We’re coming down to the “home stretch” with our 8th Grade students in getting ready to finish their schooling in our parish school. They’re excited about “moving on” and entering into the world of high school. They will soon miss these formative years, as they prepare to step into a new world of the “unknown.” There will be tears, no doubt, as the security blanket that has enveloped them these eight-plus years is taken from them. But the next four years will seem to go twice as fast for them as they prepare for college – another launching pad for them. Hopefully, they will not lose sight of their religious preparation into life, because they need to cling to it when they enter the “ivy halls” of college in four short years. Their next four years of academia are important – but no more than those to follow, especially in this day and age when colleges have become so different and so diverse than when most of us attended. In fact, we’ve witnessed a lot of disturbing news lately about the strange and even chaotic scenes now occurring on many college campuses.
College education today often fails to prepare students for the difficult moral issues of the day and doesn’t teach them how to integrate their morality into their lives. Their formal education had not provided a framework for consciously asking much less answering the fundamental questions that pervade human life: “Who am I? Where have I come from and where am I going? How am I going to get there? Why is there evil? What is there after this life?” These are precisely the questions to which the typical American university “as university” cannot offer an answer, so the questions go unasked. Sad to say, most American universities, including many “Catholic” ones, operate from this perspective of “practical atheism,” and each academic discipline is viewed as completely separate and autonomous.
As proof positive of this trend to sidestep the understanding of what should be the real composition of any university – especially Catholic universities – this spring’s commencement honorees at nine “Catholic” colleges include a dissenting priest, pro-abortion politicians and advocates for same-sex marriage, according to an annual review of commencement speakers and honorary degree recipients at more than 200 Catholic colleges in the United States. By holding up those who publicly oppose Catholic teaching as role models for students, administrators at these Catholic colleges violate the mission of Catholic education.
In 2004, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) released a document requiring Catholic institutions to withhold honors and platforms from public opponents of Church teaching. “Catholics in Political Life” stipulates: “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms that would suggest support for their actions.”
It’s sad to note that these colleges are going in the opposite direction of Catholic education generally, even though Catholic identity otherwise continues to improve nationwide. Yet, these colleges seem intent on perpetuating the public scandals that we have seen on Catholic campuses for many years. It’s an affront to faithful Catholics, if not an outright scandal, when a Catholic college honors politicians or other vocal supporters of laws or principles that go against Catholic moral teaching.
In reality, the contemporary American university, precisely because it lacks a thick understanding of what it means to be human, lacks the resources necessary to equip its students with the tools for critically analyzing the deep moral questions of the day or a framework for living an integrated life.
Fortunately, there are a few universities in our own state of Florida that permit the operation on their campuses of Catholic organizations and facilities that strengthen the Catholic identity of their students and that allow extra-curricular activities to enhance their educational growth by promoting many programs to serve these students in true university fashion. Among the most noteworthy are the University of Florida and Florida State University. In some ways, I feel these kinds of centers afford the needed opportunities that will allow our Catholic students to further their growth in real knowledge than many so-called “Catholic” institutions of higher learning. Would that the other colleges could take a cue from these schools and begin to offer more inclusive programs that both promote intellectual development and enable the students to have the opportunities that will prepare them for life.