THE CATHOLIC SCHOOL AND THE DIOCESE

 

(Talk delivered by Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan at the CEAP Superintendents’ Convention in Cebu City on September 20, 2010.)

 

You have asked me to talk to you on “The Relationship between the Catholic School and the Diocese,” This request is, to me, very tricky. I feel like I am walking through a minefield, one step and – boom!—something blows up.

The subject seems innocuous enough. What could be difficult about how Catholic school and the diocese relate to each other? Surely there is a protocol or an established procedure for this? Yes, this is true. But how do you account for a situation where the Sister Directress of a Catholic School in Region One calls on priests in Region Three to celebrate Masses, another bishop from Region Two to administer confirmation and another priest from NCR to give First Holy Communion and conduct retreats for students and staff, when the school is right beside the parish church and a few meters away from the Bishop’s House?  

Or, what kind of a relationship is there in a diocese where the bishop would not step foot in one Catholic school but regularly visits and dines with the religious of another? Or vice versa, with the religious or officials of a Catholic school snubbing all activities initiated by the diocese and dealing with a bishop through a ten foot pole?

These may seem like extreme or isolated instances, but I am sure that some of you have encountered these in some form in your own experiences. There can be a huge deep ravine between what is and what can or what should be.

What Are You ?  

A relationship between the diocese and the Catholic school–whether owned and administered by the diocesan clergy or by religious men or women, or owned by religious congregations or private enterprises with religious affiliations—is inevitable, and oftentimes, necessary, if a school were to be true to its name and mission.  This is because the diocese is a particular Church and all the signs of the true Church are found there—one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic. It is the universal church in miniature, even as it belongs to the universal Church.

The Catholic school is part, and should always be a part of, and not apart from, the diocese.

The Catholic schools in the diocese have been established to accomplish a mission—evangelization by all, for all, in all. This goal is geared towards the integral development of persons—intellectually, psychologically and spiritually. Catholic schools are called to take the high road and must bear these distinctive marks:

∑ They must teach the Creed and together with it Catholic morality; Christian doctrine with Christian faith formation.

∑ The Catholic schools must provide a Catholic education that makes a person another Christ and enables him to imbibe a holiness that is in imitation of Christ.

∑ While some Catholic schools have been branded as “exclusive” schools, their mission to evangelize must be inclusive—it is for all, not even just to those who come to them but also to those they have to reach out to, beyond their walls.

∑ The Catholic schools follow the teaching of the Apostles and embrace the Apostolic faith with an apostolic heart and spirit, thinking with the Church.

The Catholic school “brand” carries all these “selling points”; they are the qualities that make them different, or even stand out, from others. Only when a school possesses all these can it genuinely and truly claim to be “Catholic.” A side note, however, is the growing reality that our schools are losing their Catholic identity. And as this distinctive mark fades away all that could be left to know about them are its name or the religious congregation that runs it. Sad!

What should be ground rules for the relationship between the diocese and the Catholic school communities?

It is obvious that here we are not talking simply about harmony or a “we get along just fine” or peaceful co existence sort of living. A relationship is built on a common ground, a synergy of purpose, or as it were for our purposes, shared beliefs and values.

There are three elements to this kind of relationship: its soul, its politics, and the hand that makes it work.

The Soul of Christ

The soul of the relationship gives its reason for being. Our Catholic schools share this soul with the diocese because both belong to the Church, are of the Church. The Church was born from the side of Jesus Christ. She was born from the death and resurrection of Christ. Both are called to a dying, to an experience of the Paschal Mystery. The soul of the school and the diocese is the paschal mystery. Both school and diocese can experience being hurt, being ignored, being betrayed, being abandoned—by each other--and yet constantly ready to start anew, to rise again. Both school and diocese need to forgive and seek forgiveness from each other. Sisters, please forgive the bishops seventy times seven times! We bishops must do the same with you and promise not to give up on you. Ours is not a perfect relationship made in heaven. It was made on earth. To live the paschal mystery, as the soul of the school-diocese partnership, means choosing to communicate rather than to harbor resentment. The paschal mystery of Christ is an option for seeking the middle ground rather than holding on stubbornly to our antiquated mindsets. The paschal mystery must lead us to seek lines of cooperation rather than walls of isolation. This is the paschal mystery in praxis.

The paschal mystery is not at all above the head idea but a basic premise. The relationship between the Catholic school and the diocese must be anchored in their knowledge, understanding, and acceptance of Jesus Christ in their life, way of thinking and policy-making. It seems so easy as to be ignored and set aside. They can do so only at their own peril. A relationship that does not have Christ is soul-less, life-less. The relationship is not a contract. It is a relationship in the dying and rising of Christ.

