Philosophy of Life
“The world passeth away,
and the concupiscence thereof,
but he that doth the will of God
I Jn. 2:17
We are all pressed from every direction by the strange dichotomy, so well summarized by Our Divine Savior in His priestly prayer, namely that we must be in the world, yet we cannot be of the world, as Christ was not of the world (Jn. 17:16); that we are surrounded by evil, yet we must keep ourselves free from evil; that we are sinners, yet we must sanctify ourselves in the likeness of our Divine Savior. We are very much aware that the spirit of the world, worldliness as we call it, corrupts, undermines, destroys the Catholic and supernatural life of grace, and that we cannot be the Catholics we desire to be if we seek the world’s pleasures, possessions, comforts, ambitions. The worldly Catholic will sooner or later fall into mortal sin, and betray his Lord and his God. The worldly Catholic will not be faithful to Tradition, for he does not live by the supernatural.
Worldliness versus Education
However, there is a worldliness that is much more dangerous, lethal, poisonous and destructive than the moral one with which we are all too familiar; an influence of the world much more profound than rock music, immodesty, dating, occasions of sin, and parties; an influence that our education must face head on, or fail entirely, and it is the dumbing down of the intellect, the soullessness of a mind that has nothing to long for, the evacuation of the search for truth, for beauty, for goodness, for all those perfections that reflect God, and that are as everlasting and unchanging as God Himself. This is the materialism and secularism of the modern world, which destroys that which is both the most sacred and also the most human in our lives. This worldliness is the preoccupation with the vulgar, empty. It is the lack of appreciation for that which is lofty and noble, for the idealism that is most elevated. It reduces man to the lowest common denominator of his purely physical existence, in a meaningless and futureless comfort zone, which regards the self-sacrifice and self-denial required for any great achievement—academic, artistic, musical, spiritual—as not only unnecessary, but a folly. Such persons can have the Faith, but the Faith, as Fr. Edward Leen points out, is for them “not an inspiration to living life nobly and excellently, but a commercial insurance against possible risks in the world beyond the grave. The Faith is literally not a life, but a life insurance.”1
It is precisely this worldliness that any true education must cut out at its very roots. It can only be done in one way, and this by a love of the truth, as the foundation of all human and supernatural integrity. Did Our Lord not indicate this when He prayed to His Father in heaven: “Sanctify them in truth....For them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (Jn. 17:17, 19).
It is precisely this worldliness that has most damaged the post-conciliar church, penetrated as it is by ambiguities and half-truths, by the modernist and relativist notion that each man can have his own truth and that they can all be right, that has embraced secularism and has thus made its own the pharisaical hypocrisy that separates religion and life. This is the error of Communism that Russia has successfully spread throughout the world, namely that there can be no higher goal than the evolving temporal good of the collectivity, making slaves of every citizen for the sake of material gain.
True education worth its name is a life-and-death struggle against this worldliness; a worldliness that manifests itself by denying the highest ideal—the truth; a worldliness that can be summed up as simply being practical, being realistic, showing kindness, getting along with people, showing tolerance, being normal, having fun, living my own life, following the lesser evil, and such maxims. In point of fact, this is a false prudence that avoids principles and is typically characteristic of Catholic liberalism; the hypocrisy of those who desire to reconcile the principles of the world with those of Christ. It is the essential humanism of Gaudium et Spes, the Vatican II document which attempts to reconcile the Church and the principles of the French Revolution—liberty, equality, fraternity.
