Saturday, January 05, 2008

A Personal Reflection on "Catholic" Education (Part 1)

I'm going to be working on a little series here. As the title suggests, I'll be fleshing out some reflections of my experience with Catholic education. The series will continue until I get bored or until I run out of things to say.

As some of you may or may not know, I went to parochial school. Specifically, I attended three different Catholic grade schools, and one Catholic high school, before shaking their dust from my feet and attending a public university. Regular readers of the old blog might find my reasoning strange: I wanted to receive a degree in Computer Science/Computer Engineering--I hadn't quite decided which--at the best possible price. To my mind, the only imaginable effect of a Catholic education was an increase in tuition.

That's actually an extraordinary statement. It wasn't that I hated the school I attended. I made a number of very good friends, and the education I received, especially in math and science, was fairly good. Nor had I become an apostate. During the first semester of my freshman year of college, I attended Mass every week. I'm not sure when I began to skip, but it certainly wasn't right away. To me, being a Catholic meant little more than attending Mass on Sundays and Holy Days. Some of us gave up something during Lent, although sacrifice was being replaced with the idea of doing something nice instead. There was also the issue of Mary, and the Saints, but these were optional devotions; the Rosary was distinctly Catholic, but Catholics weren't required to say it.

With such a pathetic conception of the Faith, it's not surprising that my attendance at Mass began to lapse. Without an intellectual foundation, religion had become a series of customary, though largely meaningless, gestures. The blame resides properly with me; I knew what the Faith was about, even if I had forgotten. But it's also fair to criticize the Catholic schools for failing to provide me with the depth of education I would need to combat temptation and spiritual sloth.

It's important to realize that my story isn't atypical. More accurately, the atypical thing about my story isn't the fall, it's that I've found my way back by the grace of God. I can only speak from my personal experience--though, as Mark Judge points out in God and Man at Georgetown Prep, I'm not completely alone--but only two of my friends from high school regularly attend Church. The rest aren't anti-theists in the Richard Dawkins vain, but apostates, like James Joyce perhaps; except that, not only do my friends lack genius--sorry guys--they also lack the depth of understanding of the Faith that Joyce had. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man could only have been written by a Catholic, one who had rejected the Faith to be sure, but one who had received a rich and rewarding education from an institution that had existed for nineteen hundred years. Even if my friends were visited by a kindly literary muse, they would be wholly incapable of writing such a book.

I would have to include myself in the group along with my friends. Now, I can follow Stephen Dedalus, Joyce's hero, and understand him fairly well. The harrowing sermon on hell now resonates with me. But it would have struck me as peculiar had I read the book while in high school. The pre-Vatican II Catholicism of Joyce would have appeared to be wholly unrelated to my own. This perception was wrong of course; the idea that the "spirit of Vatican II" changed the Roman Catholic Church from a doctrinal standpoint is simply wrong. But it would have struck me as a reasonable.

The problem, as I say, was that to my mind, Catholicism was something utterly unrelated to the intellect. The idea is ludicrous, but it appeared quite sane. I'll try to further work out my thesis--without fear or trembling I hope--next time.

7 comments:

gazoombo said...

Not atypical at all. I know many more self-described "lapsed Catholics" than people who really identify with their faith. I think there is a problem with parochial schools, but I'm not sure how to fix it. Can't wait to hear more of your story and thoughts on the matter.

Doom said...

I am rather excited by this series. Though I came from a protestant background, I lapsed. Going so far away as to become a short time adherent to another faith. I think the lapse was due to a lacking in protestantism inherently, as well as the secular slide which public schools have taken.

But, I wouldn't change that. I would have nowhere near as rich of a faith without having been through it. And, I do not think I just came back, nor do I believe you did. I think we were called. Do not ask me to explain that, I simply can't. For certain though, I was called.

I can't wait for your next installment. Though, I do not wish to rush you either. Take your time and do it right and well!

A Wiser Man Than I said...

I think there is a problem with parochial schools, but I'm not sure how to fix it.

I agree completely, and while I'm not certain I can offer solutions, I'm hoping that these posts might shed light on how we can go about reforming the schools. My pessimistic reaction would be simply to home school, and while that's a viable option, it's still worth examining whether the parochial model has any value.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

But, I wouldn't change that. I would have nowhere near as rich of a faith without having been through it. And, I do not think I just came back, nor do I believe you did. I think we were called. Do not ask me to explain that, I simply can't. For certain though, I was called.

I concur. But while God is capable of making good come from evil, that doesn't mean we can just allow evil to happen. I wouldn't trade the faith I've required for anything, but I'd be lying if I said that the route I took here wasn't littered with sin.

Doom said...

"but I'd be lying if I said that the route I took here wasn't littered with sin."

True. But the path I now walk is littered with sin. I did not join to Catholic Church to become sin free, only to abide the one real faith. As well, I now have a mechanism I trust to deal with that sin. If at times seemingly alone in the congregation, I am never alone in the Church.

I have changed practices, but I cannot change natural application, or a life lead and who that makes me today. For example, though I am celibate, and have been for four to five years now, after three and decades of heavy womanizing, my thoughts and impulses remain. Still, I plan to remain celibate until I find, then wed, her in the Church. Different, same... New direction only, for me.

troutsky said...

An intellectual journey can lead off into many directions, some can return.A number of aquaintances have returned to agnosticism after trying religion.

A Wiser Man Than I said...

A number of aquaintances have returned to agnosticism after trying religion.

Certainly. But I haven't "tried" religion, and a point I hope to make is that you can't simply "return to agnosticism" after being immersed in Catholicism. It's probably a rash assertion, given my age, and the relative newness of my faith; we'll see if I can make my case.