Teachers with Soul

Back to School Mass

Today, I have the great privilege of marking the opening of the academic year by celebrating the Mass of the Holy Spirit with teachers and administrators of our Catholic schools. This joyous celebration is an opportunity to invoke the blessings of the Spirit and also for me to express my gratitude for the thousands of teachers and school employees who work with great effort to make our schools excellent institutes of learning and formation. While the teachers differ in their specific areas of expertise, what they share in common is that they are some of the most important witnesses to the faith that our young people encounter.

Pope Francis emphasized this influence when he shared with a group of teachers that “the influence of a Catholic educator depends more on what he is as a person and the way he lives than what he says” (Message on the Occasion of the International Study Seminar, May 14, 2015). Our Holy Father reminds us that the vocation of teaching is rooted in the baptismal vocation of the Christian witness. Baptism gives each believer an apostolic vocation. In his apostolic exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, we read that a defining characteristic of a witness is the sense that their work is part of their identity and mission. Pope Francis calls teachers with this sensibility, “teachers with soul,” teachers who testify to the Gospel by words and by acts (Evangelii Gaudium, 273).

The more active one is in the apostolate to which we are all called – for example, as a teacher, catechists or as a parent – the more important it is that one’s work be rooted in the obedience of faith, in full openness to the teachings of Christ and his Church. This year at the Mass, we will highlight the mission of our educators through a commissioning rite that provides an opportunity for each teacher to renew his or her own commitment to the Lord and his Church. The teachers will be able to affirm their commitment to serve and continue to grow as missionary disciples of the Lord, recognizing their important role participating in the ministry and mission of his Church. This affirmation in word will be accompanied by a commitment to act.

Educators will also be asked to join the thousands of people across the archdiocese who have taken the Walk with Francis Pledge. In partnership with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, we want to make a gift to our Holy Father when he visits us here of all the pledges to follow him in being generous in our service and care of the most vulnerable and our common home, and of our souls in prayer and worship.

Our hope is that teachers will pledge to serve together as a faculty, with their students and with their friends and families. In this way, they model for all of our young people the joy of service and the vitality of a church that brings the joy of the Gospel to all parts of our communities.

If, like me, you are inspired by the dedication of our Catholic educators, join me in offering a prayer today that God blesses the work of the upcoming academic year. Please also visit WalkWithFrancis.org and consider honoring the teacher that most inspired you by taking the pledge in his or her honor. And then pass the word on social media, including #WalkwithFrancis, and encourage a friend, neighbor or co-worker to do the same.