Catholic Educator as Formator

 

           Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles once said, “It is not so much that the Church has a mission; it is rather more that the mission has a Church.”  What is the mission of the Church?  According to Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church), the mission is to be a sacrament of communion with God and among people.

Since a Catholic school is an integral part of the Church, our educational institutions share in this mission as well.  Therefore,  the crux of this presentation can be simply stated in the following syllogism:

• a Catholic school is to be a school for discipleship where saints   are being formed.

• Catholic educators are necessary for student formation.

•  Therefore, Catholic educators must be formed themselves.

Bullet-points One and Two will offer a reflection on Catholic identity of our schools and, given that context, I’ll offer some concrete suggestions how Catholic educators may be formed.

Introduction

            The signs of the times in 21st century America challenge us to pour new wine into new wineskins.  The educational landscape is shifting.  The number of Catholic primary schools has shrunk from 7,225 schools in 1930 with 2.5 million students to 6,574 schools (in 2004) with 1.75 million students.  During this time, the Catholic population trebled from 20 million to over 66 million.

Clearly, the Church is facing a challenge re.  the viability of its Catholic schools.  What is going to attract families to Catholic education:

Contemporary pedagogical techniques, technological advances (iPads and the like), safety and security?  While these are important, what will make our schools an attractive educational destination is our strong sense of Catholic identity.  And, we can’t actuate that ideal without a committed participation by our educators.

Fifty years ago, this wouldn’t even be an issue because the bulk of Catholic educators were consecrated religious, who were well formed in their faith and gave a profound witness to our Catholic faith as they intentionally formed young people.  Today religious women constitute less than 4% of the full time professional staff of Catholic schools, while 96% of the teachers are laypersons.  While I do not want to suggest that lay teachers are second-rate teachers, we cannot assume that they have experienced formation in their educational ministry in the same approximate way that religious enjoyed.  Our lay educators are well trained in their cultural and professional formation.  At the same time, there is an urgency that laypersons who teach in Catholic schools need a religious formation that is equal to their professional development (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witness to Faith, 60).

Why is that?  The viability of the Catholic identity of our educational institutions is conditioned by the evangelical witness of our educators.  There’s an old spiritual principle that goes “one cannot give what one does not have.”  If our Catholic educators are not formed in their faith, if they don’t have a strong evangelical motivation, if they are not intentionally participating in the mission of the Church, then what we do at school may be nothing more than a “noisy gong.”

As a refresher, let us briefly look at the Essential Marks of Catholic Schools and why educator “buy-in” is so crucial.

Essential Marks of Catholic Schools

            A Catholic school should be inspired with a (1) supernatural vision, (2) founded on Christian anthropology, (3) animated by Christian fellowship, (4) imbued with a Catholic worldview throughout its curriculum, and sustained by Christian witness.

It is precisely because of our Catholic identity that makes us unique; we are anything but a secular enterprise.  We derive our purpose as being an instrument for the Church’s evangelizing mission (cf. The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, 11).

            1. Inspired by a Supernatural Vision. The specific purpose of Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of the world as they promote the Common Good and social justice, who will love God and their neighbor, and who will enrich the culture with the leaven of the Gospel.  As they do that, they will realize their destiny to become saints (cf. Gravissimum Educationis, 8).  This is the raison d’etre of Catholic education.  If we deny this vision or fail to keep it in mind through indifference or a lukewarm attitude, all our talk about the importance of Catholic education will be no more than “a gong booming or a cymbal clashing” (2 Cor 23:1).

2. Founded on a Christian Anthropology.   Given our vision, a Catholic school cannot be reduced to a  factory of learning various skills for the business needs of the 21st century.  We’re not strictly a business in which we have a certain brand that is attractive to “clients” and “consumers” as we strive to find our niche in a competitive educational market place.  Catholic education is not a commodity.        Rather, educational documents emerging from the Holy See insist that in order to be worthy of its name, a Catholic school must be founded on Jesus Christ, the Redeemer.  Through the Incarnation, he is united with every student and the purpose of all of our endeavors is to nurture that relationship.

3.  Animated by Communion and Community.  A genuine Catholic school should be a community of Faith where Jesus is the Center, our life is about him, and he is in control.  This communal dimension of a Catholic school is rooted in both in the relational nature of a human person and in the reality of the Church as the People of God, which is “the home and the school of communion” (Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43).                                                                                                            Conducive towards this end, schools “should try to create a community school climate that reproduces, as far as possible, the warm and intimate atmosphere of family life.  Those responsible for these schools will, therefore, do everything they can to promote a common spirit of trust and spontaneity” (The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 40).  This means that educators should develop a willingness to collaborate among themselves, which goes counter to our culture’s emphasis on individualism and self-promotion.  We collaborate, not out of need or convenience, but in the recognition that we are brothers and sisters in faith who have a common purpose to promote the Mission of Christ.                                              Interaction of Students and Teachers.  Catholic philosophy of education has always paid attention to the quality of interpersonal relationships in the school community, especially between student and teacher.  As St. John Bosco once said, “education is a thing of the heart” (cited in Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools, 62).  Authentic formation of young people requires the personalized accompanying of a teacher, which means the latter must be undergoing conversion and transformation herself.  “During childhood and adolescence a student needs to experience personal relations with outstanding educators, and  what is taught has greater influence on the student’s formation when placed in a context of personal involvement, genuine reciprocity, coherence of attitudes, lifestyle, and day-to-day behavior” (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, 18).  Direct and personal contact between teachers and students, grounded in faith, is the hallmark of Catholic education.

4. Imbued with a Catholic Worldview.  A “spirit of Catholicism” should permeate the curriculum, not just in religious studies or the theology department.                  Catholic education is geared to the growth of the whole person.  By virtue of our Baptism, we are called to embrace the priesthood of the faithful, which means we sanctify every aspect of our life.  Catholic education fosters this Baptismal responsibility by developing every capability of every student: his/her intellectual, physical, psychological, moral, and religious capacities (cf. The Catholic School, 31).

