July 2012 Print

A Daunting Mission

Fr. Gerard Beck, SSPX

“We have fallen upon times 

when a violent and well-nigh daily battle is being fought 

about matters of highest moment, 

a battle in which it is hard not to be sometimes deceived, 

not to go astray and, for many, not to lose heart....”
Leo XIII, Sapientiae Christianae

It was well over a century ago that Pope Leo XIII spoke these words, so stark in their description of the reality faced by Catholics the world over. True then, they are even truer now. For never have the enemies of Christ and of His Church shown themselves more bold than today, and never has the mass of men been more easily led by them to destruction.

It is indeed a sobering picture, even more so when we think of our little ones, as yet innocent and naïve, being obliged to face this reality. Yet this is the world in which God in His Loving Providence has placed them, the world in which they are to make their way, make a difference, save their souls.

Theirs is a daunting mission…, and equally so is that of the Catholic educator. For it is his affair to see that they are up to the task.

What Is Education?

Fr. Edward Leen, a Holy Ghost Father renowned for his spiritual writings, but equally qualified to write on the subject of education, described the process and mission of education as follows:

“Christian education is a cultural process by which the reasonable being ushered into this world is prepared, during the years of childhood and adolescence, to play his part worthily as a citizen of the city of men and as a citizen of the city of God. It is an all-embracing process concerned with the whole man, with his intellect, his will, his emotions, and his physical powers: it aims at securing, by a balanced cultivation and development of all these, that the person may not, in the arena of life, prove a traitor either to his manhood or his Christianity.”1

It is a noble vision, and one that looks to the essential. A true education is one that prepares a child for the great task of living as it becomes a Catholic man to live. Marked by our materialistic, comfort-driven world, we easily lose sight of this. Education is too often reduced to the very pragmatic “Will it help me in the long run get a better job?”

A person’s life is not defined by level of professional success, dollars earned, and social status achieved; it is defined by how a person lives, and what he becomes. Certainly no education can be called complete that does not equip a young person with the tools he needs to earn a living. But a job is not a life.

“The needs of the man must not be forgotten in providing for the needs of the breadwinner. The calling is only an element in the whole undertaking of living a life truly human. In the end the enterprise will have proved vain, if the professional task has been a success and the life task a failure.”2

A Man Formed in Mind

Man is a rational creature; he desires, by his very nature, to know truth. Wounded by original sin, however, man finds the acquisition of knowledge difficult, and he is prone to see things other than they are. His intellect, then, needs to be formed, and this is the first task of the educator.

“The distinctively human life is the life of reason, and, in consequence, the principle task in preparation for it is the right formation of the intellect, the instrument of reasoning. The chief function of the educator is the forming of the mind to truth, for truth is the health of the intelligence, as falsehood is its disease and corruption.”3

The truth we refer to here is not an interminable list of facts, to be crammed into the child’s mind as if it were a kind of mass storage device from which bits of information can be retrieved and spit back at will. Nor is it a “system” of knowing, a sort of “trick” or “formula” that allows him to compute the “right answer” in a given circumstance. Truth is, rather, a vision: a vision of the big picture, one that corresponds to the reality of things. It is a vision that sees what is higher and what is lower, sees how ideas and events fit together, sees beneath and beyond the superficial appearances. The strong intellect “is not content with what appears; it seeks what is,” says Father Leen.4 “The main thing which we ought to teach our youth is to see something and not merely to say something.”5

Thus the importance, in a school, of emphasizing quality of teaching over quantity of facts given, depth of understanding over breadth of information, reflection over regurgitation.

A Man Formed in Heart and Will

Seeing the reality of things is not enough, of course. Truth has consequences, and being a rational creature, man’s actions are meant to be guided by reason—not a given, for “a man may have light in the brain and darkness in the heart.”6 Thus the importance of training not only the intellect, but also the will.

By discipline, structure, and follow-through, the educator must work to instill discipline in the child. A man must be master of himself, able to resist, when duty calls, the siren song of pleasure and ease; able likewise to oblige himself to do the difficult. Without this inner strength, he will be a slave to passion: to fear, to desire, and, ultimately, to despair. The educator must thus resist the sentimental inclination to over-protect the child, and to shield him from the suffering of effort and consequences. He must, by delegating responsibility and by obliging perseverance in difficulty, help the child acquire the strength and confidence life will demand of him.

Real inner strength is not a question, however, of an “iron will.” A will can be strong in pursuit of the wrong things; a heart can be determined but selfish. True strength is the strength of virtue: love of the right things for the right reasons; noble love determining right choices, even if the cost be great. It is a strength that requires not only self-discipline, but also rightness of view.

“It has been truly said that it is in terms of the heart that a man is great. This means that grandeur of soul is marked by the nobility of the objects to which the affections of the soul are given. But warmth of heart and power of affection do not ennoble of themselves alone. They can do the very opposite. There is need of a strong and cultivated intelligence if the noble and the first-rate are to be sharply distinguished from the commonplace and the second-rate. Nobility of affection is dependent on loftiness of view. The will has to wait on the intelligence. If one is to live highly, one must see truly and grandly.”7

The soul that has been given this grandeur of vision and taught to love what is beautiful, ordered, and noble, is a soul that is disposed to virtue and goodness.

