Catholics should be patient with those who do not understand our insistence on the right to publicly-funded Catholic schools. It is astounding, really, that any non-Catholic would see our adherence to that right as anything more than our clinging to a privilege from the past. Indeed, even Catholics who are not frequent churchgoers might be forgiven for not seeing the point.
Yet, the right to publicly-funded Catholic schools in Alberta is a right we ought to defend. We ought to defend it, not as a birthright, but as the basis for the irreplaceable contribution the Catholic Church makes to Alberta society.
How many non-Catholics can understand the Eucharist? Some, but probably not many. Yet, the Eucharist is the basis of who we are – a people united by the Son of God’s outpouring of his own life so that his people might share in divine life.
At the Last Supper, Jesus described in what his love consists: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15.13). This is the basis of our Church and of our lives – self-giving love.
Catholics do not always live this self-giving love well. The clergy sexual abuse crisis and myriad of other scandals throughout Church history testify to our gross failures in love.
However, sometimes we do manifest self-giving love quite well, maybe even better than humanly possible. It was Catholics and other Christians who, at great personal sacrifice, started the health care, education and social welfare systems in Alberta. Moreover, Catholics continue to contribute both through official ministries of the Church and through the quiet witness of faith-inspired lives of service.
Alberta would be poorer without the Church’s service in the past, and it will be poorer in the future if the Catholic school system is scrapped. In his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), Pope Benedict XVI stated, “The Christian religion and other religions offer their contribution to development only if God has a place in the public realm. … Denying the right to profess one’s religion in public and the right to bring the truths of faith to bear upon public life has negative consequences for true development” (n. 56).
After a candidates’ forum the other night, I had a brief conversation with a candidate for the public school board whose views are quite different than mine. Yet, we pledged that, if we are both elected, we will meet and try to work together for the common good.
Alberta and Ontario have the most effective school systems in Canada. Why? Not because we spend more money on schools, but because both provinces have tax-supported Catholic school systems. Catholic and public systems compete and cooperate, raising the bar for each other.
We do not expect non-Catholics to understand what moves the Catholic Church. If they understood the Eucharist, they would join us. But if we build bridges with each other, together we can enhance the common good and work toward a better Alberta.
(Glen Argan is a candidate for the Edmonton Catholic school board in Ward 75.)