Monday, January 28, 2008

Educate in Love and Truth, Freedom and Discipline

Letter from the Holy Father, as Bishop of Rome,
to the Diocese and City of Rome,
to discuss his concerns about education for young people

Dear faithful of Rome,

I thought of addressing you with this letter to speak to you about a problem that your yourselves feel and which is the concern of various elements of our church: the problem of education.

We all have at heart the good of the persons we love, particularly our children, adolescents and young people. We know that the future of our city depends on them. We cannot be not solicitous about the formation of the new generations, about their capacity to orient themselves in life and to discern good from bad, about their health, both physical and moral.

But education was never easy, and today it seems to be even more difficult. Parents, teachers, priests and all those who have direct responsibilities for education know this well. That is why one speaks of an “educative emergency,” confirmed by the lack of success that very often our efforts meet in trying to form persons who are solid, capable of collaborating with others and of giving a sense to their own life. And often, the new generations are blamed, as though the babies born today are different from those born in the past.

Then there is the so-called generation gap, which certainly exists and weighs in, but which is the effect, rather than the cause, of the failure to transmit certainties and values.

So must today's adults be to blame for no longer being able to educate? Certainly, the temptation is strong - among parents, teachers, and educators in general - to give up, or even before that, to risk not even to understand their own role. Or better still, the mission that is entrusted to them.

In fact, what is in question is not only the personal responsibilities of adults and young people - though these exist and should not be hidden - but also a widespread climate, a mentality and a form of culture which lead to doubting the value of the human being, of the meaning itself of truth and goodness, and ultimately, of the very goodness of life itself. Thus, it becomes difficult to transmit from one generation to the next something valid and certain, rules of behavior, credible objectives around which to construct one's life.

Dear brothers and sisters of Rome, at this point, I wish to say something very simple: Do not fear! All these difficulties are not insurmountable. They are, so to speak, the other side of the coin of that great and precious gift which is our freedom, with the responsibility that rightly accompanies it.

Unlike what takes place in the technical or economic fields, where progress today can be added up to the progress of yesterday, there is no similar possibility of accumulation in the field of formation and moral growth of persons, because human freedom is always new, and so, every person and every generation must make their own decisions anew, and on their own. Even the greatest values of the past cannot simply be inherited, they must be made ours, and renewed through personal choice, often difficult and tormented.

But when the foundations are shaken and essential certainties are lacking, the need for such values becomes felt in compelling manner: that is why, the demand for an education that is truly an education is increasing in our day. It is demanded by parents, concerned and often anguished for the future of their own children; by so many teachers, who experience the sad degradation of their schools; by society as a whole, which sees the bases for coexistence placed in doubt; and in their intimate selves, by the children and youth themselves, who do not want to be left alone facing the challenges of life.

Whoever believes in Jesus Christ has other and stronger reasons not to fear: he knows that God does not abandon us, that his love reaches us where wee are and as we are, with our miseries and weaknesses, to offer us a new possibility of the good.

Dear brothers and sisters, to make these reflections of mine more concrete, it could be useful to identify some common requirements for an authentic education.

An authentic education needs, above all, that nearness and trust which come from love: I think of the first and fundamental experience of love that babies have - or at least should have - with their parents. But every true educator knows that to educate, one must give something of oneself, and only that way can one help pupils and students to overcome selfishness and become, in turn, capable of authentic love.

Already in every small baby there is a great desire to know and to understand, which is shown in his continuous questions and requests for explanation. But it would be a poor education which limits itself to just teaching ideas and providing information, but leaves aside the great questions about truth, above all, the truth that can be a guide for life.

Suffering, too, is part of the truth about life. Therefore, if we seek to keep young people sheltered from every difficulty and from experiencing pain, we risk raising - despite our good intentions - fragile and not very generous persons. The capacity to love corresponds to a capacity to suffer and to suffer together.

And so we arrive, dear friends of Rome, at the point that is perhaps most delicate in educative work: to find the right equilibrium between freedom and discipline. Without rules of behavior and life, valid everyday even in the little things, character cannot be formed and children cannot be prepared to face the trials which will not be lacking in the future. But the educative relationship is above all the encounter between two freedoms, and successful education is formation in the right use of freedom. The child grows, becomes an adolescent, and then a youth. We must therefore accept the risk of freedom, remaining always attentive to help him to correct wrong ideas and choices. What we must never do is to allow mistakes, pretend not to see them or worse, to share them, as if these were new frontiers in human progress.

Education therefore cannot do without that authoritativeness which makes the exercise of authority credible. It is a fruit of experience and competence, but it is acquired above all through consistency in one's own life and with personal involvement, expression of true love. The educator is therefore a witness of truth and goodness: of course, even he is fragile and could be deficient, but he will always try to be in tune with his mission.

Dearest faithful of Rome, from these simple considerations what emerges is how education is decisive for the sense of responsibility: the responsibility of an educator, certainly, but - in the measure that the child grows - the responsibility of the child, the schoolboy, and the youth who enters the workplace. Responsibility is knowing how to respond to himself and to others. The believer also seeks beyond, and above all, responds to God who loved him first.

Responsibility is personal above all, but there is also a responsibility that we share as citizens in a city and a nation, as members of the human family, and, if we are believers, as children of the one God and members of the Church. In fact, ideas, lifestyles, laws, the overall orientations of the society in which we live, is the image it gives of itself through the media, exercising great influence on the formation of new generations, for the good, but often also for the bad.

But society is not an abstraction. In the end, we are ourselves all together, each of us with orientations, rules and responsibilities, although our roles and responsibilities may be different. There is a need for each of us to contribute - every person, family or social group - so that society, starting with our city of Rome, may become an environment more favorable to education.

Finally, I wish to propose to you a thought in the recent encyclical Spe salvi on Christian hope: only a trustworthy hope can animate education and all of life. Today our hope is undermined in many ways and we risk becoming like the ancient pagans, men "without hope and without God in this world", as the apostle Paul wrote to the Christians of Ephesus (Eph 2,12). It is from this that perhaps the most profound difficulty in education arises: at the root of the crisis in education is, in fact, a crisis of confidence in life.

I cannot therefore end this letter without a warm invitation to place our hope in God. Only He is the hope which resists all delusions; only his love cannot be destroyed by death; only his justice and his mercy can heal injustices and compensate for the sufferings we undergo. The hope we place in God is never just hope only for oneself, it is always also hope for others: it doesn't isolate us, but makes us fraternal in goodness, and stimulates us to educate each other in truth and love.

I greet you with affection and assure you of a special memory in my prayers, while I impart my blessing to everyone.

From the Vatican, 21 January 2008


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