Love for Wisdom and a Passion for Truth.  In an age of information and technological overload, Catholic schools should be attentive to strike the delicate balance between human experience and understanding and wisdom.  A student who graduates from our school should not say, “I had an interesting experience, but I missed the meaning of it all.”                                                                                                            Knowledge and understanding are far   more than the accumulation of information.  Our purpose goes far beyond than preparing students for high school or college.  T.S. Eliot nailed it when he said, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?  Where is the knowledge we have lost in information.”  Catholic schools do far more than convey information and content to passive students.  We aspire to pass on the Wisdom of our rich Catholic Tradition, challenging our students to become life-long learners who grow in Faith.

5. Sustained by Gospel Witness.  A final indicator of a schools authentic catholicity is the vital witness of its teachers and administrators.  The realization of the Catholic vision depends chiefly on them.  That’s why the Vatican pays attention to the vocation of Catholic educators and their participation in the Church’s evangelizing mission.  Theirs is a supernatural calling and is not simply the exercise of a profession (cf. Lay Catholics in Schools, 37).  There is a nobility in being a Catholic educator because the calling comes from Christ, which demands that Catholic educators strive to imitate Christ, the only Teacher because He is the Truth.  In communion with Christ, Catholic educators reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior” (cf. The Catholic School, 43).

Hiring Committed Catholics.  While controversial,  in witnessing to the Mission of the Church, educators in Catholic schools, with very few exceptions, should be practicing Catholics who are committed to the Church and are living her sacramental life within a parish.  The American bishops, of whom we should be of one mind, give unequivocal direction: “Recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics, who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the gospel, and who can contribute to the achievement of the school’s Catholic identity and apostolic goals” (cf. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory for Catechesis, 231).

When this directive is ignored inevitable, negative consequences will predictably ensure.  Children will absorb, even if they are not explicitly taught, a soft indifferentism that will neither sustain their practice of the faith nor their ability to imbue society with Christian values.  A primary way to foster a school’s catholicity is by carefully hiring men and women who have a love for the Catholic Church, who enthusiastically endorse its distinctive mission and ethos, for Catholic education is strenghthened by witnesses to the gospel.                                               

            Transparent Witness of Life.  The Catholic witness of educators in the school community is a vital part of the schools’ identity.  Children and adolescence will puck up far more by example of their educators than by current pedagogical and technological techniques, especially in the practice of Christian virtues.                                                                                                Pope Paul VI reinforced this view forty years ago when he said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers,and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they’re witnesses” (cf. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).  What educators do and how they act are more significant than what they say.  If they do not have a rich, regular, and disciplined prayer life; if they are not involved with on-going Faith formation; if they are not participating in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist; if they are not living Matthew 25—then how can they give a meaningful witness to their students?  “The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person (Christ) that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated” (cf. Lay Catholics in Schools, 32).

Hypocrisy turns off students.  While their demands are high and they can be judgmental, if teachers fail to model fidelity to the truth and virtuous behavior, then even the best of curricula cannot successfully embody a Catholic school’s distinctive ethos.  That’s why Catholic educators are expected to be models for their students by being transparent witness to Christ and the beauty of the Gospel.            That’s why if Catholic formators are going to help form young people in their discipleship and sanctity, educators must be formed themselves.

Formation of Catholic Educators 

         “Catholic educators need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others, so that their educational effort becomes a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6) [Educating Together, #25).   In general, what would this formation look like?  The ingredients of formation would contain the same four essential marks that ground the formation of  Christian disciples:  (1) prayer, (2) adult faith formation (Scripture/Church Tradition), (3) full, active and conscious participation in the Sacraments, and (4) service to the poor.  To the degree that any of these  are lacking or undeveloped within the adult community of a Catholic school,  one’s enthusiasm to effectively embrace the Church’s evangelical  mission will weakened.

(1)            Prayer (public and private). Catholic educators are called to be witnesses to our students that Christ is Risen and to live the Good News.   Such witness must be “nourished by prayer, (and) be the all-encompassing milieu of every Catholic school” (Ibid., #38).  The reason? As St. Augustine once said, “Without God, we can do nothing good.”  Prayer emerges from the realization that we are not self-sufficient, that we are radically dependent upon God for our well-being.  We bear within ourselves the thirst for the Eternal One.  When we regularly go into the Quiet, God will reveal himself and satisfy the seeking of our hearts.  As we are drawn into God’s presence, our consciousness and heart will be gradually transformed into the Mind and Heart of the Risen Christ.  Prayer draws us into God’s presence, which enables us to act from that Power.  If we are not a people of prayer, who spend some time each day in the Silence, then there is a risk  that we may act out our own power, wraught with our egoic wants,  fears, anxieties, and obsessions.  Like the Hound of Heaven, God is forever inviting us into intimacy.  As the Catechism says: “in prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response.”

(2)            Adult Faith Formation (Scripture/Church Tradition).  As St. John Henry Newman famously observed “to change is to be human; to change most often is to be most human.”  The only sign of life is change.  If a person is not growing in their faith, then they are slowly dying which can be seen in indifference and a lukewarm involvement with the life of the Church.  While in prayer we most often speak to God and share our experience, but in a “sacred reading” (Lectio Divina) of Scripture God directly speaks to us.  As we listen, understand, and interiorize God’s word, we become transformed by that Word, Whom we believe is the Son of God.  As St. Ambrose once said, “Not to know Scripture is not to know Christ.”  For this reason, the Congregation on Education affirms that the Catholic school “…must be constantly nourished and compared with the sources from which the reason for its existence derives: the saving word of God in Sacred Scripture, in Tradition…enlightened by the Magisterium of the Church”  (Ibid., , #26; emphasis added).                       

(3) Full, active and conscious participation” in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.   As a Catholic institution we are meant to be a Eucharistic community, which means that Jesus in the Eucharist is the center of the life of the school.   As members of the Body of Christ, we are participating in the same sacrificial offering of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  It is imperative that all Catholic members of the school  community participate in Sunday Eucharist celebration.   To do otherwise  reveals a lack of understanding or appreciation of what it means to be member of the Body of Christ, the Church, and that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our worship.

