As a Catholic, there are certain things that are guaranteed to make you shake your head. Among the things that can make your cranium quaver are America Magazine, Catholic Universities, and Jesuits. How fortunate are we that we have all three in one place?
The Rev. Terrance W. Klein, an associate professor of theology at Fordham University, writes on the topic of how do you evangelize and foster the “intellectual life” at a modern Jesuit university in America Magazine. The setup:
With its deep foundation in humanism and its legacy from St. Ignatius Loyola on the discernment of spirits, Jesuit education offers a vital forum for the study of theology, which is not the catechesis of the young, but the intellectual exploration of the human need to probe the meaning of life. “Education is integral to the mission of the church to proclaim the good news,” Pope Benedict XVI insisted in his April 2008 address to U.S. Catholic educators. “It is timely, then, to reflect on what is particular to our Catholic institutions. How do they contribute to the good of society through the church’s primary mission of evangelization?”
On its face, this seems a reasonable question. One question however comes to mind, however. The premise, as put forth by Rev. Klein, pre-supposes that the proper catechesis has already taken place. What place does the study of theology have, if the primary mission being evangelization, if the student has never been catechized? The cart before the horse, no?
Leaving that aside, Klein attempts to demonstrate that the modern Jesuit Institution evangelizes through doubt. By openly expressing your doubt in your faith, you are more likely to help others doubt their lack of faith. If that doesn’t work, then some evangelization may occur via second hand smoke which secular universities cannot achieve, even through Newman centers, because they are essentially smoke free campuses. Needless to say, this is not the methods used by the Apostles.
To illustrate his point Klein relays an anecdote about Fatima, a young Muslim woman, who is in his mandatory theology class. She begins to question her faith and assumptions as she struggles with a class assignment. Klein concludes that this type of questioning could only occur at a Catholic institution and thus, they are fulfilling the call to evangelize. Mission accomplished?Or not?
Who would have heard the same question on a secular campus? An essential difference between Catholic colleges and their secular counterparts is that the source prompting questions about God is also the one that stays to seek an answer. For all the considerable good they do, Newman centers stand at the periphery of intellectual life on secular campuses. Classrooms pose difficult questions, leaving students with only a hope that campus ministries, regularly excluded from the conversation, can support them as they seek answers. Even when they do, the system’s essential structure of separation subtly suggests that the answers sought are marginal, particularly personal and therefore more therapeutic than true.
I told her: “Fatima, I know that this is a very confusing time, but it’s also a wonderful time. What’s happening to you is what should happen to every college student. You’re asking your own questions, which are unsettling but good. They might lead you to claim your Muslim faith in a new way. They might lead you somewhere else. You remember, I’ve said from the beginning that my task in the classroom is not to convert anyone.”
Klein makes some interesting points but is ultimately fooling himself. While it is often true that a light touch is sometimes the more effective approach and by expressing your own struggles with faith that we can bond more readily with someone also questioning, I don’t think it necessarily follows that this is the only way or the primary way a Catholic institution should evangelize. In fact, I think it is mostly a copout. A Catholic Institution, even a Jesuit Institution of higher learning, has its primary mission evangelization. This anecdote aside, how many more students (primarily Catholic students) would be better served by a forthright and clear instruction in and defense of the faith. I would guess many more.
Since a Catholic institution, such as Fordham, would have many ostensibly Catholic students who are likely poorly catechized, how many students are led away from their faith by such a questioning approach to the faith. My guess, and it is simply a guess, that there are many more cases of Catholics who have lost their faith in such an atmosphere than non-Catholic who have found it.
It saddens me that this is what passes for Catholic education. I know that anecdotes prove nothing, but I would like to note that I attended a secular university and began my spiritual awakening at a Newman House. It scares me to think that if I had attended a university like Fordham, I might not be Catholic today.
Lastly, I think it is very telling what Fr. Klein said there at the end of the previous quote, “My task in the classroom is not to convert anyone.” Even more telling is this quote about the faculty members that these Catholic institutions should seek.
Jesuit universities seek the best people for their faculties. Today that may mean recruiting some who have been trained to see religion itself as essentially irrational and thus profoundly antihuman.
How can someone who thinks that the primary mission of your institution is irrational hooey be the best person for your faculty? They can’t. Fr. Klein’s anecdote about inadvertent second hand evangelization aside, it is clear to any thinking person that Catholic institutions, such as Fordham, are bad for your faith.
If you can’t send your kids to a good orthodox institution, a secular university with a good Newman house will likely yield better results.