A Philosophy of Life
If we are to stand firm against such false prudence, it will only be by having a philosophy of life, a way of thinking about our lives and how to order them, or rather a wisdom and theology, that directs all that we do. This is what Father Leen has to say about such a philosophy: “The baneful heresy that so captivates the modern mind can be checked and overcome only by social bodies in which, through an integrally Christian education, spiritual and supernatural values are set in their rightful position; that is, when they are made supreme over all others.”2 Here lies the true goal of a Catholic school: to form in children a character that has ideals and principles, that has the zeal for the truth, the love of knowledge, the desire for perfection, but most especially the ideal of living a life in harmony with truth, with religion, with the Creator, in dependence on the Redeemer, integral in its fidelity to Christ the King; that is a philosophy of life that is eminently practical precisely because it is not motivated by being practical, but because it is based upon principles, because it centers all things on God and none on self; a philosophy of life that because it is profoundly anti-liberal, is in fundamental concord with reality, both natural and supernatural.
In precisely this philosophy of life lies the real difference between Catholic education and every other kind of education. Any education can have a belief in God. Any education, like any false religion, can ask God to do something for us. But Catholic education is exactly the contrary. Through it, we can do something for God. It creates a social order within the school that directs the students’ efforts, and thus establishes an order for God in their souls. It does not just believe in a far-away God, but in a Trinity that dwells in our souls so that It might transform them into Its own likeness. It lives the reality of the Incarnate God made flesh that we might participate in His divine Life. Its opposition to the world is consequently not at all a negation of earthly life and interests, temporal efforts and struggles. To the contrary, it gives sense and purpose to all of them. It transfigures all that is human, purifying from the disorders of passion and self-love, ignorance and sloth, thus enabling it to share in the divine, that in our very human lives we “may be made partakers of the divine nature” (II Pet. 1:4).
Such an education is far more than simply assisting at Mass, receiving the sacraments, learning catechism, knowing the commandments, as necessary as all these are. It is the integration of these supernatural elements into the formation of a character, penetrated by two great ideals without which we cannot be sanctified in the truth. The first ideal is the love of wisdom, the ordering of all knowledge, natural and supernatural, to the highest cause, God. This ideal is radically opposed to the falseness of the liberal mind that cannot comprehend absolutes, that has no yearning for the Truth, and that has no other principle than being practical. To quote Father Roussel: “An upright mind is the one who humbly conforms to theoretical truth and to practical truth; one who believes what the Church believes, loves what She loves...one who clearly sees by reason and the light of faith, the last end to which God directs all men...one who judges everything according to the Eternal and natural law, and derived positive law.”3 It is the unambiguous simplicity taught by Our Lord when He declared: “Let your speech be yea, yea: no, no: and that which is over and above these is of evil, that you fall not under judgment” (Mt. 5:37, Jac. 5:12). If this is necessary in the natural order for any student of science or philosophy, how much more in the supernatural order for any student of theology or history!
The second ideal is the purity of intention of one whose only desire is to please God, to use his God-given abilities and graces not for himself but for the Almighty. Without this purity of intention, we are false to ourselves as God’s redeemed children. Our learning is self-serving. We fall into the failure of evil just as much as if we did not care about the truth. However, if our learning is with a pure intention, to quote Father Leen again, we will have “the positive ambition for uprightness. These dispositions inspire the will to observe justice in all one’s relations to life, to think what is right, and to chose what is good. They connote, or ought to connote, the desire on the part of the man to be a truly manly man, and the desire on the part of a woman to conform to the ideal of true womanhood.”4 The educated man’s philosophy of life is truly manly if it has the wisdom and purity of intention to take responsibility for himself, his family and society. The educated woman’s philosophy and character are truly womanly if she has the wisdom and single-mindedness to cooperate with grace and to engender God’s life and truth in souls by the meek and humble firmness of her love of truth.
Let all those involved in the work of education, teachers, parents, and students, examine themselves on their philosophy of life, to see if they all strive for those ideals infused into our souls with sanctifying grace; the love of the Faith, that it might constantly, repeatedly, insistently, consistently vanquish the tenets of the world; the longing for the supernatural uprightness that makes our most human activities and efforts so profoundly divine in their motive, effects, merit and reward.
1 What is True Education? p. 195.
2 Ibid., p. 196.
3 Liberalism & Catholicism, p. 74.
4 Ibid., p. 202.