(4)            Service to the Poor.  Being a Eucharistic community and ministering to the poor go hand-in-glove, as brightness is to light.  As we encounter and deepen our love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we will gradually be transformed into what we are meant to be: a member of the Body of Christ, who is the People of God.   As we are being transformed into the Mind and Heart of the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit will guide us to an encounter and engagement with the poorest of the poor.  Why?  Because that is where Christ is present.  Jesus’ last teaching , before he went to Jerusalem to suffer and die, in Matthew’s gospel is the Judgment of Nations, in which the Lord proclaims that “whatever we do to the least of his brethern, we do to him.”  The implication is profound: the Risen Christ is present in the poor in a distinct way.  That is why ministry to the poor is constitutive of discipleship.  As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states: “The principle of the universal destination of goods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern.  To this end, the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force” (#182).  While being a Catholic educator is a vocation and ministry, we need to be pubic icons of service to the poor.  Through prayer, advocacy, and action, we must witness to our students, our preferential option for the poor.

Specific Strategies

Since the evangelical model of Church and call to discipleship among the baptized are essential marks of being Catholic, what remains is how can we bring our calling to fruition?  How can we as adult educators help our students encounter the living Christ Jesus so that they may be leaven to the culture?  How can they engage the Risen Christ, whose presence is mediated by the Catholic Church, which is necessary to Salvation?

The formation of Catholic educators is not optional and should not be left to chance.   The adult faith community   must embrace discipleship and accept our evangelical call, which are constitutive elements of our baptismal promises.

By way of suggestions, some objectives that may promote opportunities and challenges to formation of Catholic educators  are the following:

 

            1.  Hire a coordinator of  Adult Faith Formation for a high school or a consortium of primary schools.             The spiritual maturation of the adult community is going to be a gradual process of conversion.  People are at different levels of faith development and they should be engaged where they are and not where one would want them to be.  A Faith Formation director could serve as a spiritual companion and “coach” to assist this process of becoming a community of disciples.  This position would be very sensitive and the person should meet the following criteria: (1) he/she has a deep and loving relationship with the Risen Christ, which is manifested in daily prayer, regular Eucharistic participation, spiritual direction (as a directee), and service to the poor; (2) he/she should believe that the Church has been given the authority to teach and govern the Church in His name;  (3) as a result, believes and understands what the Church teaches and can articulate them to others; (4) has actually read and is thoroughly conversant in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the major documents of Vatican II (including Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and Dei Verbum), and the  Compendiuim of Social Doctrine of the Church.

            (2) Active participation in a parish or ecclesial community, including regular Mass attendance.  If discipleship is seen as constitutive element of being a Christian, then regular “full, active and conscious participation” in the Mass is a given.  As a Catholic, we have an obligation to celebrate Sunday Eucharist.   While such an obligation cannot be made a criteria for employment, it would be a goal of evangelical/catechetical efforts with the adult community and would be a priority for the  Adult Faith Coordinator.

(3)  Begin the school year with a traditional weekend retreat.   There is a practical wisdom in having a three-day retreat.  Beginning the school year by embracing the interior life as a community would set a very focused tone and orientation to the incoming school year.  People of the adult community should be invited to attend and be informed about the agenda and purpose of that particular retreat.  While staying at the center for the duration of the retreat would be preferred, family obligations may necessitate that retreatants  return home Friday and Saturday evening.

(4) Begin and end our school day with a brief prayer service in the chapel.  Encourage weekly Lectio Divina and monthly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Observe the Angelus at 12:00.

Jesus challenges us to pray always.  If we bookend our educational ministry with community prayer, that practice could inculcate a sense that our work is a form of worship.  Lectio Divina and Adoration  are traditional practices that create an opportunity to encounter the Word of God and to be nurtured by His Eucharistic presence.

We should also remember that “unless the Lords builds the edifice, they labor in vain who build it.”  A quote from Blessed John Paul II underscores this truth:  “There is a temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan.  God, of course, asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and  therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom.  But it is fatal to forget that “without Christ we can do nothing” (cf. Jn 15:5). It is prayer which roots us in the truth.  It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and holiness.  When this principle is not respected, is it any wonder that pastoral plans come to nothing and leave us with a disheartening sense of frustration? (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 38).

(6)  Regular adult formation workshops, facilitated by Master Catechists or other competent instructors.  Such sessions should have a robust catechetical content together with faith-sharing opportunities.  In other words, there should be a cognitive and affective dimension to these workshops, which should occur on campus and during the school day (such as time allotted for faculty meetings).  Primary schools may find it advantageous to collaborate with consortiums (i.e., deaneries).

***

            The mission of a Catholic school is integrated into the Church’s Mission of proclaiming the Good News and baptizing all nations.  Every Catholic school has a sacred responsibility to actively participate in this over-arching mission.  The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic education stated that “…all scholastic institutions, but even more the Catholic school is constantly concerned with the formational requirements of society, because “the problem of instruction has always been closely linked with the Church’s mission (Education Together in Catholic Schools, #3).  So, our vocation as Catholic educators is to help our students encounter and come into the presence of the living God in and through Christ Jesus so that they can go on to spread this Good News to the wider culture.  To do so, we must intentionally and actively embrace on-going conversion and formation ourselves

Deacon Jim McFadden

St. Francis High School;

Sacramento, CA

 

 

 

                                                           

Catholic Educator as Formator

Deacon Jim McFadden

 

            Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles once said, “It is not so much that the Church has a mission; it is rather more that the mission has a Church.”  What is the mission of the Church?  According to Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church), the mission is to be a sacrament of communion with God and among people.

Since a Catholic school is an integral part of the Church, our educational institutions share in this mission as well.  Therefore,  the crux of this presentation can be simply stated in the following syllogism:

• a Catholic school is to be a school for discipleship where saints   are being formed.

• Catholic educators are necessary for student formation.

•  Therefore, Catholic educators must be formed themselves.

Bullet-points One and Two will offer a reflection on Catholic identity of our schools and, given that context, I’ll offer some concrete suggestions how Catholic educators may be formed.

