Colin Kerr says Catholic tradition is a key in evangelization. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Education, evangelization go hand in hand

  • December 1, 2012

OTTAWA - Education in the Catholic tradition is indispensable to evangelization, theologian and educator Colin Kerr told the Catholic Teachers’ Guild here Nov. 20.

“The Church has always made its greatest strides when it entered most fully into the intellectual fray,” said Kerr, who taught theology at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry’s Bay, Ont., until taking on the position of principal this fall at Maryvale Academy, a private Catholic school in Ottawa.

The Church must not retreat from debate even if its ideas are unpopular, he said. “Good education is evangelization.”

Kerr warned, however, against using the strategies of the recent past to meet today’s challenges, noting many only look to the successes of the last century for their models.
“A wrench cannot saw wood, and a saw cannot aid a flat tire,” he said. “Unreflective conservatism is bad evangelization.”

The Church’s intellectual tradition goes back to the apostles who confronted the schools of thought that existed in their day: stoicism and gnosticism, he said.

“Religion to them did not mean some sort of separate realm of knowledge or belief removed from the world of everyday experience,” he said. Nor did it mean the “absence of rational inquiry.”

Whether during the time of the apostles, the early Church Fathers, the Middle Ages or the 16th century, the coincidence of evangelization and mental rigour is “unmistakable,” he said.

“What is also unmistakable is that material advantage had nothing to do with success either in the missionary or in intellectual fields,” he said.

Finding the right balance of faith and reason “is essential if the Church is to continue to reach souls in an age of increasing darkness,” Kerr said. “The Christian tradition tells us that moral darkness always follows close behind intellectual darkness — not a lesson many of us want to acknowledge.”

At the same time, Kerr challenged modern-day assertions that papal interventions against modernism were anti-intellectual.

“Modernism wasn’t a pro-intellectual movement,” Kerr said. “In fact the popes were convinced it was just the opposite.”

Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et Ratio said the modern intellectual was tempted to intellectual laziness mainly through the unwillingness to take on significant questions such as “What is the meaning of life? In what does goodness consist?” Kerr said. They have “adopted the very anti-intellectual stance that such questions admit of no solution but are just matters of personal position.”

Kerr admitted the Church’s intellectual tradition is not easy to understand or defend. It’s also not easy to determine how that tradition best speaks to the present age of modernity and post-modernity. Nor will the ideas be popular, he said.

Catholic educators can start by embracing the “real human questions” on how the truth of God impacts sociology, politics, psychology, the natural sciences, ethics and so on, he said.
Catholic education must be “universal in scope” to be truly Catholic, he said.
Issues such as abortion and contraception are not Catholic questions but human questions, he said.

“Catholics are interested in truth wherever it is to be found.”

Kerr warned against forming insular, inward-facing communities that only engage like-minded Catholics. This can happen even in institutions that were originally founded with an apostolic and evangelical mission, he said.

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