What is the Catholic lifestyle teachers should live?
By Glen Argan
Alberta’s Catholic school system is again under fire from the province’s education minister, David Eggen. The issue this time is the “Catholicity clause” in teachers’ contracts which require teachers to agree to live a Catholic lifestyle.
That Catholic teachers ought to live virtuous lives should be obvious. Our schools exist to impart a Catholic worldview to students, a worldview which is not only intellectual, but also spiritual and moral. If the teachers don’t live by Catholic standards, they become barriers, rather than conduits, for imparting Catholic values to the kids.
The problem is that too often a Catholic lifestyle gets boiled down in the public eye to one negative precept – don’t have sexual relations outside of a heterosexual marriage blessed in the Church. As well, Catholic school districts have become more insistent that their teachers attend Sunday Mass and have participated in parish ministry.
Even so, this is a remarkably thin understanding of a Catholic lifestyle. Given the recent allegations and criminal charges at Toronto’s private St. Michael’s College School, one would also hope that teachers strive to promote a culture of non-violence in their lives and their schools.
Eggen supports the public funding of Catholic schools, but the Catholicism he would permit is not Catholic.
Or, following the example of Pope Francis who has eschewed living in the luxurious palaces provided for previous pontiffs, a Catholic lifestyle should include having but one modest residence. Still following the pope’s example, it might also be seen as owning only one pair of shoes and driving a small vehicle. If the pope’s lifestyle is not Catholic, whose is?
To be Catholic today also includes showing respect for the natural environment and the working conditions of labourers in developing nations through one’s personal life, one’s investments and one’s workplace decisions. It means welcoming the outsider, giving generously of one’s time and treasure, and only supporting political parties which protect human life from conception to natural death.
A Catholic has a vibrant life of personal prayer, goes to Confession every month and actively participates in the liturgy every Sunday. A Catholic sees the majesty of God revealed in the uniqueness of each snowflake. A Catholic sheds tears at the birth of a child and accompanies a loved one as their death approaches. In the midst of a world of noise, distractions and consumerism, a Catholic sits silently in the presence of God. A Catholic prays for others and joyfully accepts God’s response whatever it might be.
Along with observing a Lenten fast, a Catholic lifestyle might include an occasional glass of red wine, pint of beer and box of chocolates.
Further, Catholic schools should not have to insist on these dispositions; they should come naturally to every teacher.
Some will maintain that I am setting the bar too high, that virtually no one lives up to such standards. On the latter point, they are correct. However, on the former point, they are selling God and his people short. God willingly provides all the grace necessary to live a Catholic lifestyle if we would only ask for that grace and cooperate with it.
But since this is not the Church in which we live, what are we to do? I have no pat answer, other than to say we should cut people some slack. Some will, unfortunately, take every bit of slack they can get while high expectations will inspire others to live up to a higher standard.
Back to Alberta’s education minister. Eggen recently stated, “You can have attestations of faith; that’s one thing. But to deny someone employment or termination based on their sexuality or other factors is definitely not acceptable.”
Eggen supports the public funding of Catholic schools, but the Catholicism he would permit is not Catholic. Catholic faith is not a state of mind, but is reflected in action. Our faith is lived out in every aspect of life. Catholic faith has transformed people’s lives as well as entire societies. Despite the Church’s many grievous faults, it has been the greatest historical force in the progress of human freedom and dignity.
Maintaining and enhancing the integrity of the Catholic school system requires teachers to live an elevated Catholic lifestyle. Yet, schools must recognize that ours is a broken society and that virtually every person comes with addictions or a history of trauma. Teachers should be held to the same high standard which Christ set for his disciples. Yet while the disciples often failed Our Lord, Jesus removed no one from his group of 12, hoping that mercy in the medicine which brings repentance.