The present cultural trend throughout much of the Western world is a secularism that seems hell-bent on erasing any vestiges of moral and religious values.
The Catholic Church is understandably alarmed at this on-going attack on her faithful, who are increasingly overwhelmed or weakened by the pagan pressures impacting on them from every quarter.
Among the casualties of this unholy crusade is the Holy Mass. Through the centuries, good Catholic homes and even whole civilisations were built and motivated by faithful observance of the Sunday Eucharistic celebration and related Church teachings.
In recent years, however, we have been witnessing the collapse of the Christian infrastructure based on sound moral values and religious practices. In the guise of being updated, for example, many Catholic schools have allowed themselves to become targets of this moral onslaught with the new generations brought up with little if any sense of sin or moral responsibility.
Even in Catholic Malta, one is shocked at the number of teenagers and young people who confuse freedom with moral licence in their unbridled sexual behaviour and give up attending Sunday Mass without any apparent awareness of committing serious sins.
The work of Catholic schools has to be about nothing less than seeing and living Jesus Christ in the midst of everyday activities. There should be no excuses, no apologies about being Christ-like. Condoning the ‘everybody does it’ attitude is a recipe for spiritual extinction.
From their earliest years at school, students deserve to receive their learning in a context of spiritual formation. Academic excellence is not enough. Catholic teachers are here to do something much more. Our schools must be thoroughly and unashamedly Catholic. Day after day, in a way that permeates all teaching and learning, we are charged with proclaiming the Pentecost message of Jesus Christ with enthusiasm, faithful perseverance and steady determination.
The essential goal of our schools is to lead students to Christ. We cannot be casual or squeamish about saying his name lovingly and reverently, always being conscious of the commandment, ‘You shall not take my name in vain.’
Students cannot leave before they meet him, hear him, know that he loves them and duly acknowledge his law in their lives. Proclaiming the total love of Christ is not always a feel-good message; for this love involves honesty, chastity and sobriety; it is a commitment to a continuing conversion in combating temptations that lurk everywhere, alluring and alienating the indifferent and immature young from God and the Church. Students need to be groomed - tenderly - to grow up as responsible Christians in words and deeds.
This authentic Christian education, initiated by parents in the home and carried out faithfully at schools, has to be learned in religion class, in maths, on the sports field and presented with enthusiasm by committed teachers, principals and priests.
Simply complaining about young Catholics, alarmingly, withdrawing from the Church and sacraments, without going directly to the root of the malady and providing the only effective remedy, will be to waste time and allow the rot to continue.
We must be prepared to teach what the Church teaches, without ambiguity. To do less will simply perpetuate the confusion regarding the essential tenets of the faith and our holy traditions.
There will come a time when scientific knowledge and clever words will not cut it. There will come a time when no amount of money or worldly success will relieve our students' agonies. Paper diplomas alone, which they can receive from any school, will not be sufficient preparation for life.
Today's students want and need certainty. We live in an age of relativism when respect for life, the true meaning of marriage and the evils of materialism and sexual gratification are twisted and glorified, not only in the media but even among the so-called professed believers.
A vital spiritual means of guidance, love and forgiveness is the Sacrament of Penance (confession) that reconciles us with God and neighbour. In this context, we are duty-bound to teach our young people moral truths, right and wrong, to avoid evil but also to do good, to cultivate a life of virtues and to construct, in the very midst of a culture of death, a civilisation of life.
The ultimate spiritual goal of our schools is to make saints out of the students. That is what salvation in Jesus Christ means: parents and teachers must be collaborators in the work of saving our young generation from the relentless current of secularism.
Fr Sebastian Camilleri OFM is the official confessor at a large Catholic college in Malta and Spiritual Director for a group of retired university academics.