“A mind attuned to the true and the beautiful, and out of sympathy with the false and the ignoble, is a necessary instrument of right living. Vulgarity is the great enemy of elevation of mind and heart.”8

“Pleasure is the great bait that tempts men to be traitors to virtue. Train men to find their pleasures in what is ennobling, in what is at once true and beautiful, and the bait is robbed of its harmfulness.”9

Hence the importance of nourishing the imagination and the affections of a child with what is good, noble, and beautiful. This must be from the earliest age, for the young child is marked heavily by the first years of his life; “there is not an hour of it but is trembling with destiny.”10 Every effort must be made from the start to form in the child a Catholic appreciation for beauty and order, and tastes which are in accord with the Reality of the God he professes.

Thus the emphasis, in the Catholic school, on the arts: music, literature, poetry, drama... Thus too the insistence on art that is elevated in its form, and the refusal to stay simply on the level of art which may be termed “popular.”

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The Christian Man of Character

The tragedy of our world is that Catholics no longer know what it is to be Catholic. The great majority of Catholics today are not only ignorant of Catholic truth, but bereft of Catholic principle; they are Catholic in name, but they see, judge, and choose in a way, did they but know it, that is irreconcilable with their Faith. The line of demarcation between Catholic and non-Catholic has, in consequence, all but disappeared, and the world slides with frightening rapidity toward the abyss. “Without a vision, the nation will perish” (Pascal).

The mission of the Catholic school is to impart to the youth a philosophy of life consistent with the Faith:

“A man who has received a truly Christian education is one who has been trained to test the worth of all things, whether of conduct, achievement, projects, art, literature, and institutions, by values based on Christianity. In short he must have a Christian mind: he must have a Christian approach to all facts and problems.”11

We might go further: he must be Catholic in both worldview and in heart. He must see as God sees and love as God loves. He must be concerned, not only with his own life, or even with his own salvation, but also with the lives and salvation of others. He must care about something bigger than himself—about his family, the Church, Christendom—and he must be driven to give of himself for their good.

“[A school] should not conceive that its task is rightly done, unless it has adopted all the means available to provide its alumni with the full mental, moral, and spiritual equipment requisite to make them an effective force in the world. Alumni of Catholic schools ought to have the ambition not only to be good in themselves, but also to make others good, be these other persons or social institutions.”12

“Life is a struggle for the soul of the world, and God calls each of us to be part of that struggle.…The vocation of every Christian life is to change the world: to open the eyes of the world; to bring the world to Jesus Christ.”13

“Hence the true Christian, product of Christian education, is the supernatural man who thinks, judges and acts constantly and consistently in accordance with right reason illumined by the supernatural light of the example and teaching of Christ; in other words, to use the current term, the true and finished man of character.”14

Forming a Catholic Elite: A Noble Mission

The youth of today are future soldiers of Christ the King. Lose them, and we lose the future of Christendom. Win them to the Cause of Christ, and we gain the leaders of tomorrow our world so desperately needs, leaders who by their competence, integrity, and heart will have a real impact on the world.

It is with this in mind that we must approach the education we give them. Our efforts aim at forming an elite; young people taking to heart Our Lord’s exhortation that they be “the salt of the earth” (Mt. 5:13) and “the light of the world” (Mt. 5:14); young people “elevated, by an inspiration of greatness and nobility, to fight against the surrounding vulgarity that withers the soul.”15

Such being the goal, it is clear that mediocrity in any of its varied forms has no place in our schools, or, by extension, in our homes. Sloppiness, lethargy, the “just get by” mentality that is such a mark of the world today—all are destructive of both mind and will, all compromise the formation of Catholic men and women of true character.

“The way to love anything,” Chesterton says, “is realize that it might be lost.” Loving our children, let us invest everything we have in their formation.

Fr. Gerard Beck is Rector of St. Mary’s Academy and College.


1 Edward Leen, C.S.Sp., What is Education? (Sheed and Ward, 1944), p. 47.

2 Ibid., p. 57.

3 Ibid., p. 35.

4 Ibid., p. 58.

5 Ibid., p. 26.

6 George MacDonald, The Gifts of the Christ Child (London, 1882).

7 Edward Leen, C.S.Sp., The Voice of a Priest (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1946).

8 Leen, What is Education? p. 243.

9 Ibid., p. 253.

10 Ruskin: Modern Painters, Vol. IV, Appendix.

11 Leen, What is Education? p. 7.

12 Ibid., p. 79.

13 Bishop Charles Chaput, O.F.M., Homily at the Inaugural Mass of Wyo­ming Catholic College, September 10, 2007 (on-line at www.firsthings.com).

14 Pius XI, Divini Illius Magistri.

15 Fr. Yves le Roux, Rector, St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary, Letter to Friends and Benefactors (January 2011).