Introduction

            The signs of the times in 21st century America challenge us to pour new wine into new wineskins.  The educational landscape is shifting.  The number of Catholic primary schools has shrunk from 7,225 schools in 1930 with 2.5 million students to 6,574 schools (in 2004) with 1.75 million students.  During this time, the Catholic population trebled from 20 million to over 66 million.

Clearly, the Church is facing a challenge re.  the viability of its Catholic schools.  What is going to attract families to Catholic education:

Contemporary pedagogical techniques, technological advances (iPads and the like), safety and security?  While these are important, what will make our schools an attractive educational destination is our strong sense of Catholic identity.  And, we can’t actuate that ideal without a committed participation by our educators.

Fifty years ago, this wouldn’t even be an issue because the bulk of Catholic educators were consecrated religious, who were well formed in their faith and gave a profound witness to our Catholic faith as they intentionally formed young people.  Today religious women constitute less than 4% of the full time professional staff of Catholic schools, while 96% of the teachers are laypersons.  While I do not want to suggest that lay teachers are second-rate teachers, we cannot assume that they have experienced formation in their educational ministry in the same approximate way that religious enjoyed.  Our lay educators are well trained in their cultural and professional formation.  At the same time, there is an urgency that laypersons who teach in Catholic schools need a religious formation that is equal to their professional development (Sacred Congregation for Catholic Education, Lay Catholics in Schools: Witness to Faith, 60).

Why is that?  The viability of the Catholic identity of our educational institutions is conditioned by the evangelical witness of our educators.  There’s an old spiritual principle that goes “one cannot give what one does not have.”  If our Catholic educators are not formed in their faith, if they don’t have a strong evangelical motivation, if they are not intentionally participating in the mission of the Church, then what we do at school may be nothing more than a “noisy gong.”

As a refresher, let us briefly look at the Essential Marks of Catholic Schools and why educator “buy-in” is so crucial.

Essential Marks of Catholic Schools

            A Catholic school should be inspired with a (1) supernatural vision, (2) founded on Christian anthropology, (3) animated by Christian fellowship, (4) imbued with a Catholic worldview throughout its curriculum, and sustained by Christian witness.

It is precisely because of our Catholic identity that makes us unique; we are anything but a secular enterprise.  We derive our purpose as being an instrument for the Church’s evangelizing mission (cf. The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, 11).

            1. Inspired by a Supernatural Vision. The specific purpose of Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of the world as they promote the Common Good and social justice, who will love God and their neighbor, and who will enrich the culture with the leaven of the Gospel.  As they do that, they will realize their destiny to become saints (cf. Gravissimum Educationis, 8).  This is the raison d’etre of Catholic education.  If we deny this vision or fail to keep it in mind through indifference or a lukewarm attitude, all our talk about the importance of Catholic education will be no more than “a gong booming or a cymbal clashing” (2 Cor 23:1).

2. Founded on a Christian Anthropology.   Given our vision, a Catholic school cannot be reduced to a  factory of learning various skills for the business needs of the 21st century.  We’re not strictly a business in which we have a certain brand that is attractive to “clients” and “consumers” as we strive to find our niche in a competitive educational market place.  Catholic education is not a commodity.                                                             Rather, educational documents emerging from the Holy See insist that in order to be worthy of its name, a Catholic school must be founded on Jesus Christ, the Redeemer.  Through the Incarnation, he is united with every student and the purpose of all of our endeavors is to nurture that relationship.                                                                                                            3.  Animated by Communion and Community.  A genuine Catholic school should be a community of Faith where Jesus is the Center, our life is about him, and he is in control.  This communal dimension of a Catholic school is rooted in both in the relational nature of a human person and in the reality of the Church as the People of God, which is “the home and the school of communion” (Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 43).                                                                                                            Conducive towards this end, schools “should try to create a community school climate that reproduces, as far as possible, the warm and intimate atmosphere of family life.  Those responsible for these schools will, therefore, do everything they can to promote a common spirit of trust and spontaneity” (The Religious Dimension of Education in a Catholic School, 40).  This means that educators should develop a willingness to collaborate among themselves, which goes counter to our culture’s emphasis on individualism and self-promotion.  We collaborate, not out of need or convenience, but in the recognition that we are brothers and sisters in faith who have a common purpose to promote the Mission of Christ.                                                                                                Interaction of Students and Teachers.  Catholic philosophy of education has always paid attention to the quality of interpersonal relationships in the school community, especially between student and teacher.  As St. John Bosco once said, “education is a thing of the heart” (cited in Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools, 62).  Authentic formation of young people requires the personalized accompanying of a teacher, which means the latter must be undergoing conversion and transformation herself.  “During childhood and adolescence a student needs to experience personal relations with outstanding educators, and  what is taught has greater influence on the student’s formation when placed in a context of personal involvement, genuine reciprocity, coherence of attitudes, lifestyle, and day-to-day behavior” (The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium, 18).  Direct and personal contact between teachers and students, grounded in faith, is the hallmark of Catholic education.

4. Imbued with a Catholic Worldview.  A “spirit of Catholicism” should permeate the curriculum, not just in religious studies or the theology department.                                                                                                                          Catholic education is geared to the growth of the whole person.  By virtue of our Baptism, we are called to embrace the priesthood of the faithful, which means we sanctify every aspect of our life.  Catholic education fosters this Baptismal responsibility by developing every capability of every student: his/her intellectual, physical, psychological, moral, and religious capacities (cf. The Catholic School, 31).                                                Love for Wisdom and a Passion for Truth.  In an age of information and technological overload, Catholic schools should be attentive to strike the delicate balance between human experience and understanding and wisdom.  A student who graduates from our school should not say, “I had an interesting experience, but I missed the meaning of it all.”                                                                                                            Knowledge and understanding are far   more than the accumulation of information.  Our purpose goes far beyond than preparing students for high school or college.  T.S. Eliot nailed it when he said, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?  Where is the knowledge we have lost in information.”  Catholic schools do far more than convey information and content to passive students.  We aspire to pass on the Wisdom of our rich Catholic Tradition, challenging our students to become life-long learners who grow in Faith.

