(February 1, 1996, University of San Agustin, Iloilo City, Philippines)
by the Very Rev. Miguel Angel Orcasitas, OSA
Prior General of the Order of St. Augustine
Reverend Fathers, Deans, Principal, Department Head, Faculty Members and Administrative staff, students, guests, fellow Augustinians, good morning.
First of all I would like to express my thanks for the wonderful welcome you accorded me and my companions yesterday morning on our arrival. It is always a pleasure to be here in the University of San Agustin knowing that its constituents - teachers, students and other personnel - have kept the Augustinian welcoming and communitarian spirit in their hearts.
Secondly, I would like also to thank you for allowing your President, Fr. Eusebio Berdon, to serve in the General Council of the Augustinian Order, knowing that he has still a lot of projects for the university. I assure you though that he is still much connected to you, he being the Coordinator of the General Council for the schools and formation houses or seminaries of the whole Order. In fact, I have come to know that he has asked both the outgoing and incoming Provincials to allow him to make the University of San Agustin as his official residence whenever he is in the Philippines.
Lastly, I am happy to know too that there is much interest among you to know more about the Augustinian teachings and spirituality, especially in matters which deal with education. I hope this short symposium would give us an opportunity to discuss some ideas of St. Augustine on education.
For several decades the educational apostolate has been the object of criticism and neglect on the part of many religious institutions founded for it. Various factors have been the cause of such discontent. One is the result of the rapid transformation of the society in which we work. The criticism against the Church on presumed or real ties with certain sectors of the society, or its manner of exercising its influence over the people, utilizing the power and not the humility of a free offering which appeals to conviction, or the inadequacy of the Church to confront the issues of individual freedom and rights, have fallen on educational apostolate in a very explicit manner, it being considered as the most efficient instrument in the hands of the Church in maintaining its influence over the society. As educators we have been affected by such criticism and at times felt lost in the new society which is emerging. Other factors are internal in nature. On re-examining their foundational objectives, educational centers have discovered that, particularly those in a more advanced/developed world, they no longer respond to a grave social need, as it happened during the historical moment when such teaching institutions were founded. The state answers for such need with obligatory education of its constituents, an essential requirement for any developed society. Besides the social base of the catholic education has been displaced. Starting as a service to the poorer sector of the society, it has gradually served other sectors because of the legitimate need to finance its operation.
Also we questioned seriously the evangelizing efficacy of our educational centers on observing the religious actuations of many of our alumni. The ruling class of many catholic countries has been educated in catholic schools, but their manner of acting does not reflect truly an identification with Christian values in which they have been formed. In the same manner, the view of the outside world treasured much by the Vatican Council II made us discover that we have been isolated in our social and ecclesial service. From our educational centers we have moved fundamentally in catholic circles, leaving aside important problems of the society outside of our concerns. The discovery of the new forms of poverty and of other social demands has produced a strong self-questioning and resulted in significant decision like the option for the poor or living with them. The greater social and ecclesial sensibility which caused the opening of the religious congregations to the present reality and the major role of women in the field of apostolate have moved many congregations, above all women, to venture into new presence and new ecclesial commitments.
Today, after a period of incertitude in some sectors on the value of education apostolate, there is a new understanding of its ecclesial value, as instrument of evangelization. The Church is conscious of its duty to promote the culture and to inculturate faith in order to effect an efficient evangelization. When the Church abandons its presence in the world of culture, it can be said that it loses the society because the society fails to become christian.
In this process of inculturation of faith, the Christian education becomes an important vehicle of evangelization. Effectively, in the educational process the secular culture meets faith. Faith becomes a christian culture when the human and scientific knowledge has been integrated in the mind of the student with his faith. Thanks to the process of education, faith and reason complement each other, since the human being is rational as well as believing.
