Who is teaching them about their ultimate goal?

“For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” St. Mark’s rather pointed question is hard to ignore. It’s a three-o’clock-in-the-morning question, one of those essential or ultimate questions that just won’t go away.

Someone once told us that each person has two responsibilities: to get to heaven and to drag as many others as we possibly can to the same place. If we are parents, that surely means we should start with our kids. They have to know where they are supposed to be going. They have to learn the purpose of their lives.

Increasingly, however, we are giving our children up earlier and earlier to schools, schools that are failing to engage our children with these ultimate questions. The school’s job, of course, is to educate. That is, to prepare children for adulthood and forging a meaningful life. In particular, the school’s responsibility is to come up with an answer to the question, “What, among all the possible things to know, is most worth knowing?” In a world of burgeoning knowledge and information sources, this is an increasingly vexing question for educators. But, they always tackle it and end up with something called “the curriculum” -- what a student has to know to get through the grades and finally out into the world.

The irony is that while we, as a nation, have agreed to leave these ultimate questions to the home and the Church and keep the state’s schools from wrestling with these ultimate questions, nevertheless, in the minds of our children they are being answered. For instance, the crucial question of what to do with one’s sexuality is answered without reference to morality or religious teachings. Relying on “only scientifically verified answers,” students are taught how to avoid “risk” and warned to protect themselves.

However, the most powerful impact on a child’s understanding of these “purpose of life” questions is the public schools’ silence. If a topic is not taught or read about or discussed, it shrinks. Other topics, from the causes of World War II to the creation of artificial life, dominate classroom time. And, students take these topics seriously because, after all, “there will be a test on that.”

While our public schools ought not provide and determine answers to ultimate questions, they can and should point out their importance to students and urge them to seek answers. Yet somehow, they don’t. Instead, they provide their safe and neutral answers. “You should be working hard to become a good citizen and a good worker.” Certainly not a bad message, but hardly what St. Mark and our Church would call a full answer.

This is not to criticize the good people who are devoting their lives to teaching our children in state schools. The problem is that we have bought into a very bad idea: letting the state become the dominant educator.

American Catholics of the 19th and early 20th centuries discovered that the real purpose of our public schools was to Americanize their immigrant children. While a sensible goal, it actually was an attempt to wean them from Rome and mold the children into a more congenial Protestantism.

In response, with great vigor and much sacrifice, the Catholic newcomers built a parallel system of schooling, a kindergarten through university system of education. While few of our colleges and universities reached levels of distinction, many of our elementary and secondary schools were among the nation’s finest. They engaged students in ultimate questions and prepared them as citizens and workers.

For the last three or four decades, American Catholics have been systematically dismantling what their grandparents and great grandparents built. Since 1990 alone, we have closed more than 1,300 Catholic schools. Three hundred thousand students have been sent off to the public schools at an annual cost to the American people of $20 billion.

Catholic schools, which once served the gamut of incomes and social classes in the Church, are increasingly catering to two groups. One group is the urban poor, desperate to find a safe alternative to the dangerous and dispirited public schools. Many of the schools serving Protestant African Americans focus on basic educational, nutritional and social needs of poor students. The distinctive marks of Catholic theology and ethics have faded. Still, this is a worthy and noble mission.

The second group of Catholic schools, seen more clearly at the secondary level, is the elite academic schools, which increasingly have become institutions for affluent Americans. The percentage of wealthy students in Catholics schools doubled from the 1970s to the late 1990s, so that now nearly half of all Catholic secondary school students come from the wealthiest quarter of American households. These schools are college preparatory academies, sought after by parents with ambitions to get their children into the “finest colleges available.” In response to “market demands,” many of these schools, too, eschew Catholic theology and ethics, but here the motivation is so as not to take students’ attention off a college’s admission standards and requirements. Pondering ultimate questions are replaced by anxiety over the annual April 1 college acceptance letters.

