The beauty of Catholic Schools: A homily for the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

21616169_10109958530142629_6772128256187421009_nWe’ve been reading some interesting stories in our readings at daily Masses these past few days.  We’ve heard about Saul, the first king of Israel, and how he made so many mistakes that God appointed a new king….king David.  David made mistakes, too, but he was sorry for them, unlike his predecessor.  During Saul’s time, the Ark of the Covenant was put out of Israel. And then David takes over and says, as long as I’m king the Lord will be where the Lord belongs: in the middle.  And so there is a beautiful moment where David dances and buys meat and bread for everyone….he is overcome with joy….because the Ark of the covenant is being put back in the middle.  It would be like us here in Shelbyville without a tabernacle for 70 years.  I cannot imagine life without a tabernacle. David did the right thing in saying, God needs to be right in the middle.

A lot of people have done similar things down through the years.  Good parents do this with their children.  As for us in this house, we will pray before eating. We will read the bible. We will pray the rosary. We will love each other. God is in the middle of this house. I try to do that here in the parish, and it’s the same with a diocese….it is the bishop’s job to keep Jesus in the middle of everything.

I want to talk about a bishop who did that very well. A few days ago, Archbishop Daniel Beuchlein, OSB, went home to the Lord. Talk about a man who kept God in the middle of his diocese.  He did it in a thousand ways, largely through prayer.  He led this diocese on his knees.  And one of his greatest passions was Catholic schools.  That is, one of the best ways he knew to keep God in the middle of the diocese was through our Catholic schools. During his time, enrollment in Catholic schools went up 30,000 students. He loved them fiercely.

He had good reason to.  Now today begins Catholic Schools Week. We celebrate our schools. We celebrate their roots. In our Gospel today, we hear about Jesus going into the synagogues…which he did often.  A synagogue was different from a temple.  The temple had a priest, but the synagogue had a rabbi…a teacher.  A synagogue was a religion school.  Still a house of prayer, yes, but it was a place of learning.  In some ways, the temple was like this church and the synagogue was like the school that is attached to this church.

Religion schools have always been important.  They are biblical, historical, and canon law puts great value on them.  I always say, our school is important not just because we teach religion classes here (one of my favorite things I do here is teach religion to our fourth and fifth graders during the week), that is a given.  The most important thing is that this school has an atmosphere of prayer and faith and love…and our kids get to breathe that in every day.  They are immersed into it.  It seeps into you.  Our kids are happy, they have a huge hunger for Jesus.  I see it every day.  And the end result, what we hope for….is that because of our schools, our graduates will always keep Jesus in the center of their lives.

Back when the Catholic schools were opened, of course, our faith was very much on the fringes….the Protestant US was not happy with the Catholics.  So, in response, many wonderful saints built our school system so that the faith would remain in the middle.  Archbishop Daniel is one of those saints.

Jesus continues to teach through his body the church, and one of the best ways he does so is through our beautiful Catholic school system.  I want to thank you all for supporting  our school, especially the parents who place your kids here. It is a wonderful thing that you trust the Church to help you in your role as primary catechists in passing along the faith.  We can’t do the job for you, but thank you for letting us do the job with you. More than anything, this school is a school of love. I hope you kids know how much we love you!

Daily homily thoughts, 1/5

Saint John Neumann is the saint we celebrate today.  He was from Prague and went to seminary there. There is an interesting story that makes me laugh about this guy, but it probably didn’t make him laugh. The story was that it finally came to be John’s ordination day. He was excited to finally be a priest. But his bishop was sick that day. Because there were so any priests, they never rescheduled his ordination. He ended up going to New York, where they did want a priest. He soon became a Redemptorist and was charged with reorganizing the Catholic school system in New York. In his few years in that position, the diocese went from having 500 Catholic school students to over 9000. This guy believed in Catholic schools with all his heart. Why?  Because what St John says in our first reading. It is all about love. A good Catholic school is a school of love, a school of faith.  In this school of love, students are taught how to love, how to follow the Lord, how to live good lives–certainly by means of religion classes, but more importantly by means of the atmosphere there. The live and breathe love and faith every day. We pray God’s blessings upon our school. May we always grow in number and in holiness, through the intercession of St. John Neumann (whose feast day is today) and St. Elizabeth Ann Seton (foundress of the American Catholic school system, whose feast was yesterday).