Thus it is not merely a relationship of give and take, rather it is a relationship of looking at Christ together, asking together—bishop and school—“What would Christ do if He were in the board room, in the classroom, in the campus?” It is not merely a management by participation or by authority or by delegation, but by discernment, knowing God’s will, being led by the Spirit and following in Christ’s footsteps. Often this will involve sacrifices—huge ones, at some levels—but in prayer, and with diligent and intelligent preparation, the relationship is fostered, nourished and nurtured. The relationship builds up the community—the Christian community. And with each party willing to die with Christ—and not simply compromising by entering the wide rather than the narrow gate—we rise up as a new and renewed school and local Church.

The Politics of Love 

You might ask, with a practical dose of cynicism, why there should be politics in this relationship. Wouldn’t that smack of some kind of dirty and underhanded practice, born of our unfortunate knowledge and experience of politics as is seen in our society?

Politics is not dirty per se; it is the way some politicians do politics that has polluted it. Politics is an imperative of society. It is the rules that govern the “polis”; the city. The politics of the relationship between our Catholic schools and the diocese is not monarchy, nor oligarchy; certainly not anarchy; not even democracy. The rules that govern relationships is communio.

The Church is communio. We are called to communion. This unity is expressed in our faith; we profess it in the creed. We believe in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All life springs forth from this. God is the real pastor and the school director. We are all stewards and caretakers.

The root of this communio expressed by the Trinity is charity, is love. Deus Caritas Est. The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI laid its foundations in the first encyclical of his papacy; and fittingly so because God’s love is the source of all. Without God’s love we will all be nothing.

In his encyclical Pope Benedict presents us with this truth, “God IS Love itself, and true love IS God Himself. The task of humanity is to fill oneself with this love that proceeds from God, and share the same with one another as one community of love.”

Communio. That is the politics that should govern our relationships. We carry our positions with the weight of love. We inform our decisions with the wisdom of God’s love. And we regard one another as God’s expression of His love. The bishop is not the owner; he is a steward. The congregation is not the owner; it is a steward.

This is not an ephemeral notion that has no bearing in our mission and tasks. Far from it, St. Paul says that without love we would be clanging cymbals, full of noise signifying nothing. But with the love that we put in our labor, in our ministry, in our apostolate, in our teaching, in our relating then we relate with one another as God’s children. We are equal in dignity as children of God, while having different and unique functions and tasks. At the sunset of life, love is the only criterion by which we will be judged.

The Hand That Serves

 With Christ in our soul; with love governing our lives; we will be ready to serve. Service is the natural consequence of having Christ in us, of loving like Him. I know that we can get caught up with the rigors of daily life and the routine of work that we are tempted to set aside humanity to be “practical.” The school and the diocese are here for service, to serve like Christ. This is our only mission.

Thus we are likely to say that things have to move fast, according to schedule. What is that modern saying? “Time waits for no man.” Yes, indeed. But it does not say that we are to be slaves to time, which is what we become when we sacrifice listening and being attentive to the needs and concerns of others to the altar of speed and adhering to the timetable The face of the human person is more important, more beautiful and more valuable than the face of the wristwatch or the face of the wall clock. The number of heartbeats are more important than the numbers in the cash balance.

It is in our service that we oftentimes falter; substituting efficiency for our lack of compassion; replacing generosity with profitability. I know that management gurus would always teach that compassion, efficiency, profitability and generosity can all be placed in one basket. But there are times when we will have to make hard and difficult choices. They say God is in the details. Or is it the devil in the details? I guess both can be correct, depending on how we apply it. The school and the diocese exist to give life, not for themselves, but for the world; to transform the world. Pro vita mundi. Not for power. For service.

Service is the end game. We will remain soul-less, and yes, love-less if we do not serve as Jesus served. Not from the throne, but stooped down, washing the feet of his disciples. The only profit necessary is the one that will not gain us the whole world, but God’s kingdom in heaven.

My dear brothers and sisters, that is what the relationship between the Catholic school and the Diocese should be, if both were to be true to itself, to its mandate and reason for being. It is not easy—being nice and polite would often be easier, and seemingly more “peaceful” and harmonious. 

But that relationship can—has to—be achieved. That is the challenge for all of us today. You can do it. We can do it.

We can do it by applying the grace that God showers on us, abundantly, wondrously, even undeservedly, each day. We can do it through patience and self-sacrifice; by talking less and listening more; by trying our best to act according to what will be good for all, not just ourselves.

We can do it by praying more, so that God’s grace may be built up in us, to have Jesus in us. To love like Jesus. To serve like Jesus. To be Jesus.

God bless you all!

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