Our Church has many problems, but is there a more serious one than our current failure to pass on these ultimate questions and the faith’s essential answers to our children? A 2005 study of the religious formation of U.S. teenagers, entitled the National Study of Youth and Religion, asserts clearly that institutionally the American Catholic Church, once noted for his energetic efforts at faith transmission, has faltered. Their data show that only 19 percent of U.S. Catholic teenagers attend Mass on a weekly basis and that 40 percent never attend. The picture emerges from this study is of a Church that has lost focus on, if not interest in, evangelizing the youth.

Christ promised that “I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” It would appear, however, that he needs a little more help than we are currently willing to give him.

Kevin and Marilyn Ryan edited “Why I Am Still a Catholic” [Riverhead Books, 1998] and live in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Today is 'hour of the laity,' Archbishop Gomez tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Hispanic Catholic leaders are living an important moment in the history of the Catholic church in the U.S. and are called to ...

Stay close to the suffering, forgive one another, pope tells Latvians

AGLONA, Latvia (CNS) -- What would Mary do? was the question Pope Francis, in effect, asked Latvian Catholics gathered at their nation's popular Marian ...

Joy, hope contagious for Encuentro participants as they discern priorities

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Joy, hope, energy and a spirit of continued collaboration are contagious among the participants of the Fifth National Encuentro, ...

Update: Pope in Lithuania: Don't let anti-Semitism, hatred resurge

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Outside the former KGB headquarters in Vilnius, Pope Francis ended a day of paying homage to victims of totalitarianism and ...

God is patient, even with failures, pope tells young Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- Meeting young Lithuanians in Vilnius, Pope Francis said he wanted a relaxed conversation, like they were sitting in a pub ...

Update: Vatican signs provisional agreement with China on naming bishops

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- For the first time in decades, all of the Catholic bishops in China are in full communion with the pope, the Vatican announced. Pope ...

Find strength in tolerance, solidarity, pope tells Lithuanians

VILNIUS, Lithuania (CNS) -- In Lithuania, a nation that experienced invasions, atrocities and persecution, Pope Francis began his visit with a plea to ...

Ospino: Encuentro reflects 'energy, maturity' of a church 'here to stay'

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- The thousands of Hispanic Catholic ministry leaders gathered in Texas for the Fifth National Encuentro shared views on the maturity ...

N.J. cardinal won't attend synod, asks to remain home at 'time of crisis'

NEWARK, N.J. (CNS) -- Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark told the people of his archdiocese Sept. 21 that Pope Francis has granted his request that he ...

Detroit Archdiocese welcomes investigation into Michigan dioceses

DETROIT (CNS) -- Michigan's attorney general has opened an investigation into the handling of sexual abuse by clergy in all of Michigan's seven Catholic ...

Catholics believe in God but 'don't believe in us,' Miami archbishop says

MIAMI (CNS) -- The crisis the Catholic Church is facing is not "a crisis of faith" or "mainly about a crisis of sexual abuse by clergy," but is "a crisis ...

Update: Disney animator says grounding in Catholic schools led to success

SIOUX CITY, Iowa (CNS) -- Ron Clements is a renowned animator, screenwriter and producer-director of award-winning Disney films, including the blockbuster ...

#WhyImCatholic movement aims to share hope at difficult time for church

CHICAGO (CNS) -- Catholic Extension has launched a new social media campaign called #WhyImCatholic to offer "hope and unity" for Catholics by inviting ...

Continue to be an evangelizing church, nuncio tells Encuentro delegates

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- Quoting from Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation "The Joy of the Gospel," Archbishop Christophe Pierre encouraged Hispanic Catholic ...

Encuentro opens with procession, papal message, prayers for abuse victims

GRAPEVINE, Texas (CNS) -- A video message from Pope Francis and a procession of Encuentro crosses representing all of the participating episcopal regions ...

Retired Green Bay auxiliary bishop failed to report abuse, withdraws from ministry

Green Bay, Wis., Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Green Bay, has withdrawn from public ministry saying ...

Dolan 'impatient' waiting for apostolic visitation in response to McCarrick

New York City, N.Y., Sep 20, 2018 CNA.- The Archbishop of New York said Thursday that while he has confidence in the way Pope Francis is handling the ...

