Upbringing under the sign of love
Priest Mirosław Melizner talks to Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski, the prefect for the Congregation of the Catholic Education.
Fr. MIROSŁAW MEJZNER: - Christmas has got a deep family character. What does particularly move Priest Cardinal during the Christmas and what does Priest Cardinal hanker for the most?
CARDINAL ZENON GROCHOLEWSKI: - Children in Catholic families experience Christmas very intensely. Decorating a Christmas tree, presents from Santa Claus, Christmas Eve supper, especially sharing the wafer, preceded by reading a biblical fragment, singing carols, and then the Midnight Mass, Nativity play, Christmas pastoral visits - this all creates a specific atmosphere of family warmth. If somebody is an altar-boy in the childhood or youth years, or becomes an actor in Nativity play - as it took place in my case - so I feel a protagonist who actively contributes to the experience of this beautiful period and feels it more joyfully and deeply. However, I would like to emphasize very strongly that this holiday has got not only a family character but is and should be, first of all, an authentic spiritual and religious experience for children from Catholic families.
- So the religious aspect should be more fundamental?
- Certainly. The whole sense of Christmas is an experience of a great mystery of God's love towards people. The fact of Christ's birth in the Bethlehem cave made a meaningful and beneficial mark on the history and culture of our continent, which found its expression, among the others, in literature and art. Unfortunately, today this holiday is often so full of consumptionism (from November streets and shops are decorated and people are encouraged to do shopping), and uncontrollable quest for gifts, preparing various attractions, that the real sense of this beautiful holiday becomes stifled and there is hardly any place for religious experience. I would really like parents and educators to help children in their religious experience of this great mystery of Lord's Birth. For, it contributes to the development of spiritual life, connects with God, forms the character, strengthens relationships of real love and frees the desire of doing the good. I am convinced that the religious and spiritual experience from the childhood years continues to be a treasure for the whole life. I was lucky to experience this, for which I am very grateful to God, my parents and priests.
- What can parents and educators learn from the Holy Family of Nazareth nowadays?
- First of all, they can and should learn to understand the essence of real love and its significance in the perspective of family happiness and upbringing. One can not imagine, from the point of human view, greater love than one which was connecting the Holy Family. It was love in the most essential meaning of this word, based on a strong desire of good for another person and its consistent realization. In this context we should perceive upbringing as a sign of complete love. For, we cannot give a child anything greater than good upbringing. An excellent educator St. Jan Bosko used to say: 'Upbringing is a matter of love'. We must bring up and love a pupil and we must teach him real love. Whereas St. Maksymilian Kolbe used to repeat: 'Only love is creative!'
- In July Priest Cardinal paid a visit in a collegiate church in Sieradz where, among the others, he sacrificed a renovated altar of St. Anna Samotrzecia. This image shows a value of multi-generation family. Does this educational and social model have breakthrough strength in the world yet, where a civilization gap is getting deeper and deeper between generations?
- This year I have been lucky to be also on the Hill of St. Anna in the diocese of Opole where St. Anna Samotrzecia is specially adored. However, the main figure which gives sense to the whole composition is Baby Jesus. It is worth noting that where children are, the mentioned educational model has breakthrough strength. Children connect and enliven a multi-generation family. Older people usually live the matters of their grandchildren very much, and children are happy about the fact that their grandmother's or granddad's being interested in them. Also children's parents often take advantage of their parents' help. A multi-generation family fulfils its beneficial role towards children, if parents and grandparents have the same vision of upbringing, based on good values. In this case their cooperation is creative, despite of some unavoidable contradictions in a bigger extent of being lenient by grandparents towards grandchildren. Statues, pictures of graphics of St. Anna Samotrzecia, popular especially since XV century, also have another meaning, mainly, the one that the greatness of St. Anna appears on them in the light of a role fulfilled towards Mary and Jesus. The whole greatness of parents and educators appears in this beneficial influence on pupils!
- What does the contemporary crisis of marriage and family result from?
