Today’s Guest Blog about the Lay Catholics in Schools podcast on Catholic School Matters was written by Sr. Mary Fitzgerald, SSND of Notre Dame University (Maryland).  If you’d like to submit a guest blog please contact catholicschoolmatters@gmail.com

How heartening it is to see importance given to the critical witness of lay Catholics in schools today!  Two recent publications have provided me with a deeper conviction that those who minister in schools, especially our Catholic schools, need to be life-long learners.  Life-long learners can be understood to deal with intellectual development but we are speaking here of educators and so of necessity, we need to be conscious of holistic development: intellectual, physical, psychological, social, moral, and spiritual (inclusive of faith development).

Studies done by the Pew Research Center and the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate indicate significant changes in the understanding of what it means to be Catholic in our Church today.  Regretfully, many Catholics consider their formation in faith and spirituality completed with the sacrament of Confirmation.  The majority of these people would agree that they were not fully formed physically, psychologically, intellectually, and socially at their Confirmation age; yet, they do not see the need for on-going formation in faith and spirituality.

Anthony Gittins in The Way of Discipleship, points out that the Holy Trinity has a mission of infiltrating the universe in creation, redemption, and sanctification.  This is the Missio Dei.  In baptism, the Trinity commissions the baptized to participate in this mission.  So, Gittins concludes that it is not so much a question of the Church having a mission as it is that the Missio Dei has a Church.  Our sacramental baptism makes us all, ordained and lay, bearers of the Missio Dei to the world.  The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity as well as the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church point out that the laity has the privilege of being “on the front lines” so to speak in bearing the Missio Dei.

Chris Lowney in Everyone Leads: How to Revitalize the Catholic Church challenges us to get out of our board rooms and go to the front lines of life.  Pope Francis referred to our Church as a field hospital.  Those of us who are members of the laity are on the front lines of life.  It is our privilege to bear the Missio Dei to the people of God through our Catholic schools.

Our Catholic Church is a community of dialectic – both/and – rather than dichotomy – either/or.  We believe in a God who is transcendent and imminent; a Jesus who is God and man; in a community which is both egalitarian and hierarchical; in a baptized membership whose baptismal commission calls them to personal and communal responsibility for the mission and also to a share in the episcopal roles of teaching and governing in our schools.   Of course, we also recognize ourselves as a Church which is simultaneously holy and sinful.

In paragraph 62 of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education’s Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith,  this statement is made: “religious formation must be broadened and be kept up to date, on the same level as, and in harmony with, human formation as a whole.”  There are still great differences in the quality and availability of such formation programs in areas across the nation.  We are 35 years beyond the publication of Lay Catholics in Schools.  I would posit that we need to work with intentional determination on the creation of templates for formation of Catholic school teachers, and especially leaders.  These templates could be adapted to the differing cultural needs of dioceses across the nation.  The document further refers to the lay vocation.  Rather than grieve the loss of religious vocations, we might be grateful for the Holy Spirit’s work among us in the new lay vocations.

Those of us who are consecrated religious had the advantage of novitiates in which we received spiritual and faith formation and we have had this formation as an on-going opportunity.  The members of the laity who are not members of religious communities or confraternities deserve similar opportunities for faith and spiritual development in an on-going fashion.  Henry Kissinger spoke at the United Nations in 1982 about world hunger.  He stated that we had the ability to end world hunger by the end of the decade if we had the will to do so.  Obviously, world hunger is still a problem and is getting worse, not better.  We have the ability to create and implement great programs in formation for faith and spirituality for our Catholic school teachers and leaders.  Do we have the will?  I am in!

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