A couple weeks ago, Father Joyce asked me if I would “fill in” as the homilist at this morning’s 10:45 Mass. Today marks the beginning of Catholic Schools week, and Kathy Gannon-Briggs, the principal of Christ the King School, is the homilist at all of our masses this weekend; except this one. Kathy can’t be here because she is helping to host an open house at the school. The Open House is the first event in this week’s celebration of Catholic Schools Week. In today’s bulletin you’ll find a letter from Kathy that brings up many interesting points about Catholic Education, and details the many activities that are scheduled for this week. Please take a few minutes to read through it. I think you’ll be impressed with what Kathy has to say and with all the activities that are on the calendar for this week.
Last evening I listened to Kathy’s homily at the 5:00 PM mass, and it occurred to me that Catholic Education is a very personal story. It’s a personal story for every student, for every parent, for every teacher, for every administrator and for every member of our community. I can’t begin to tell you Kathy Gannon-Briggs life story, so I won’t even try. But I will say that from her first day in 1st grade in a Catholic Elementary School in Florida through her current position, Catholic Education has been a central part of her personal and professional life. And I think that is a hallmark of Catholic Education: once you’re a part of it, it’s always a part of you. Some of us may try to run from it, but it’s always that nagging voice calling us back to our roots. And Catholic Education encompasses more than just Catholic schools. Religious education is an equally essential component of Catholic education.
So, why is Catholic education important? I think the question is answered, in part, in the baptismal rite. In receiving the children at Baptism, the celebrant says to the parents, “You have asked to have your children baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training them in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring them up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor.” And then the celebrant addresses the godparents and asks, “Are you ready to help these parents in their duty as Christian mothers and fathers?” So as parents and godparents, and as members of the greater Christian community, our first duty is to pass on the faith to the generations that follow us. And we fulfill that duty by teaching our children at home and by supporting the efforts of those who help us in that process, namely Catholic Schools and Religious Education programs.
It’s interesting to me that as we begin Catholic Schools week, the Gospel is the story of the beatitudes. What I find interesting is that the message of the beatitudes is much like the message of Catholic education. Both are counter cultural. To align with the culture of his day and time, Jesus would have said, “Blessed are those with great power and possessions. Blessed are those who have no sadness or mourning. Blessed are the bold who seize and occupy the land as they wish.” But he doesn’t say anything like that.
The message of the beatitudes is one of admitting ones dependency on God for everything. The poor in spirit, those in mourning, the meek all realize their own emptiness, and in doing so they are open to being filled by God.
Our society tells our children that they can have it all. After all, they deserve it! The commercials on television tell them that they need to have the newest electronics, the latest fashions, the biggest houses and the fanciest cars if they want to be happy. That’s what commercials sell. Buy this or that and you’ll be happy. But we know that isn’t true. Money can make us comfortable, but it doesn’t buy happiness.
In Catholic schools and religious education programs, we give our children a better set of values to live by. They are the gospel values of loving God and our neighbor. At Christ the King School our children take part in collecting and delivering food to the poor and in other programs that put them in touch with the real world, with those who are less fortunate. And as our children experience the joy of helping others, they learn to live the lessons of the beatitudes. They learn to be peacemakers, to be merciful, to hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Now I’m the product of Catholic Education, and I’m sure I’ll spend some time in purgatory for the aggravation I caused many of the wonderful sisters who taught me. If they could only see me now! A few might be turning over in their graves. Nonetheless, as one who has experienced and benefitted from the system, I want to offer a resounding thank you. Thank you to the parents who struggle, save and act as chauffeurs to facilitate their children’s education. Thank you to the teachers who choose to work for lower pay so that they can be part of the Catholic School system, passing on Christian values along with their science lessons. Thanks to the volunteers who freely give their time in service as religious education teachers, coaches, classroom assistants and more other places than I can name. Thank you to the clergy who make the schools part of their ministry. And most of all, thanks to all of you. Without your commitment and generous financial support, the ministry of Catholic schools and religious education programs would not be possible.