TORONTO (CCN) — Catholic teachers should be genuine in their faith and countercultural agents of holy wisdom, particularly at a time when assisted suicide and euthanasia are coming to Canada, said Cardinal Thomas Collins.
At a Jan. 11 event hosted by the teachers’ union, the Toronto archbishop lamented that society is “swimming in a culture that often treats people like things.” He urged teachers to become stewards of holy wisdom to curb the systemic watering down of faith in society.
The cardinal noted that it was the final day for objections to be submitted to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario regarding the college’s proposal to compel doctors who object to assisted suicide to refer patients to other doctors willing to end a patient’s life. As further evidence that Canadian society is becoming “colder and darker,” Collins pointed to last year’s Supreme Court of Canada ruling that will make assisted suicide legal on Feb. 6.
“This is where education has a role,” he said. “The great questions of life and death are before us. We need people to see the bigger, deeper picture.”
He called on teachers to lead by example.
“Knowledge is good, skill is good, understanding is good but nothing is as good as holy wisdom,” he said. “What matters in life is to be a steward of holy wisdom, to help people to understand the purpose of life. That is something that is fundamental to all of us as Catholic teachers.”
That role has become increasingly important as large segments of Canadian society reject their Christian roots, he added.
“We need all the more in Catholic education to be counter cultural, to speak up for the human person and not be swayed by all of the powerful forces that we have in our popular culture,” he said.
As the leaders of tomorrow, Catholic students need to be exposed to holy wisdom as found in the Bible and in the works of writers such as St. Thomas Aquinas and G. K. Chesterton, Collins said. But he added texts alone will not do the job. Catholic students must also be exposed to Catholic teachers who are genuine in their faith.
“You must believe what you read, teach what you believe and practice what you teach,” said Collins.
The cardinal’s message struck a cord with teacher Mae Fortades.
“You have to be an advocate for you faith, not just in the classroom, but you have to live it every day,” she said. “When you approach Catholic education with that fire and you approach it with the sense that you want to make a difference, you see that they (students) correspond back. These students want to learn about their faith but I believe that they are just not given the spark.”
She said despite an eagerness among students to learn about religion, many are unfamiliar with Catholic teaching.
“At the end of the day, faith has been watered down because people refuse to be advocates for it,” she said. “So the only way to be a Catholic educator is to advocate for that, to be a Catholic every step of the way and not just in the classroom.”
Mark Siolek, religious education course director for the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association, which organized the lecture as part of an advanced qualifications course, was not surprised by the concerns about the religious formation of students.
“With the teaching of religion you can easily just say, well, I’m going to show this film or watch this program,” he said. “People will say that religion is not as important as science and math, but every discipline is important.”
Collins challenged teachers to go beyond their current understanding of faith and encouraged them to read the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
“If they (students) are given a watered down version (of faith) they will go off and say they are Christians or they leave the faith completely,” he said. “(But) when you see true Catholic faith, pure and true, it sets the heart on fire and we need that in Catholic schools.”