Catholic education should lead to an encounter with the living God and reveal reality's transcendence, said the founding president of the Federation of Catholic Teachers' Guilds of Ontario (FCTGO).
It should also serve as a call to holiness that should be exciting to students, said Barry White, who was elected to serve FCTGO after its inaugural meeting Aug. 8 at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy.
"Here is a reason to send your child to school - to encounter Being, namely God through his creation," said White, principal of St. Michael's Choir School and president of the Toronto Catholic Teachers' Guild.
"For a young person to see creation, to behold the world in a contemplative way, is to step in the direction of the beatific vision."
In a talk entitled The Role of "Communio" in Education, White said "communio" is a theological term that captures a transcendent dimension missing from the word "community."
The reality of communio is captured in Scripture in Matthew's Gospel when Jesus says: "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them," White said.
Education is an encounter "informed and guided by communio." It is "oriented to holiness; and "anchored in the lived witness of the Eucharistic teacher," he said.
Vatican II's Declaration on Christian Education reminds parents to send their children to Catholic schools whenever possible. White, however, said it's legitimate to ask questions about whether a school which calls itself Catholic has an authentically Catholic program, or even whether to send a child to school at all given the rise of homeschooling.
Governments are recognizing the present educational model is becoming obsolete in today's "electronic cultural milieu" as students anticipate life-long learning, he said.
"What about teaching the things that never change?" White asked.
In 2008, Pope Benedict said, "First and foremost, every Catholic educational institution is a place to encounter the living God who in Jesus Christ reveals his transforming love and truth."
The notion of communio steers us to the "real above" that makes a true community of persons possible, a sharing in the inner life of the Trinity, he said.
The tension between the horizontal and vertical aspects of communio can be seen in how people see the Great Commandment to love God and to love neighbour, White said. "It's not a matter of choosing one or the other - it's both."
Yet there is often a danger of collapsing to one or the other, he said.
"The universal call to holiness, another famous expression of the council, is often misunderstood because of this collapse," he said.
Yet for many there is a discomfort with the call to holiness, White said, because it's mistaken for a moral quality that would run someone the risk of being "seen as one of those holier-than-thou super pious types."
Holiness means being set apart for God's use, he explained. The challenge for teachers is to transform the classroom into a holy place, he said.
Holiness for the teacher is more than "just showing up with personal interior sanctity," White said. "Holiness in the classroom entails how the teacher and the students are engaged in the activity of learning."