better to obtain a serious liberal arts education at a nondenominational (but faith-friendly) institution than to obtain an inferior education at a semi-Catholic one.

Here’s my conclusion from both schools: Education is defined more by the student than by the teacher, because what you bring into the classroom affects what you get out of it. If you bring faith into your secular studies, each realm can light up the other. History, literature, art, politics, philosophy — your faith gives you a new perspective on all these, and all these give you a new perspective on your faith.

Science, too, belongs in that list. To quote Marilynne Robinson: “We live in a time when many religious people feel fiercely threatened by science. O ye of little faith. Let them subscribe to Scientific American for a year and then tell me if their sense of the grandeur of God is not greatly enlarged by what they have learned from it.”

All knowledge — whether obtained through reason, empirical observation, historical research, or artistic inspiration — is inter-connected within one Truth. All roads of learning lead to God. A Catholic education is catholic in the sense of “universal”: it comprehends and applies to all disciplines.

Of course, learning and passing on the Catholic faith is more difficult than merely learning and teaching (say) calculus. Faith formation consists not only of ideas (doctrine) but also of action (practicing the virtues), contemplation (prayer), and the sacraments. It demands constant practice and re-dedication.

And it’s even harder to pass on, because it’s almost always tarnished by our attempts to share it. Our sins undermine our message. Even with faith, “we see through a glass darkly.” We cannot explain mysteries to our own satisfaction, much less to the satisfaction of nonbelievers. So how can we claim that the Catholic explanation of reality is the true one?

I answer with Walker Percy: No other explanation suffices.

This life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then to be asked what you make of it and have to answer “Scientific humanism.” That won’t do. A poor show. Life is a mystery, love is a delight. Therefore I take it as axiomatic that one should settle for nothing less than the infinite mystery and the infinite delight, i.e., God. In fact I demand it. I refuse to settle for anything less. I don’t see why anyone should settle for less than Jacob, who actually grabbed aholt of God and would not let go until God identified himself and blessed him.

 

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