The importance and beauty of Catholic schools: A homily for the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (A)

Catholic School Kids Mass at Sacred Heart CathedralToday we celebrate the first day of Catholic Schools Week.  I’d like to offer a few reasons that we have our beautiful schools–why they are so important, why we encourage them as we do, why so many parents sacrifice so much to send their children to them, and why so many faculty sacrifice so much to teach at them when they could get a lot more money someplace else.
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Why Catholic schools are necessary – A homily for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year C)

Catholic School Kids Mass at Sacred Heart CathedralI have just returned from a week-long workshop for associate pastors at St. Meinrad. I spent the week with my former classmates, men I studied at seminary with for six years. We traded lots of stories. I think I win. I think I have the best parish, the best pastor, the best school. I found myself missing our school a lot while I was gone. We only miss what we love of course. I love our school. I love it and believe it in with all my heart. I want to share on this first day of Catholic Schools Week five reasons that I love Catholic schools and ours in particular.

  1. I love Catholic schools because God gave them to us, to our Church. Our Church would be incomplete without them. Catholic schools are not just something nice that we do or have. They are part of what and who we are. You just can’t imagine the Church without its schools. They have been part of our history since the start. The gospel today tells us about how Jesus taught in the synagogue. Synagogues had rabbis (teachers), and that’s what Jesus started as, while the temple had the priest. The synagogues were religion schools, places of prayer where folks also learned the scriptures and God’s ways. There was a rule that they had to be built in any area that had more than 10 people living in it.  We have had schools of religion like them since.  Let’s think about our schools here in the Archdiocese, like our own.  Thousands upon thousands of nuns gave their lives for them. I mean those nuns actually laid the bricks; they poured their blood and sweat and lives into our schools.  That’s how important Catholic education is. Catholic schools are worth our blood. They are worth our every penny. In fact, the Council of Baltimore (1850s) said that every parish ought to have a school, so important are they. Why are they so important?  Jesus–and we see this in the gospel today–loved his early disciples enough to teach them. He loves us the same and teaches us, too. He teaches us through his body the church–and especially through its Catholic schools–such that Christ is the ultimate teacher in our school. Parents who send their children to our school make the statement that no one can teach their children as well as the body of Christ the Church can. And that is a beautiful statement!
  2. I love Catholic schools because they teach friendship with and faithfulness to God. You know, our test scores are great at OLG. Academics are important to us and we take them seriously.  But the most important lesson we teach is friendship with God. We do that well. We pray together. There is a spirit of prayer at our school. Kids stop me in the halls or lunchroom to ask for confession or to have their necklaces or rosaries blessed. They tell me to pray for this or that loved one. Every day starts with prayer and ends with prayer, and prayer is in the middle of each day, too. We pray the Angelus each day. We pray at meals. But we live in a spirit of prayer all the time. And that spirit of faith that permeates everything–it makes all the difference in our lives. Catholic schools teach that God has a will and plan for everyone–just as our first reading says it today–and they teach us to look for that will and embrace it. It is not a coincidence that most of our priests went to Catholic schools. On a personal note, I do not think I would be a priest today were it not for my Catholic school St. Charles.
  3. I love Catholic schools because of their atmosphere. You go into our school and you will feel what I’m talking about. Love and virtue and friendship fill the hallways. That is the stuff of our second reading. I mean our school is a holy place with holy people–with teachers who love Jesus enough to teach him, with parents who love Jesus enough to sacrifice so that their kids can come here, and with kids who love Jesus better than anybody else. I see it in their faces at Wednesday Mass and on the playground. I see it in them all the time. At OLG and any Catholic school, you cannot help but take in the air of sanctity and joy that fills the hallways and classrooms. Surround yourselves with what is holy and you will become holy. I see the truth in that statement in our school each day. Maybe one day I will write a book about it.
  4. I love Catholic schools because they are places of community, they are places where we belong, they are home. God loves us enough to give us each other, you see. We need each other to grow in any kind of meaningful way. We all have families and that is great, the most important. But we also need larger communities of faith, communities of faith that we interact with more than once a week for an hour. We can’t grow alone, but in a classroom with 25 others…you bet. The friendships forged in Catholic schools survive for a long time thereafter. That is my story. Some of my best firneds to this day, we graduated 8th grade together. I remember that feeling I had when I went back to my Catholic school after having been in public high school for a while. I felt like I was back home, where I belonged. I was home. Each student at our school–each one of them matters. I pray for them by name and so do their teachers. Why? Because they are part of the family.
  5. I love Catholic schools because they are fun.  When asked why he likes school, a preschooler wrote on his “Get to know me” sheet in the hallway: “Because I am happy here.” I think almost all of our kids are genuinely happy here. I know I am. And that is because this school is a place where the joy and love of Christ shine forth in everyday life.  Praise God.