The Holy See and the Conferences of Bishops have produced a good number of documents underlining the importance of this field of apostolate. Some with more weight are the Gravissimum educationis momentum of the Vatican II, and the Religious Dimensions of the Catholic School (Rome 1988). Recently, the Pope, addressing the Plenary Assembly of the Congregation for Catholic Education (1992), has reiterated the value of the catholic school in responding to its call for new evangelization.
Within the Order of St. Augustine our Constitutions define our purpose in education: "The specific purpose of our schools is the Christian formation and education of the students. It follows that this apostolate should always be regarded as an essentially pastoral activity, so that we teach the truth with love, and the students acquire, along with a humanistic and scientific culture, a knowledge of the world, of life and of humanity that is illumined by faith" (Const. n. 179).
The last General Chapter, celebrated in Rome in September 1995, during which your President, Fr. Eusebio Berdon was elected member of the Council of the Order, as Assistant General, expressed also its conviction regarding the validity of this important apostolate for evangelization, affirming: "The Chapter reaffirms the importance of the apostolate of education. The educational centers of the Order are considered as pastoral centers. Christian and Augustinian values are to be promoted in them and they should be authentic Christian communities, with the involvement of all those engaged in the process of education" (n. 27).
At the same time, the Chapter underlined the necessity to emphasize in the program of formation of our educational centers the preferential option for the poor (DP, 15)
Certainly, it is necessary for the catholic school to adapt to the rapid changes in the society and the Church. We cannot insist any longer in an exclusivistic orientation and control of the school. A new society, founded on the exercise of institutionalized freedom, requires a plurality in educational options. Only in this premise can we legitimately demand a space for our schools. After the Vatican II the education which we have to impart must also adapt itself to the new Christian vision of man, which respects the freedom of conscience and options. It concerns an offering, without imposing it, an education based on the Gospel and human Christian values.
There is in education an intellectual component which does not concern itself with knowing but also search for intelligibility. We would like to know the reason for things or why they exist. This intellectual search is part of the Christian tradition to know, to love and to serve God. This process needs certain quality in teaching, respect for the conscience of each person and openness to truth which covers each discipline.
The Augustinian heritage acquires precisely a particular significance in this context. The life and writings of St. Augustine demonstrate to us the power which sustained him in his consistent questioning of the meaning of things. Even today his very passionate manner in pursuing truth and integrating faith with reason continue to be a model which maintains its validity for any school which is inspired by his teachings.
A system of education with such orientation does not limit a school to a simple intellectual process, but also implies a more complex reality which affects the whole person. The total potentials of a human personality, including religious formations have to discover their legitimate development.
A school conceived in terms of evangelization imposes certain demands on its educators, especially the religious who are in this ministry for vocational and apostolic motivations. Education is developed in a context fundamentally secular. However, the work itself cannot simply be reduced to an exercise of profession. The educational activities should never be seen outside the shadow of the reality of a consecrated life and the spiritual dimension of a religious life. This obligation which weighs on religious educators should extend as much as possible, to the whole teaching community, so that the school may be converted into an authentic Christian community. The realization of this objective is so important that on it depends the justification or not of our presence in the field of education. Either the catholic school is an instrument of evangelization or it has sense existing.
Possibly we are moving towards new structures, through the growing presence of the laity in the Church, as a fruit of a new understanding of its role in the Church, the decreasing number of religious dedicated to education and the opening of the teaching function of the Church to the whole community of educators. But we have to affirm very clearly, whatever would be the nature of our presence in this field, the evangelizing value of this apostolate, challenged to inculturate faith by means of a cultural dialogue and of a presentation of the Augustinian values through this service. In this manner, the teaching or academic community is called to transform itself into a christian community. A coherence between what is taught and the life of educators must exist (De doct. Christians, 4,29,61).
If our function in education is to evangelize, one important aspect of this apostolate is to make an explicit presentation of our Augustinian ideals. It is our mission to educate with values particularly those which come from the teachings and doctrines of St. Augustine: interiority and necessity as against superficiality and consumerism; search for God - intelligibility - as against lack of sense of life; solidarity based on a communitarian concept of existence as against individualism. Service for others as against personal interest. Some values which not only must influence your formative work but also must give educative shade to your apostolic activities.