5. Sustained by Gospel Witness.  A final indicator of a schools authentic catholicity is the vital witness of its teachers and administrators.  The realization of the Catholic vision depends chiefly on them.  That’s why the Vatican pays attention to the vocation of Catholic educators and their participation in the Church’s evangelizing mission.  Theirs is a supernatural calling and is not simply the exercise of a profession (cf. Lay Catholics in Schools, 37).  There is a nobility in being a Catholic educator because the calling comes from Christ, which demands that Catholic educators strive to imitate Christ, the only Teacher because He is the Truth.  In communion with Christ, Catholic educators reveal the Christian message not only by word but also by every gesture of their behavior” (cf. The Catholic School, 43).

Hiring Committed Catholics.  While controversial,  in witnessing to the Mission of the Church, educators in Catholic schools, with very few exceptions, should be practicing Catholics who are committed to the Church and are living her sacramental life within a parish.  The American bishops, of whom we should be of one mind, give unequivocal direction: “Recruit teachers who are practicing Catholics, who can understand and accept the teachings of the Catholic Church and the moral demands of the gospel, and who can contribute to the achievement of the school’s Catholic identity and apostolic goals” (cf. United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, National Directory for Catechesis, 231).

When this directive is ignored inevitable, negative consequences will predictably ensure.  Children will absorb, even if they are not explicitly taught, a soft indifferentism that will neither sustain their practice of the faith nor their ability to imbue society with Christian values.  A primary way to foster a school’s catholicity is by carefully hiring men and women who have a love for the Catholic Church, who enthusiastically endorse its distinctive mission and ethos, for Catholic education is strenghthened by witnesses to the gospel.                                               

            Transparent Witness of Life.  The Catholic witness of educators in the school community is a vital part of the schools’ identity.  Children and adolescence will puck up far more by example of their educators than by current pedagogical and technological techniques, especially in the practice of Christian virtues.                                                                                                Pope Paul VI reinforced this view forty years ago when he said: “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers,and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they’re witnesses” (cf. Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41).  What educators do and how they act are more significant than what they say.  If they do not have a rich, regular, and disciplined prayer life; if they are not involved with on-going Faith formation; if they are not participating in the sacramental life of the Church, especially the Eucharist; if they are not living Matthew 25—then how can they give a meaningful witness to their students?  “The more completely an educator can give concrete witness to the model of the ideal person (Christ) that is being presented to the students, the more this ideal will be believed and imitated” (cf. Lay Catholics in Schools, 32).

Hypocrisy turns off students.  While their demands are high and they can be judgmental, if teachers fail to model fidelity to the truth and virtuous behavior, then even the best of curricula cannot successfully embody a Catholic school’s distinctive ethos.  That’s why Catholic educators are expected to be models for their students by being transparent witness to Christ and the beauty of the Gospel.            That’s why if Catholic formators are going to help form young people in their discipleship and sanctity, educators must be formed themselves.

Formation of Catholic Educators 

                                               

                 “Catholic educators need a “formation of the heart”: they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others, so that their educational effort becomes a consequence deriving from their faith, a faith which becomes active through love (cf. Gal 5:6) [Educating Together, #25).   In general, what would this formation look like?  The ingredients of formation would contain the same four essential marks that ground the formation of  Christian disciples:  (1) prayer, (2) adult faith formation (Scripture/Church Tradition), (3) full, active and conscious participation in the Sacraments, and (4) service to the poor.  To the degree that any of these  are lacking or undeveloped within the adult community of a Catholic school,  one’s enthusiasm to effectively embrace the Church’s evangelical  mission will weakened.

(1)            Prayer (public and private). Catholic educators are called to be witnesses to our students that Christ is Risen and to live the Good News.   Such witness must be “nourished by prayer, (and) be the all-encompassing milieu of every Catholic school” (Ibid., #38).  The reason? As St. Augustine once said, “Without God, we can do nothing good.”  Prayer emerges from the realization that we are not self-sufficient, that we are radically dependent upon God for our well-being.  We bear within ourselves the thirst for the Eternal One.  When we regularly go into the Quiet, God will reveal himself and satisfy the seeking of our hearts.  As we are drawn into God’s presence, our consciousness and heart will be gradually transformed into the Mind and Heart of the Risen Christ.  Prayer draws us into God’s presence, which enables us to act from that Power.  If we are not a people of prayer, who spend some time each day in the Silence, then there is a risk  that we may act out our own power, wraught with our egoic wants,  fears, anxieties, and obsessions.  Like the Hound of Heaven, God is forever inviting us into intimacy.  As the Catechism says: “in prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response.”

(2)            Adult Faith Formation (Scripture/Church Tradition).  As St. John Henry Newman famously observed “to change is to be human; to change most often is to be most human.”  The only sign of life is change.  If a person is not growing in their faith, then they are slowly dying which can be seen in indifference and a lukewarm involvement with the life of the Church.  While in prayer we most often speak to God and share our experience, but in a “sacred reading” (Lectio Divina) of Scripture God directly speaks to us.  As we listen, understand, and interiorize God’s word, we become transformed by that Word, Whom we believe is the Son of God.  As St. Ambrose once said, “Not to know Scripture is not to know Christ.”  For this reason, the Congregation on Education affirms that the Catholic school “…must be constantly nourished and compared with the sources from which the reason for its existence derives: the saving word of God in Sacred Scripture, in Tradition…enlightened by the Magisterium of the Church”  (Ibid., , #26; emphasis added).                       

(3) Full, active and conscious participation” in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist.   As a Catholic institution we are meant to be a Eucharistic community, which means that Jesus in the Eucharist is the center of the life of the school.   As members of the Body of Christ, we are participating in the same sacrificial offering of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  It is imperative that all Catholic members of the school  community participate in Sunday Eucharist celebration.   To do otherwise  reveals a lack of understanding or appreciation of what it means to be member of the Body of Christ, the Church, and that the Eucharist is the “source and summit” of our worship.