Allow me to conclude a topic that I could rattle on for days about.  On behalf of Msgr. Mark, who is preaching about the same thing this weekend, I want to say thank you for supporting our school. Maybe you have kids at our school now. Thank you for making the sacrifices necessary to send your children here. Maybe you are one of the 50 couples I have in marriage prep and kids are in the future. Great! Our school will be ready for you when your children are born. Maybe you are thinking about school options. Think and pray hard about OLG. Maybe you have memories of Catholic school days from 50 years ago. Thank God for those and let’s together help give wonderful memories and lessons to our kids here at OLG.  But everyone should join me in thanking God for the legacy and life of Catholic schools, and ours in particular. We pray God’s blessing upon our school for generations to come. Happy Catholic School’s Week.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

On this day in 1774, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton was born in New York City.

Let’s pray for our Catholic schools through her intercession. 

St. Peter’s, Barclay Street, 1785, where Elizabeth became
Catholic (she was raised Episcopalian) on March 14, 1805.
Image: wikipedia
Edward Augustus Seton, View of St Joseph’s Academy, 1825. Oil on canvas.
From Daughters of Charity Provincial Archives
It depicts the nation’s first Catholic school, in Maryland
St. Joseph’s Academy later became Mount Saint Mary’s University.
Here’s an aerial view of it today.
Elizabeth founded the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph in 1809

On Catholic schools

As we near Catholic Schools Week 2013 (January 27 – February 2), take a gander at this blog post from the USCCB.

Here are some numbers:

National Catholic Educational Association’s latest statistics for the 2011-2012 academic year note that nationwide there are 6,841 Catholic Schools: 5,636 elementary/middle and 1,205 secondary. More than 26 percent of them, 1,822 Catholic schools, have waiting lists for admission. Total school student enrollment is 2,031,455, with 1,440,572 in elementary/middle schools and 590,883 in secondary schools. Most students are Catholic, but more than 15 percent are not.

Sr. Mary Ann Walsh with the USCCB also notes the ingredients of today’s successful Catholic schools:

Today, school backers know that the common elements of a successful Catholic school include a strong Catholic identity, clear doctrinal teaching and sacramental focus, mission driven decision-making, a strong, vision-oriented administrator and faculty, active parent involvement, focused academic curriculum and an emphasis on community involvement.

And as I study Hispanic ministry here in Texas, it’s interesting to note one soon-to-be criterion for a successful Catholic school:

Soon another measure of success will be how schools provide Catholic education for the Hispanic community and otherwise support the nation’s new families and immigrants.

I am a strong supporter of Catholic schools, having spent many happy years at St. Charles in Bloomington, Indiana, and I would echo something I read on First Things a while back: Catholic schools are important with the new evangelization.