Recently I was asked, essentially, what is a good Catholic college? Sixty years ago the question probably would have been framed differently. It may well have been offered this way, “how does that Catholic college practice its faith tradition?”
Vatican Council II ushered in an era of much confusion for the Church. The Roman Pontiff called for an “opening of the window” to encourage the faithful to embrace the modern world rather than become alienated. Unfortunately, there were many misunderstandings on the teachings of the Council fueled, in part, by inaccurate or incomplete reporting. Interpretations on what was discussed, debated, and decided in Rome by the Church Fathers were many, but they were not all authoritative. Some were made without actually reading the documents. We see this effect in the media in America today … too often the facts remain hidden from the reporting. Pope Benedict refers to this phenomenon—with respect to Second Vatican Council—as the presentation of two differing views: the Council of the Fathers and the Council of the Media. The confusion that followed Vatican Council II has increased the difficulty for all of us on our journey to better understand how to live our lives in the modern world as God desires.
Due to this confusion, over time political and social terms have crept into the conversation with the pernicious use of labels—such as liberal or conservative, left or right—when we discuss our faith. This is unfortunate because it sets up an “either/or” choice … to hold one label too often implies a rejection of those that hold the other. When considering our faith as one of two extremes we lose sight of that reality that we are all in a different place. It is better to understand that we are learning and growing everyday; thus, our position on a host of things changes day to day. Christ showed his Apostles (and us) in his example a willingness to meet people wherever they are in recognition of human weaknesses and human differences. That is why we should remember that catholic means universal … it is an inclusive tradition. In the words of Cardinal Francis E. George (of Chicago), the Catholic faith built upon Apostolic tradition is “radical in its critique of any society.” It is neither conservative nor liberal, neither left not right, but “simply Catholicism.” His Eminence goes on to say, “The liberal/conservative thing is destructive of the Church’s mission and her life….You’re taking a definition that comes out of nowhere … and making it the judgment of the Church’s life. It’s because we’re lazy. You put a label on people, you put a label on something, and it saves you the trouble of thinking. For us, the category that matters is true/false.”
Reflect on the power of that thought … wow.
In the moment, I focused on “Catholic” in addressing the question. I have been musing over this in the context of Cardinal George’s thinking … perhaps an explication with “good” as the operative word would have been instructive in addition to being responsive … and I think this is something you might consider in your search.
Without a lot of philosophical fanfare, I will connect “goodness” (that which is morally right) with “integrity” (the quality of being honest). There is goodness in the endeavor if it is presented with integrity. That doesn’t mean with perfection. That doesn’t mean with only one approach. That doesn’t mean the same way … forever.
By way of example, let me offer how this approach is applied.
What is a good athlete? A good athlete is someone who demonstrates integrity in the sport. S/he learns all that they can about the sport and attempts to play the sport to the best of their individual ability. As an individual performer, a good athlete will improve over time. They will perform better next week than they did last week as a result of practice and conditioning, for example. If the athlete is playing a team sport, then the athlete learns the importance of contributing as a teammate.
What is a good Catholic? A good Catholic is someone who demonstrates integrity in the faith. S/he grows in the knowledge of the teachings of the faith and attempts to think and act in accordance with those tenants. For the Roman Catholic, that means there is integrity in following the guidelines of the Vatican. For a religious order, that means there is also integrity in following the guidelines established by its Founder.
What is a good Catholic college? A good Catholic college is an institution that demonstrates integrity in the mission. If the mission states it is a Catholic institution, then the institutional conscious should be guided by the Catholic faith in the journey to discovering the truth. If the mission states it is a liberal arts college, then the school should offer liberal arts classes to the students. If the mission states there is a focus on the whole person, then there should be activities and offerings for the student that focus on the intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual development. Finally, integrity in mission for an institution seeking to follow the heritage of the Sponsoring Order means that the environment or culture should be reflective of the unique charisms—or gifts—that are the marks of the Order.
As you search for a “good Catholic” college or university, look for signs that demonstrate the school’s offerings are aligned with the expectations you develop as you learn about the institution. Reasonable people may disagree on the best approach to fulfilling the integrity in mission, but that disagreement is never connected to disrespect. We are all life-long learners! Of course, we can always challenge ourselves to be better … so be understanding and accept that finding perfection in mission accomplishment is not the goal of your search. Only faithfulness with intent to do the kind of things that are pointed towards mission success.
Yet another aspect for you to consider in this very important search activity!