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Fidelity learning labs

February 27, 2015
Melanie Morey

Society is awash in infidelity! Lies, cheating and broken promises are the stuff of media headlines and these infidelities grab our attention and rouse our ire. Cheating goes on in high-stakes exams, in sports, on Wall Street, inside and outside welfare offices, in both back and front offices of government, in parishes, and especially in relationships. We decry and denounce it and call it scandal. But we are also attracted by it, as the popularity of many cable and TV shows and films underscores. While many people denounce infidelity, somehow it persists with all of its corrosive effects on society and individuals.

Infidelities – large and small – chip away at trust and faith, idealism and confidence and they fuel bitterness, resentment, and cynicism. With no upside, infidelity still fascinates American society.

Among fidelity’s many forms, one of the most pernicious is marital infidelity. Studies indicate that the vast majority of Americans believe that marital infidelity is morally wrong but it is on the rise in the United States. That is true in general and for newlyweds and couples over the age of 60, as well. The temptation to cheat comes early and it seems to last a long time. American culture is seduced by infidelity.

The problem of infidelity is widespread and ways to combat it are many and varied. Surely Catholic high schools should be in the forefront of both promoting fidelity as an ideal and also offering practice in the habit of fidelity. One obvious way for Catholic high schools to develop and nourish the virtue of fidelity in general is to cultivate fidelity to the Church in particular.

Fidelity is a virtue, not a notion. Wanting to be faithful is not enough. Virtues must be learned, practiced, and cultivated over time. It takes discipline, repetition, and guidance by mentors who are themselves deeply faithful.

Conventional wisdom suggests that urging religious fidelity on adolescents is developmentally out of sync. Teenage years are years of experimentation, according to secular wisdom. Students have to step back and challenge beliefs and traditions. It is a time of questioning, rejecting, and innovating and resisting this natural developmental process is counterproductive at best and futile at worst.

A sliver of this secular wisdom is correct. Young people do resist and question authority and try to sort out what they believe or even if they believe. It is only natural. But where and how they do their questioning and resisting can shape how they understand and prepare themselves to be faithful people in marriage and in all the other dimensions of their lives.

In a Catholic high school, students wrestle with their faith within a religious culture in the school that values, encourages, and witnesses to the virtue of fidelity. In sports and extracurricular activities students learn how to be faithful to their drills, their practices, their rehearsals, their coaches, advisers and teammates. In all of these situations there are consequences for their infidelity and students learn that. The real challenge comes, however, when bad consequences are not readily apparent. It is at these moments it becomes so easy to cheat. And it is precisely here that the church and its teaching have something powerful to offer. Catholic faith asks people to conduct themselves always as if they are present to God who both loves and cares for them because, of course, they are.

If the religious culture in a school is pervasive, students’ confusion, questions, and doubts are focused in the direction of acquiring deeper faith, not letting it go. Catholic schools teach students how to stick with the faith when it seems difficult and no longer as appealing as it once was. They encourage them to dig deeper into the richness of the tradition and be willing to be challenged by it. In so doing, Catholic schools help their students come to a deeper and more profound understanding of the faith. They also equip them with the skills necessary to be more faithful for a lifetime.

Marriage in today’s society is difficult and when it fails or falters because of infidelity, children suffer terrbily. Catholic schools are places that should prepare students to be faithful so they truly can be successful in marriage and in life. The virtue of fidelity, however, is only acquired through discipline and practice. Being faithful to the church helps Catholic high school students come closer to Jesus Christ and deepen their faith. Fidelity to the church also is a way to practice the very skills required to remain true and constant in other areas of life.

In claiming a religious identity and mission, Catholic schools affirm their commitment to the Catholic faith and to living it out with integrity. In living out this commitment and calling their students to cultivate it, Catholic schools can be fidelity learning labs.

Morey is director of the Office of Catholic Identity Assessment for the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

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