(4)            Service to the Poor.  Being a Eucharistic community and ministering to the poor go hand-in-glove, as brightness is to light.  As we encounter and deepen our love of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, we will gradually be transformed into what we are meant to be: a member of the Body of Christ, who is the People of God.   As we are being transformed into the Mind and Heart of the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit will guide us to an encounter and engagement with the poorest of the poor.  Why?  Because that is where Christ is present.  Jesus’ last teaching , before he went to Jerusalem to suffer and die, in Matthew’s gospel is the Judgment of Nations, in which the Lord proclaims that “whatever we do to the least of his brethern, we do to him.”  The implication is profound: the Risen Christ is present in the poor in a distinct way.  That is why ministry to the poor is constitutive of discipleship.  As the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states: “The principle of the universal destination of goods requires that the poor, the marginalized and in all cases those whose living conditions interfere with their proper growth should be the focus of particular concern.  To this end, the preferential option for the poor should be reaffirmed in all its force” (#182).  While being a Catholic educator is a vocation and ministry, we need to be pubic icons of service to the poor.  Through prayer, advocacy, and action, we must witness to our students, our preferential option for the poor.

Specific Strategies

Since the evangelical model of Church and call to discipleship among the baptized are essential marks of being Catholic, what remains is how can we bring our calling to fruition?  How can we as adult educators help our students encounter the living Christ Jesus so that they may be leaven to the culture?  How can they engage the Risen Christ, whose presence is mediated by the Catholic Church, which is necessary to Salvation?

The formation of Catholic educators is not optional and should not be left to chance.   The adult faith community   must embrace discipleship and accept our evangelical call, which are constitutive elements of our baptismal promises.

By way of suggestions, some objectives that may promote opportunities and challenges to formation of Catholic educators  are the following:

 

            1.  Hire a coordinator of  Adult Faith Formation for a high school or a consortium of primary schools.             The spiritual maturation of the adult community is going to be a gradual process of conversion.  People are at different levels of faith development and they should be engaged where they are and not where one would want them to be.  A Faith Formation director could serve as a spiritual companion and “coach” to assist this process of becoming a community of disciples.  This position would be very sensitive and the person should meet the following criteria: (1) he/she has a deep and loving relationship with the Risen Christ, which is manifested in daily prayer, regular Eucharistic participation, spiritual direction (as a directee), and service to the poor; (2) he/she should believe that the Church has been given the authority to teach and govern the Church in His name;  (3) as a result, believes and understands what the Church teaches and can articulate them to others; (4) has actually read and is thoroughly conversant in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, the major documents of Vatican II (including Lumen Gentium, Gaudium et Spes, Sacrosanctum Concilium, and Dei Verbum), and the  Compendiuim of Social Doctrine of the Church.

            (2) Active participation in a parish or ecclesial community, including regular Mass attendance.  If discipleship is seen as constitutive element of being a Christian, then regular “full, active and conscious participation” in the Mass is a given.  As a Catholic, we have an obligation to celebrate Sunday Eucharist.   While such an obligation cannot be made a criteria for employment, it would be a goal of evangelical/catechetical efforts with the adult community and would be a priority for the  Adult Faith Coordinator.

(3)  Begin the school year with a traditional weekend retreat.   There is a practical wisdom in having a three-day retreat.  Beginning the school year by embracing the interior life as a community would set a very focused tone and orientation to the incoming school year.  People of the adult community should be invited to attend and be informed about the agenda and purpose of that particular retreat.  While staying at the center for the duration of the retreat would be preferred, family obligations may necessitate that retreatants  return home Friday and Saturday evening.

(4) Begin and end our school day with a brief prayer service in the chapel.  Encourage weekly Lectio Divina and monthly Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  Observe the Angelus at 12:00.

Jesus challenges us to pray always.  If we bookend our educational ministry with community prayer, that practice could inculcate a sense that our work is a form of worship.  Lectio Divina and Adoration  are traditional practices that create an opportunity to encounter the Word of God and to be nurtured by His Eucharistic presence.

We should also remember that “unless the Lords builds the edifice, they labor in vain who build it.”  A quote from Blessed John Paul II underscores this truth:  “There is a temptation which perennially besets every spiritual journey and pastoral work: that of thinking that the results depend on our ability to act and to plan.  God, of course, asks us really to cooperate with his grace, and  therefore invites us to invest all our resources of intelligence and energy in serving the cause of the Kingdom.  But it is fatal to forget that “without Christ we can do nothing” (cf. Jn 15:5). It is prayer which roots us in the truth.  It constantly reminds us of the primacy of Christ and, in union with him, the primacy of the interior life and holiness.  When this principle is not respected, is it any wonder that pastoral plans come to nothing and leave us with a disheartening sense of frustration? (Novo Millennio Ineunte, n. 38).

(6)  Regular adult formation workshops, facilitated by Master Catechists or other competent instructors.  Such sessions should have a robust catechetical content together with faith-sharing opportunities.  In other words, there should be a cognitive and affective dimension to these workshops, which should occur on campus and during the school day (such as time allotted for faculty meetings).  Primary schools may find it advantageous to collaborate with consortiums (i.e., deaneries).

***

            The mission of a Catholic school is integrated into the Church’s Mission of proclaiming the Good News and baptizing all nations.  Every Catholic school has a sacred responsibility to actively participate in this over-arching mission.  The Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic education stated that “…all scholastic institutions, but even more the Catholic school is constantly concerned with the formational requirements of society, because “the problem of instruction has always been closely linked with the Church’s mission (Education Together in Catholic Schools, #3).  So, our vocation as Catholic educators is to help our students encounter and come into the presence of the living God in and through Christ Jesus so that they can go on to spread this Good News to the wider culture.  To do so, we must intentionally and actively embrace on-going conversion and formation ourselves

Deacon Jim McFadden

St. Francis High School;

Sacramento, CA

 

 

 

                                                           

Will the Real Pope Francis ”Come on Down?”