Two more Chilean bishops step down in wake of abuse crisis

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Pope Francis accepted the resignations of two more Chilean bishops, bringing to seven the number of bishops who have stepped down ...

Celebration of the Priesthood dinner raises over $1.8 million

BOSTON -- A record 1,700 people attended the 10th annual Celebration of the Priesthood dinner to raise funds for the Clergy Health and Retirement Trust ...

Lawrence parish helps community cope with gas explosion aftermath

LAWRENCE -- Volunteers at St. Patrick Church's Cor Unum Meal Center were serving dinner when multiple natural gas explosions and fires broke out in homes ...

Ceremony, Mass kick off St. Augustine Chapel bicentennial

SOUTH BOSTON -- St. Augustine Chapel and Cemetery began its year-long bicentennial celebration on the weekend of Sept. 14-16 with tours, special Masses, ...

Mass. Knights install new officers

The Massachusetts State Council Knights of Columbus recently held its Installation of State Officers at St. John the Evangelist Parish in Canton with ...

Deal will keep Sancta Maria Nursing Facility open

CAMBRIDGE -- Sancta Maria Nursing Facility announced Sept. 17 that it has negotiated a comprehensive operational contract with Advocate Healthcare Management ...

From Cardinal Seán's blog

As I mentioned in my preface to last week's blog, this week and last, I have been in Rome for meetings related to the work of the Pontifical Commission ...

N.Y. Archdiocese names judge as independent reviewer on abuse protocols

NEW YORK (CNS) -- New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan has named a former federal judge to study archdiocesan policies and procedures with respect to sexual ...

U.S. reports poverty declines, but agencies finding needs remain great

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- The good news from the U.S. Census Bureau Sept. 12 was that the poverty rate dropped for the third straight year in 2017 and median ...

Class-action lawsuit filed against eight Pennsylvania dioceses

PITTSBURGH (CNS) -- A class-action lawsuit was filed Sept. 17 against eight Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania demanding the dioceses provide proof that ...

Apostolic visitor outlines plans for expansion at Medjugorje shrine

WARSAW, Poland (CNS) -- The Polish archbishop tasked with overseeing Bosnia-Herzegovina's Medjugorje shrine has outlined plans for expansion, including ...

Pope names administrator as Indian bishop investigated for alleged rape

MUMBAI, India (CNS) -- Pope Francis has accepted the request of an Indian bishop accused of raping a nun to be relieved of his duties during the investigation. In ...

In letters to German cardinal, retired pope defends way he stepped down

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Retired Pope Benedict XVI expressed his displeasure with the way a German cardinal publicly criticized his stepping down as pontiff, ...

Thousands of Hispanics expected in Texas for Encuentro summit

Fort Worth, Texas, Sep 20, 2018 CNA/EWTN News.- As many as 3,000 Catholics of Hispanic background are expected in Texas this week for the National V Encuentro, ...

Church plans third-party abuse reporting system, code of conduct

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Pledging to "heal and protect with every bit of the strength God provides us," the U.S. bishops' Administrative Committee Sept. 19 ...

Be grateful to parents, never insult them, pope says

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Honoring mothers and fathers means being grateful for the gift of life and Christians should never insult anyone's parents, Pope ...

Canadian cardinal: Women should help screen, train priest applicants

Poznan, Poland, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- Increasing the role of women in screening and training priests is among the steps that should be taken to prevent future ...

Vatican delegation will travel to China this month to finalize agreement, Chinese newspaper reports

Beijing, China, Sep 18, 2018 CNA.- A newspaper tied to the Chinese Communist Party reported Tuesday that a delegation of Vatican officials will head to ...

Media reporting Vatican-China agreement could be signed in late September

HONG KONG (CNS) -- The long-awaited Sino-Vatican agreement on the nomination of bishops is expected to be signed in September, reported several media ...

Update: Irish singer Bono calls pope 'extraordinary man for extraordinary times'

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Bono, the lead singer of the Irish band U2, said he told Pope Francis that in Ireland "it looks as though the abusers are being ...