Augustine had a very clear approach to education. In contrast to a directive pedagogy, which would foster passivity and dependence, he imagined the human being as a seed capable of development. "God would like to sow every soul the seed of intelligence, of wisdom" (Serm. 117,11). The function of the external master (parents, educators...) must be to channel the release of the hidden potential. As an Augustinian school we would like to offer the characteristic features of our Augustinian and pedagogy.
The process of humanization operates through LOVE, the most profound power of human nature (In Epist. Jo. 2, 141). St. Augustine describes it is metaphorical language: "God has built a stairway in your heart for you to climb. The more you love, the higher you climb" (Ena.83,10). To train in and for LOVE brings us to other central ideas of Augustinian thought. One trains in love by bringing the human person to identify with his own self - INTERIORITY - so that from its depths "on withdraws into oneself and remains apart in the embrace of one’s own being" (De ordine 1,1,3). To train for LOVE leads to COMMUNITY and SOLIDARITY. A love which does not result in sharing freely is a vitiated love.
Whoever carries in the centre of his life the supports of love and of sharing, changes his personal history into a RESTLESS SEARCH ("We walk behind that which we seek and our search goes in pursuit of our love": In Epist.ad Gal.54). Love, in the graphic phrase of St. Augustine, is "a restless flame" (Ena.31,2.5).
Another central idea in augustinian thought is TRUTH. Far from St. Augustine, however, is any cold or static concept of truth. He understands it as a sharing (Ena.103,2,11), dwelling in the depths ("springing up from the hunble sources in the valley" Serm. 104,2,3) and includes INTERIORITY ("One rejects truth when one lives in distraction or dispersal". De beata vita,2,9).
Fidelity to the TRUTH - which includes God, man himself, life, history in a process of change - the understanding of reality demands new analyses and new syntheses. Fundamentally, TRUTH appears as an existential solution: "It is of little value to speak the truth with the lips and not with the heart" (Ena.14,3).
In this time of pessimism, the best service that the Augustinian School can render to the new evangelisation is a crystal-clear statement of values. The immediate and reflex effect of this effort will be a renewed Augustinian School, a healthy ferment in the midst of the human family.
At the heart of the Augustinian School is located the COMMUNITY. No ministry eliminates the basic equality of all the baptised. "All of you form only one family and we, in the end, are only the providers who belong to that same family" (Serm.101,39). The only Lord and master of the community is Jesus Christ. Perhaps there are still some of our Centres that need to take that first step: to turn themselves into genuine educational communities. A school of this kind can be brought about only if teachers, parents, and students, are united in one and the same plan of education.
We have a large number of qualified lay people in the teaching staff of our schools, in parents’ associations, and as catechists. But our acceptance of them may, at times, be only as deputies of substitutes. Without the clear and active participation of the laity, the Church of Jesus Christ and the Augustinian School will not present a complete picture. In this context, participation and shared responsibility are crucial.
An essential goal is the transformation of the teaching community into a Christian community. The witness of harmony between the life and the teaching of an educator is his most eloquent lecture (De doc. christ. 4,29,61). As well as this personal evangelisation, the Augustinian School must offer specific ways for the development of religious experience. There is a whole range of youth associations, as well as a variety of group activities, liturgical, charitable, and other out-of-school undertakings that be channels for personal development as well as for the imparting of the Christian message. All of these instruments must be combined in a pastoral plan, where the students themselves become actively involved in their own growth.
I wish you success in your education work. You have in your hand a great responsibility. The knowledge of your mission could help you reaffirm your vocation as teachers. Also it could deepen your conviction on its urgency in the society and church, and find a more adequate means to transform such apostolate into an authentic instrument of the new evangelization.