We’ve been moved by the early Franciscan moves of our Holy Father from the choice of his pontifical name to decidedly Franciscan gestures.  Think of when he paid his own bill at the residence where the cardinals stayed for the conclave or the washing of the feet of prisoners, including a Muslim, at a juvenile detention facility or the inaugural Mass in which he called for care of Creation.

His early homilies and Wednesday audience have put great emphasis of the clergy getting close to the people—“A priest should smell like their sheep!”—and taking the side of the poor with our responsibility for those who occupy the margins.

Some have interpreted this shift in style and emphasis as a signal of an impending change in Church teaching.  Just as a change in a presidential administration (say, from George Bush to Barack Obama) leads to new policy agendas (cf. Obamacare), so, too, the reasoning goes that the election of this pope will lead to the relaxation of priestly celibacy, the Church’s teaching on sexual morality, condoning same-sex marriage, allowing the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood, and salvaging relations with the Musim world.

What the above represents is a transparent case of wish fulfillment.  A Talmudic aphorism puts this syndrome thusly: “We don’t see the world as it is, but as we are.”  What many are doing with Pope Francis is to see what they want to see.  And what they are expecting is a pope that supports their personal, political, and cultural prejudices.  Once the “Francis honeymoon” is over, many will wake up to the fact that Pope Francis is Catholic, who can’t overturn definitive teaching or jettison Church teaching on the Sacrament of Marriage or sexual morality in favor of current political and cultural trends.  Anybody who has a modicum of Church history knows that the Church does not function in this  way.

Nonetheless, there are some Catholics–who have difficulty with religious authority in general and Petrine ministry in particular—are desperately hoping for a relaxation of Church norms.  Fr. James Martin, the cultural critic at America magazine and the author of a number of outstanding books (e.g., The Jesuit Guide and  My Life with the Saints) voiced the hope that “since the pope’s first homily focused specifically on ‘tenderness,’ we may see that his application of church rules will be a little more tender” (AP, March 21, 2013).  Who can argue against that? Who wouldn’t want a touchy-feely pontiff?  That’s certainly what the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) is hoping for.   By way of reminder, after a three year investigation of the LCWR, the Vatican report cited a number of egregious theological and doctrinal errors and placed it under a more hands-on supervision of the Vatican.

Still reeling from the “Vatican crackdown,” LCWR leader Sr. Nancy Sylvester told the AP that she is encouraged by Francis emphasis on the poor.  “I’m really trying to be hopeful,” she said, “that he would be much more sympathetic to women religious.”  In other words, Sr. Sylvester wants the Pope to be a buddy and leave her sisters alone.

Notice the hopeful if illogical connection between “emphasis on the poor” and relaxation of Church norms.  Chicago’s Francis Cardinal George has aptly pointed out in interviews following the election that “it’s one thing to be for the poor” and “it’s another thing to be for the poor in a way that compromises the teaching of the Church.”  John Paul II was no compromiser.  Benedict XVI was no compromiser.  According to Cardinal George, though Francis may differ in style and emphasis from his predecessors, he will be no different in substance.

This isn’t wishful thinking as Bergoglio has a track record as a Jesuit priest and Archbishop of Buenos Aires, in which he supported the Vatican crackdown of Marxist influenced liberation theology.  It’s also worth noting, that Cardinal Bergoglio was an outspoken critic of Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchener when she imposed same-sex marriage.  “This is not simply a political struggle, but an attempt to destroy God’s plan,” he wrote boldly in 2010.  “It is not just a bill but a move of the Father of Lies, who seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God” (cf. a letter Jorge Mario Cardinal Bergoglio sent to the Carmelite nuns of the Archdiocese of Buenos Aires on June 22, 2010 on this topic).

So, let’s get real for a moment.  It would require a willful suspension of disbelief in order to entertain the idea that Pope Francis would make a 180-degree change in supporting political initiatives favoring gay marriage or adoption by same sex-couples.

Aside from style, Francis gives every indication of carrying on the essential spiritual vision of JP II and Benedict XVI.  The new Pope strongly backed an important theme of the Ratzinger pontificate warning against the “tyranny of relativism,” which our emeritus Pope defined as letting oneself “be tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine.”  In a speech delivered to the Vatican diplomatic corps, Pope Francis clearly backed is predecessor’s message: “There is a Christian truth, and  that truth is obscured by relativism, leaving confusion, darkness, and death.  There cannot be true peace, Pope Francis said, “if everyone is his own criterion, if everyone can always claim exclusively his own rights, without at the same time caring for the good of others, of everyone, on the basis of the nature that unites every human being on this earth.”  Sound a lot like John Paul II/Benedict XVI, doesn’t it?

Marc Cardinal Ouellet of Quebec, who was on the short-list of many papal prognostications, agrees that Francis will follow Benedict’s essential spiritual vision.  In an interview with the Globe and Mail (March 16, 2013), he said he does not expect “liberal decisions”  from Pope Francis.  “I think he will follow the doctrinal path that was indicated by Benedict.”

Though Francis will not be a reformer of Church doctrine, practice, or discipline, the Holy Father may go down in history for a being a Church reformer of a different kind: namely, Vatican governance.  One of the immediate concerns for Pope Francis is the reform of the Roman curia, and expectation the cardinals made clear in the pre-conclave  comments.  Given the fact that Bergoglio always kept a distance from the curia, it’s likely that the cardinals have a great deal of confidence that this Jesuit pope is the man to reform Church governance root and branch.  So, while there may be a tidal wave of change to the curia which should be in service to the hierarchy (and not the other way around), don’t look for doctrinal shifts.

