Fr. Jonathan Loop, principal of Immaculate Conception Academy, continues his newsletter series on the importance of Catholic education, focusing on the heart and core of education: the teaching of the truths of our Catholic Faith.
What is the most important subject at a Catholic school? This almost seems like a trick question, inasmuch as it appears obvious that the foundational topic is always going to be religion. However, while this is certainly true, it is necessary to grasp a bit more clearly precisely what is meant by “religion.”
It would be easy to fall into the misunderstanding that the essence of religion taught at Immaculate Conception Academy could be boiled down to having a good grasp of catechism answers and a thorough command of the laws of God. The difficulty with this view is that it tends to reduce the Faith on the one hand to a series of formulaic platitudes which we store in our memory – to be referenced as often as we would a dictionary – and the moral life on the other to a series of sins to avoid. In other words, our Catholic identity becomes a lifeless accessory to our “real” life, wholly alien to our true desires and preoccupations.
What Then Is Religion?
We may more properly refer to it as “theology,” that is, the study of God. In the lower years of the school, it is true that there is a greater emphasis given to the memorization of catechism lessons. But why? Surely not so they can merely parrot truths of the Faith. Rather, their early formation is meant to ensure that the child has a basic familiarity with terms they will explore more in depth in middle school and high school. It is not possible to have any meaningful discussion of the Holy Trinity if one cannot remember if God has three natures and one person or three persons consubtantially united in one nature.
As he enters high school, he will be asked to begin to reflect on the basic truths of the Catechism and to understand – as much as his powers permit – the reasons behind the commandments. In this way, he can begin to penetrate the mystery of who God is; i.e., what is God’s nature, what does He do, what does He think about, what does He think of us, etc. He is invited to begin to know God, not as a Catechism answer, but as a friend. In this way the young man experiences a foretaste of heaven, since Our Lord reveals that "eternal life is to know the one true God."
In his high school classes, the young man is also instructed more thoroughly in the mysteries of the liturgy – the public prayer of the Church. Why? We could simply reply: "Lex orandi, lex credendi." The law of prayer forms the rule of Faith. In other words, the liturgy sheds more light on the Holy Trinity and Our Lord as well as this strengthens man's capacity to worship the Father intelligently in union with the Son.
Finally, the study of theology also includes the study of creation inasmuch as the entire universe is made by God and in some way reflects His excellence. By making the connection between God and His creatures, this permits the young man the opportunity not only to see the “big picture” of the world (i.e., what is its purpose, as Calvin asks), but also the proper place of each thing that he comes into contact with during the course of his life. By the same token, he can come to realize that each of these creatures is, in a way, a sign by which God reveals Himself to man, as well as a token of His divine love for us.
This means that theology is truly the inspiration and goal of every other subject that our young men are asked to grapple with at Immaculate Conception Academy. For every other subject in one way or another is designed to help the young men better understand God’s creatures, which, in turn, allows him to see the author of those creatures more thoroughly and clearly.
In the end, we can make our own the thought of St. Louis de Montfort, who wrote that "It we wish to have the roots of immortality deeply embedded in our hearts, we must have in our mind knowledge of Eternal Wisdom. To know Jesus Christ the incarnate Wisdom, is to know all we need. To presume to know everything and not to know Him is to know nothing at all." Our work at ICA is nothing other than to do our best to impart this knowledge of Eternal Wisdom in the study of our holy religion.
P.S. - Please permit me to recommend to you this excellent interview with Fr. Patrick Troadec, the former rector of the Society's seminary in Flavigny. He discusses seminary life and what encourages the formation of true vocations in the souls of our young men.