- We could point to different factors. I think that this crisis mainly results from the crisis of love, fanned by different contemporary ideologies. If somebody in a married couple is looking for his own good than the good of his spouse and children, if he is not ready to devote himself to them, if he does not treat his marriage as a task of real building - as the Second Vatican Council teaches - 'the community of life and love', then it is difficult to speak about creating strong, permanent and happy families. Looking for only one's own happiness in marriage, nobody finds it in a long run, but looking for the common happiness, for the price of effort, the person becomes happy, as well. Another reason for the crisis is the secularization of the family life. The percent of divorced married couples is very high today, which has very harmful consequences, especially for children and this is discussed very little. The statistics show, however, that this percent is very low in the reference to married couples which pray together regularly and try to root their mutual love in God's love. The Episcopate in our country suggested, among the others, a challenge in the period of preparations for the celebration of the millennium of Poland's Baptism: 'Family is strong through God'. Such a family is undoubtedly much more resistant to any crisis.
- What is 'Catholic upbringing'?
- As every serious upbringing, it is not only passing any knowledge or skills, but the integral formation of the whole person. It is mainly all about forming character and features which characterize noble people in whom we can rely and whom we can trust; it is about forming such virtues as: honesty, truthfulness, altruism, respect to others, a skill of controlling one's emotions, loving the truth, a will of doing good, etc. The integral upbringing includes also the religious and spiritual element which allows for strengthening and enriching the mentioned features, giving the man a suitable motivation and spiritual strengths and putting him in the whole truth, which is not limited only to the world's reality. This upbringing cannot lack intellectual formation in the sense of teaching independent thinking, criticism, reasonable evaluation, mental creativity, so that the man would not be agitated by different ideologies or propaganda. Finally, the integral upbringing includes passing messages and skills necessary for doing a specific and chosen profession. Upbringing becomes Catholic if in the above-mentioned described vision it is based on the rules of our belief, that is, Catholic vision of the man and social, moral and spiritual values passed through Christ's will by the Catholic Church.
- Does not the upbringing based on the role of authority stifle the originality of pupils or cut the roots of their spontaneous creativity?
- There is no upbringing without authority. A young man will undergo beneficial influence of his educator only when he is a real authority for the young man. It is extremely important that an educator would be reliable, coherent, attract not only with words, but, first of all, with his attitude and example of life, so that the young man would feel that the educator wants good for him. Such authority has causative power, stimulates the development and creativity. Was not Blessed John Paul II just such authority?
- What is upbringing supposed to be in the multi-cultural and pluralistic world?
- Two tips. Firstly, we should help a young man to be himself, that is, deepen his faith, live it, express it, and share it with others. Secondly, we should teach him respect to others, constructive discussion, enriching his person also with authentic values which he perceives in others. Such an attitude was expressed very clearly by John Paul II during his pastoral ministry in the See of Peter. The basic task of a man is looking for the truth. A real discussion is possible only when everybody says what he really thinks. The worst is submission to relativism, that is, belief that there is no objective truth concerning basic issues - for example life and the purpose of the man - adapting one's beliefs to specific situations. Benedict XVI says about a dictatorship of relativism in the contemporary world. If there is no objective truth in basic issues, it is not known what is good and bad, then in the social life everything breaks down. Then the questions appear: why to educate? And on which example educate?
- Some people state that the Church is intolerant. What - in Priest's Cardinal opinion - is tolerance and what are its borders?
- I think that it is a big misunderstanding or a bad will. The Church does not close anybody's mouths. But, unfortunately, there are many those who want to close the mouth of the Church by force or a deceit. Strangely enough, they shout that the Church is intolerant! If the intolerance was a fact that the Church expresses its beliefs and defends them, especially those which concern moral and social life, there is a question: why do those, who do not like the opinions of the Church, have a right to express their opinion and defend their position and the Church does not? The Church, as everyone, has a right and a duty to express its opinion in the perspective of building a real good of humankind.
- What is the educational role of the Church?
- I will point to three areas. Firstly, the basic right and duty of upbringing their children belong to parents. This right and the duty must be respected both by the Church and the State because these institutions have only an auxiliary function in the educational process. Secondly, the Church thinks it as its duty to defend the fundamental right of parents on the public forum, which has been acknowledged in different international treaties, but, which is, unfortunately, breached very often. It if the defence of the human dignity and his basic rights. Finally, the Church - in any organizations, on various congresses, symposia, in publications and during discussions - shares its beliefs and rich experience in this sphere with others.
- What is the situation of Catholic education in the world today?
