By David Cooley.
There are three moments from the Gospels that I reflect on often. These are moments when Jesus turns to his disciples and asks them very poignant questions. These three questions from Jesus are meant for all of us and we should return to them often.
The first question is: “Who do you say that I am?” from the Gospel of Mark (8:29).
The world has many opinions and images of Jesus Christ, but it all comes down to what we say about him and how well we really know him and nurture our relationship with him. What place does he have in our hearts and lives? Do we know him and love him so much that we can’t help but spread the Gospel to others?
The second question Jesus asks us is: “Will you also go away?” This is from the Gospel of John (6:67).
It is a sad fact that many people walk away from their Catholic faith. While it is true to say that it is not easy being Catholic these days, it’s also true that it has never been easy. It’s difficult, and so many give up.
I have spoken to a lot of people who have left their faith behind — left the Church — and I have surmised three main reasons why people go. Most of the time they are scandalized by the behavior of others. This is often understandable — think of the sex abuse crisis and other failures of the members of the Body of Christ. Any way you look at it, hypocrisy is a very powerful roadblock for people when they are trying to get to know and have a relationship with God.
Another reason people leave is that their own behaviors drive them away (even if it is on a subconscious level). Usually nobody is harder on us than we are on ourselves. We recognize that we are unable to live up to the life we are called to. We are not conditioned for the great Christian adventure, our faith is weak, and we don’t trust fully in the grace of God. We know we can’t do it, so why even try — it’s impossible, and so we leave.
A final reason people leave is a result of one or many of the “hard teachings.” Common examples are the Eucharist, the dogmas of Mary, the primacy of the pope as the successor of St. Peter, etc. It was the Eucharist that Jesus was teaching about when many walked away from him prompting him to ask the few remaining if they were going to walk away too. Let’s face it, it’s hard to believe that Jesus gives us his body and blood to nourish our souls, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. The Catholic Church safeguards the hard teachings of Christ and no matter how much some people want them to change, they never will.
So back to that second question from Jesus. When I am having a hard time handling what I hear in the news about the Catholic Church and I see the failures of all of us who are supposed to be God’s hands and his feet; when I am struggling with my faith, questioning if I really believe, and wondering if all of this is worth it; I can hear Jesus ask me, “Are you going to leave me, too?” On my hardest days my answer is simply the same as Peter’s: “To whom (to where) shall I go?”
The third question comes from the moment in the Gospel of John when Andrew and John first run up to Jesus and he turns to them to say: “What do you seek?” in other translations he says, “What are you looking for?” (1:38).
Believers and non-believers alike can start with this question. What is it that we are looking for? Why are we here? What do we want out of life? Most people will eventually recognize that we are all striving for happiness. But, how can human beings find happiness, everlasting joy? Ultimately, it circles back to that first question: who do you say Jesus is?
So, when it comes to the education of our children, what should we be looking for in a school?
My answer is a school not afraid to explore the big questions of life, such as: Who am I? What is the meaning of life? How am I supposed to live, and why?; a school that recognizes that there is a right and a wrong, good and evil, and that children need to be challenged to live a moral life so that they can flourish and promote the common good; a school where not only is a child allowed to pray — it’s essential. My answer is a thoroughly Catholic school.
When a Catholic school is living up to its name it will help students answer those three straightforward questions from Jesus in a way that enables them to discover who they really are, reach their fullest potential, and bear witness to God’s glory in a world that has been turned upside down. Catholic students need a strong foundation that will help them know and love their Catholic faith, ensuring that they won’t leave Christ when times get tough.
Catholic schools are different from all other schools because faith stands at the center. It is a community of believers striving to know God and live out their faith. A Catholic school adheres faithfully to the teachings of Christ and embraces its mission of bringing the faith to others in service of the Church and the world.
David Cooley is co-director and office manager of the Office of Catechesis and Evangelization.