Deacon Jim McFadden

Fair Oaks, CA

Vietnam-Iraq War Connection

The Vietnam-Iraq Connection;
Letter from an Iraq War Veteran:
“When Will We Ever Learn”

The philosopher George Santayana famously said that “Those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it.”  As this year marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq War, which Pope John Paul II and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops judged to be an unjust war (which, however, was supported by the majority of American Catholics), this may be a good occasion to ask, “Why do we keep making the same errors in moral judgment?”
Good topic for a book, but for the purpose of this blog-reflection,
I’ve got to keep it brief.  I would venture that there is a thread connecting the Vietnam War, another unjust war, with the Iraq mis-adventure.  We never named our moral culpability in  the Vietnam War.  Moreover, those who were chagrined at America’s humiliation were highly motivated to regain the military/political prowess that they saw diminished by Vietnam.
As a country we’ve never taken responsibility for what we did in Vietnam.   Nick Turse in Killing Anything That Moves takes an uncompromising look at the real American War in Vietnam.  While there has been over 30,000 books on Vietnam, Turse presents an in-your-face, deeply disturbing book that provides the fullest documentation of the intentional brutality and ugliness that marked American’s War in Vietnam.  Using the U.S. military’s own records, reports, and transcripts he provides a sickening compendium of American’s savagery towards Vietnam civilians (over 3,000,000 Vietnamese died during the war), which was camouflaged by a record of government deceit and cover-ups on the part of high-ranking officers and government officials.  After you read this book, your left with the lingering dread that the claim that My Lai was a one-off event becomes unsustainable.
Rather than naming, repenting, and amending our national life,   the attitudes that fostered the immorality of the Vietnam War were simply awaiting an opportunity to reclaim America’s robust military/political presence in the international realm.  That opportunity came with the Iraq War.
Invasion of Iraq: A break of trust.  Since we did not take moral responsibility for the Vietnam War and suppressed it’s horror in our collective memory,  that made it easier for us as a nation to make future mistakes.  So, let’s look at the five unfortunate facts that marked our invasion.
First, the leaders of the Bush Administration, many of whom were foreign policy wonks of the Nixon Administration (such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Pearle, and Paul Wolfawicz), were intent on invading Iraq from the beginning of the Bush Administration.  What they lacked was a reason to embark on it.  When the 9-11 attacks came, the Bush Cabinet immediately discussed how that national tragedy could be used as a justification to invade Iraq.
Bush-Cheney tried to pin the blame of 9-11 on Iraq and though there was no evidence to support such a claim, the Administration promoted it through a very compliant media, including liberal bastions as the New York Times and Washington Post.  Invading Iraq as a response to 9-ll made as  much sense as the United States invading Mexico after Pearl Harbor.
Second, though at one time 60% of the American public  accepted the deception of the Iraq/9-11 connection, the Bush-Cheney settled on the excuse for invading that Iraq was making weapons of mass destruction.  They trotted out to Congress, the American people, and the United Nations a series of fabricated intelligence reports.  The proof of these fabrications were well known before we invaded.
Third, the same hubris that characterized our Vietnam involvement was seen in our gross mismanagement of the war that cost minimally 100,000 Iraqi lives, and thousands of American lives.
As has been documented by scores of books of Iraq (most notably, Thomas Ricks, Fiasco), the Bush Administration had no real plan for occupying Iraq.  But, in a mind-boggling strategic error, it did dismiss the Iraqi army, despite the fact that the latter had access to a trove of weapons, which fueled the insurgency war that soon followed.
Fourth, Iran profited by our invasion.  For years, Iran’s aggressive tendencies had been held in check by the Baghdad government.  Since the U.S. invasion, Shiite-dominated  Iran has gained a greater influence  in Iraq, which is 60% Shiite.  On top of that, Iran has gained a greater influence throughout the Middle East, though the Arab Spring has damped that somewhat.
Fifth, invasion and occupation of Iraq added between one trillion and two trillions to our long-term debt.
War profiteers such as Haliburton and Blackwater made huge profits.  These war expenses were initiated as the same time the Bush Administration began a tax cut, which largely benefitted the wealthy.  The financial difficulties our government and economy face today are in large part driven by those twin decisions.
While it is appropriate that we thank our veteran soldiers and civilians for their service in Iraq, no matter how misguided the policies were, it is, however, inappropriate that we thank for their service the senior officials who concocted this debacle.
One of the great strengths of America is that we look to the future with optimism and confidence.  That penchant may also be one of our greatest weaknesses because we don’t do a very good job of learning from our past history.  Indeed, since we did not learn enduring lessons from the Vietnam War, we suffer from a collective amnesia or ignorance of our own history.   We must honestly teach our history, learn from it, not cover it up, and never forget it.
Message to Bush, Cheney from a Dying Veteran.
The following letter is written by Tomas Young, who was in the fifth day of his first deployment to Iraq when he was struck by a sniper’s bullet in Baghdad’s Sadr City.  The single bullet paralyzed him from the chest down, and changed his life forever.  Now, nine years later, at the age of 33, young has decided to end his life.  He announced recently that he will soon stop his nourishment, which comes in the form of liquid through a feeding tube.
(Note: This originally appeared at Truthdig.com.)
I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans.  I write this letter on behalf of the 4,448 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq.  I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives.  I am one of those gravely wounded.  I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City.  My life is coming to and end.  I am living under hospice care.
I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of he fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf o those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries.  I write this letter on behalf of those veterans who trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done n Iraq have led to suicide on  behalf o the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day.  I write this letter on behalf of he some one million Iraqi dead and on behalf o the countless Iraqi wounded.  I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those while spend their lives in unending pain and grief.
I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney.  I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power.  I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and  hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, I know fully who you are and what you have done.  You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.
Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, our privilege and our power cannot mask the hollowness of your character.  You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit.  Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago.  You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young mean and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage.
I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks.  I joined the Army because our county had  been attacked.  I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens.  I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States.  I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mss-destruction facilities or implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East.  I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues.  Instead, this war will cost the United States $3 trillion.  I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war, which is illegal under international law.  And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes.  The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history.  It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East.  It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror.  And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region.  On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure.  And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war.  It is you who should pay the consequences. …
I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration.  I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used.  We were betrayed.  And we have been abandoned.  You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being Christian.  But isn’t lying a sin?  isn’t murder a sin?  Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins?  I am not a Christian.  But, I believe in the Christian ideal.  I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul.
My day of reckoning is upon me.  Yours will come.  I hope you will be put on trial.  But mostly I hope, for your sakes,  that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live.  I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in  particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.
Tomas Young
Kansas City, Mo.