- There are over 1500 Catholic universities all over the world, whose the subject of academic studies and teaching are the same subjects as in similar secular universities, however, perceived from the Catholic point of view. Besides that there are several hundred universities called ecclesiastical which deal with studies strictly connected with the mission of the Church, like theology, canonical law, etc. There are also spiritual, diocesan and religious seminaries, spread in almost all countries. Whereas, there are 200 thousand Catholic schools all over the world, attended by over 45 million pupils. These universities and schools work in all possible social, cultural, political and religious conditions. They are popular and respected in countries where there are very few Catholics. In Thailand, for example, there are about 300 thousand Catholics (0.5% of population), and 465 thousand pupils attend Catholic schools. A Catholic University in this country, Assumption University, numbering over 20 thousand students, is one of the most beautiful universities I have ever seen. I could talk about it long. I will only add that as far as Catholic universities and schools are concerned, their number is still growing. I state with pleasure that Catholics often set up schools in conditions of big poverty, in the spirit of Christian love and great devotion. Thanks to that many children gain basic education which they would never have in any other way.
- How is it presented in our country?
- In Poland there are many departments, the so-called ecclesiastical, especially theology, there is even 'ecclesiastical' university in Krakow. There are such several universities in Rome and outside the Eternal City, apart from Krakow, only one. As far as Catholic universities are concerned, in Poland there is only one - in Lublin. Apart from that, we have also several other Catholic universities which, I hope, will develop. As far as Catholic schools in Poland are concerned, there are comparatively very few of them because after the fall of the communist obscurantism they had to be created them from zero. A few years ago when I took part in the Forum of Catholic Schools in Częstochowa, I learnt that not the whole percent of Polish children and youth attended Catholic schools, whereas in Slovakia it was 2.9 % and in Hungary - 4%. In contrast, I will say that in very liberal countries, like Belgium and Holland 60% of all pupils attend Catholic schools.
- How should the Church-Mother fulfil its educational role?
- The educational role is an element of the teaching mission of the Church in the broadest sense that is, bringing Christ closer to people. Not only bishops, priests, schools and Catholic universities are obliged to it but all the faithful. For, the whole Church is missionary. I would like to note a few features of this task, important nowadays in the perspective of the efficiency of the ministration entrusted to the Church. It is necessary: 1) to present the whole teaching of the Church without omitting what cannot be liked by somebody, for example in moral issues; 2) that this teaching is consistent with the teaching of the Magisterium, that is, mainly Pope and councils; 3) that it is clear and understandable; 4) that it is done not only with the word, but, first of all, an example of life and Christian attitude; 5) that its purpose is bringing Christ closer to people, evangelization, formation of authentic Christians who build the Church and creatively work for the good of humankind.
- Is it so in reality?
- Unfortunately, this teaching and upbringing - in a broader sense, which I mean here - are often perverted by a naive effort to gain an approval and applause from the world. We allow for patting by some social or political groups, and we are glad about that, but it is done at the cost of not having any voice in delicate matters, so for the price of being unfaithful to the mission of converting the contemporary world. It is not fair to permit for being conditioned in this way. Moreover, we meet with the attitudes of people of public life who declare to be Catholics, and, simultaneously, - probably, in order to gain a political advantage - they support the legalization of what is clearly inconsistent with the clear teaching of the Magisterium of the Church. One cannot be a Catholic and simultaneously anti-Catholic! We could add here other depravities like, for example, the attitude of a Religion teacher or a professor of ecclesiastical studies, who do not testify what they teach with their life or instrumentalization of one's friendliness or acquaintance with an ecclesiastical hierarch in order to gain social or political support. All this breaches the reliability of Catholic teaching and upbringing, breaches the reliability of evangelization mission of the Catholics in the contemporary world. I would like our attitude to be clear, coherent and also if it would meet with the opposition or misunderstanding. Christ did not withdraw when facing the opposition. Only this behaviour will make our mission effective. This was the attitude of Blessed John Paul II and therefore he became a real and reliable authority.
- What would Priest Cardinal like to wish compatriots at Christmas?
- I would like to wish them to experience a real joy of the Embodiment Mystery, joy of the fact that God's Son became a human for us from love, became one of us to redeem us. Let this joy radiate our earthly existence and become a source of Christian dynamism, a courageous encouraging everybody in evangelization of the contemporary world; let the joy enliven the engagement - to which everyone of us is appointed, although to various extent and dimension - in upbringing of a new generation.