Education and Our Transcendent Vocation

Fr. Edlefsen's Sunday Column
8.25.19 Blog Picture

Schools across the county are starting a new
academic year. In the hectic fray of “back to
school,” some leisurely reflection about
education’s purpose is worthwhile. These days,
academic pressure dominates educational
culture. Formal schooling can seem like centuries
of anxious work to build up a magnificent
cathedral of knowledge. And then, when it’s
done, we ask, “What’s it for?”

Preparing for a career is a cliché reason behind
academic achievement. Sometimes, this motive is
couched behind high ideals about building a
better, happier, smarter, healthier and fairer
world. At times we hear talk about fulfilling
one’s potential or personal satisfaction.
Enthusiasm for all of this, however, falls fast in a
collision with reality. Illusions aren’t sustainable.
But there’s another outlook. It’s the vantage
point of our supernatural vocation to holiness
and Eternal Life. All that we do in time –
whether successful or not – has eternal value if
we approach it in light of our baptismal calling.
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus
for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that
we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Every baptized person is called to sanctify the
culture. For the Christian, education is part of
this mission. The sacrament of Confirmation
gives us the grace to persevere and grow holy in
the endeavor. Replace the word “career” with
the word “vocation,” and your outlook on
education will change. You’re called, in a certain
sense, to give away – to God and man – what you
learn. It’s a calling to sanctify the culture, to
make it more human, humane, and life-giving. In
light of this noble vocation, I pass on to you these
prophetic words from the Church’s Second
Vatican Council (1962-1965). This passage is from
the document Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope),
officially known as The Pastoral Constitution on the
Church in the Modern World.

The Proper Development of Culture

(Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, 57-59)

Christians, on pilgrimage toward the heavenly
city, should seek and think of these things which
are above. This duty in no way decreases, rather
it increases, the importance of their obligation to
work with all men in the building of a more
human world. Indeed, the mystery of the
Christian faith furnishes them with an excellent
stimulant and aid to fulfill this duty more
courageously and especially to uncover the full
meaning of this activity, one which gives to
human culture its eminent place in the integral
vocation of man.

When man develops the earth by the work of his
hands or with the aid of technology, in order that
it might bear fruit and become a dwelling worthy
of the whole human family, and when he
consciously takes part in the life of social groups,
he carries out the design of God manifested at the
beginning of time, that he should subdue the
earth, perfect creation and develop himself. At
the same time he obeys the commandment of
Christ that he place himself at the service of his

Furthermore, when man gives himself to the
various disciplines of philosophy, history and of
mathematical and natural science, and when he
cultivates the arts, he can do very much to
elevate the human family to a more sublime
understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty,
and to the formation of considered opinions
which have universal value. Thus mankind may
be more clearly enlightened by that marvelous
Wisdom which was with God from all eternity,
composing all things with him, rejoicing in the
earth, delighting in the sons of men.

In this way, the human spirit, being less
subjected to material things, can be more easily
drawn to the worship and contemplation of the
Creator. Moreover, by the impulse of grace, he is
disposed to acknowledge the Word of God, Who
before He became flesh in order to save all and to
sum up all in Himself was already "in the world"
as "the true light which enlightens every
man" (John 1:9-10).

Indeed today's progress in science and
technology can foster a certain exclusive
emphasis on observable data, and an agnosticism
about everything else. For the methods of
investigation which these sciences use can be
wrongly considered as the supreme rule of
seeking the whole truth. By virtue of their
methods these sciences cannot penetrate to the
intimate notion of things. Indeed the danger is
present that man, confiding too much in the
discoveries of today, may think that he is
sufficient unto himself and no longer seeks the
higher things.

Those unfortunate results, however, do not
necessarily follow from the culture of today, nor
should they lead us into the temptation of not
acknowledging its positive values. Among these
values are included: scientific study and fidelity
toward truth in scientific inquiries, the necessity
of working together with others in technical
groups, a sense of international solidarity, a
clearer awareness of the responsibility of experts
to aid and even to protect men, the desire to
make the conditions of life more favorable for all,
especially for those who are poor in culture or
who are deprived of the opportunity to exercise
responsibility. All of these provide some
preparation for the acceptance of the message of
the Gospel, a preparation which can be animated
by divine charity through Him Who has come to
save the world.

There are many ties between the message of
salvation and human culture. For God, revealing
Himself to His people to the extent of a full
manifestation of Himself in His Incarnate Son,
has spoken according to the culture proper to
each epoch.

Likewise the Church, living in various
circumstances in the course of time, has used the
discoveries of different cultures so that in her
preaching she might spread and explain the
message of Christ to all nations, that she might
examine it and more deeply understand it, that
she might give it better expression in liturgical
celebration and in the varied life of the
community of the faithful.

But at the same time, the Church, sent to all
peoples of every time and place, is not bound
exclusively and indissolubly to any race or
nation, any particular way of life or any
customary way of life, recent or ancient. Faithful
to her own tradition and at the same time
conscious of her universal mission, she can enter
into communion with the various civilizations, to
their enrichment and the enrichment of the
Church herself.

The Gospel of Christ constantly renews the life
and culture of fallen man, it combats and
removes the errors and evils resulting from the
permanent allurement of sin. It never eases to
purify and elevate the morality of peoples. By
riches coming from above, it makes fruitful, as it
were from within, the spiritual qualities and
traditions of every people of every age. It
strengthens, perfects and restores them in Christ.
Thus the Church, in the very fulfillment of her
own function, stimulates and advances human
and civic culture; by her action, also by her
liturgy, she leads them toward interior liberty.

For the above reasons, the Church recalls to the
mind of all that culture is to be subordinated to
the integral perfection of the human person, to
the good of the community and of the whole
society. Therefore it is necessary to develop the
human faculties in such a way that there results a
growth of the faculty of admiration, of intuition,
of contemplation, of making personal judgment,
of developing a religious, moral and social sense.

Culture, because it flows immediately from the
spiritual and social character of man, has
constant need of a just liberty in order to develop;
it needs also the legitimate possibility of
exercising its autonomy according to its own
principles. It therefore rightly demands respect
and enjoys a certain inviolability within the limits
of the common good, as long, of course, as it
preserves the rights of the individual and the
community, whether particular or universal. ….

All this supposes that, within the limits of
morality and the common utility, man can freely
search for the truth, express his opinion and
publish it; that he can practice any art he chooses;
that finally, he can avail himself of true
information concerning events of a public nature.

As for public authority, it is not its function to
determine the character of the civilization, but
rather to establish the conditions and to use the
means which are capable of fostering the life of
culture among all even within the minorities of a
nation. It is necessary to do everything possible
to prevent culture from being turned away from
its proper end and made to serve as an
instrument of political or economic power.