Homily: Opening of Catholic Schools Mass
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Monday, August 22, 2016
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord. It is a great joy for me to welcome all of you to this Mass for the Opening of Catholic Schools as we begin another academic / pastoral year in this archdiocese.
The importance of your role in the life of this archdiocesan Church and its charge to pass on the teaching of Christ is visibly demonstrated by the fact that we have all come together in huge number to ask God’s blessings on what we are about to undertake, once again, this year.
How appropriate that this opening Mass would take place as the Church celebrates the Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary. We look to this quiet, gentle woman to see a unique person of faith who brought the light of Christ into our world.
The first reading for our Liturgy today is taken from the Prophet Isaiah. Here we are told that, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
The contrast between darkness and light is found throughout the whole of Sacred Scripture. In the First Letter of Peter we are told how we have been brought out of darkness into his marvelous light. Paul, writing to the Romans, tells us to put aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us, “I am the light of the world” and we should walk while we have the light.
The Gospel story so familiar to all of us is the Annunciation to Mary that she was to be the bearer of the light. She herself was not the light but thanks to her faith and her willingness to serve the Lord God, she brought into this world the light in which you and I now walk. Is that not what our Catholic faith is all about and what our efforts at Catholic education are all about? We recognize Christ is the light and we want to share that light with the next generation – those who have been entrusted to our care.
This year’s opening Mass is one more testimony on the part of all of us that we continue the extraordinary mission of helping the next generation walk in the light.
It was less than a year ago that on the portico of this very Basilica, Pope Francis celebrated Mass and challenged all of us to “keep moving forward!”
A visible sign and remembrance of Pope Francis’ visit and message is his car – now christened “Pope Car 1” – that is parked outside this Basilica.
If you want to see it, you might want also to pass through the Holy Door of the Jubilee of Mercy at the main entrance to the Basilica. The door is a reminder of Pope Francis’ message that God’s mercy is always there for us, we simply have to walk through the entrance of God’s welcome.
Celebrating the first ever canonization on US soil, Pope Francis praised the example of Saint Junípero Serra, the famous 18th century Spanish Franciscan missionary to California. Father Serra’s motto, “Keep moving forward,” inspired his life and work and should likewise inspire our work in Catholic education. Our task is to bring the light and joy of the Gospel to those entrusted to our care. Pope Francis said, “The joy of the Gospel is something to be experienced, something to be known and lived only through giving it away, through giving ourselves away.”
Is that not what we attempt to do in Catholic education?
What Catholic education brings to the young people entrusted to our care is the perspective of faith. When we ask, How shall I live, what is the purpose of life, how should I direct my actions, we find our response in Jesus Christ. His Gospel gives us a perspective inspired by the wisdom of God.
Catholic education is a ministry of the Church. As a visible and enduring sign of your share – your participation in that mission and ministry – you are commissioned today, as some of you have already experienced. The certificate testifies to your acceptance by the Church of your role in the great teaching ministry of the Catholic Church which participates in the work of Christ, our Divine Teacher.
Jesus offers his people the words of truth and everlasting life, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). Today his teaching mission endures in those whom he sends.
The Church brings to us today what it has brought to the world for two thousand years.
It brings us the encounter with Jesus. It offers us an invitation to faith. It proclaims Christ’s words of truth and life.
It does this in a world not always prepared to hear and accept the message. We carry out our mission even though there are those who oppose the Gospel message and want to take Catholic identity out of our schools and replace it with a new politically correct, state supported morality.
When asked what does Catholic education provide and why do people work so hard to attend a Catholic school, my answer is three-fold: a Catholic school provides academically excellent education, it provides faith-based formation that allows each student to develop a moral foundation on which to stand for the rest of your life and thirdly, it gives us the vision and hope beyond the limits of a politically correct version of morality.
At the heart of our schools is Catholic identity. They exists to provide a structured context where students can experience what it means to say that each of us has a relationship with Christ and therefore, because of that, we share a bond with one another.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus came to tell us of a truly good, wholesome and right way to live. He taught us that we are made in the image and likeness of God, that there is a God-given plan to human living and that we are all capable of making our way through life as a family — responsible for each other and responsive to God’s law.
Even some who do not share our faith come to this school because they know that at its heart there is the acceptance of values motivated by our faith – values that present a specific vision or view of human life.
We should expect our schools to be different. Part of the reason they exists and why we gather in celebration of them today is because here we find a community that accepts values, that recognizes the importance of virtue, and that attempts to model what a good and just, caring and faithful society would be like.
In reality Catholic schools are a gift to the whole community and are recognized as centers of learning that foster personal development and growth enriched with a sense of self-fulfillment and worth and guided by basic and essential moral values.
Looking to the future of Catholic education, we should do so with hope, confidence and enthusiasm knowing that we bring something to those we teach that no one else can. We share the story of Jesus. Like Mary, who brought the light of Christ into the world by her faith filled response, “Let it be done to me according to your Word,” so, too, do all of us – all of you who are here today – offer the same faith filled answer, and do our part to share the light.
May God bless you and all who support Catholic education in the effort to make the Church’s vision of life come true.