As I was listening to a podcast recently, I was again struck by something of note. It concerns the idea of paideia: the Greek ideals pertaining to the education and formation of young children. The priests on the podcast (Catholic Stuff You Should Know) likened this to gardening. Molding the young, helping children to choose the right path, is indeed similar to gardening. (I did like the metaphor extension when they noted the difference between pruning vs. weed-wacking!) Also discussed the importance of creating a nurturing and proper environment to encourage good growth.
It made me think, of course, of Mount Royal; about the environment we purposely work to create for proper and vigorous growth. I am sure everyone reading this can think of numerous examples of what shapes this takes: from our communal graces before meals, to the overt and continuous focus on specific virtues. But what stopped me in my tracks was a particular quote by Yves Congar, O.P. (from The Meaning of Tradition):
“We do not bring up a child by giving him lectures in morality and deportment, but rather placing him in an environment having a high tone of conduct and good manners, whose principles, rarely expressed in abstract theories, will be imparted to him by the thousand familiar gestures that clothe them, so to speak, in the same way the spirit informs the body and is expressed by it. Education does not consist in receiving a lesson from afar, which may be learned by heart and recited, thanks to a good memory, but in the daily contact and inviting example of adult life, which is mature, confident and sure of its foundations; which asserts itself simply by being what it is, and presents itself as an ideal; which someone still unsure and unformed, in search of fulfillment and in need of security, will progressively come to resemble, almost unconsciously and without effort.”
When I heard the phrase, “placing him in an environment”, I thought about out physical buildings: the drawings and signs hung on the walls, the pictures and icons, etc. The first time I stepped foot in our elementary building I was struck by our Catholicity, as well as our child-centeredness. The student "voices" were clearly evident; as was the devoutness and sincerity of their faith. The moment I first stepped into our gym and saw the towering Christ of Divine Mercy overseeing the gleaming varnished floor, I knew this environment was special.
The phrase “high tone of conduct and good manners” brought to mind the countless times per day I see a student holding a door open, offering a kind word to those left out of a game-- or simply knowing when we speak to a student acting imprudently, we can appeal to their desire (and our focus) on good conduct and good manners (virtues). Our students do strive for this.
The adults in our community-- from teachers, to parents, to volunteers and more-- have “imparted to him by the thousand familiar gestures that clothe them”, these principles. It is our deeds that speak volumes. I am grateful, as Thanksgiving approaches, to work in such a fruitful and beautiful garden as MRA. May God continue to bless our work here!
Yours truly in Christ,