Growing up has always had its difficulties, but young people today face a particularly challenging environment in our country – rising violence, such as riots and horrific school shootings; civil discourse that is increasingly uncivil; and a secularist culture that continues to push faith to the margins as weekly religious practice declines.
In previous generations, American society, while far from perfect, generally reinforced the important values and virtues taught in Catholic homes and Catholic schools. That is often no longer the case. Therefore, faithful and effective Catholic schools and religious education programs are needed more than ever. They are essential partners with students’ parents, who remain the primary religious educators of their children.
St. John Baptist de la Salle, patron saint of teachers, put into words what the Church has long understood, that instruction in the faith is done largely by the witness of discipleship – living the Gospel and not just teaching it. In a reflection to his teachers, he wrote: “In your teaching, the [children] in your charge must see by the way you teach that you are true ministers of God, full of true charity and sincere in carrying out your task. It is most important for you to realize that you are ministers not only of God but also of Jesus Christ and the Church.”
Pope St. Paul VI echoed the importance of personal witness in his 1975 apostolic exhortation, Evangelii nuntiandi, in which he wrote: “for the Church, the first means of evangelization is the witness of an authentically Catholic life, given over to God in a communion that nothing should destroy and at the same time given to one’s neighbor with limitless zeal. . . . Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (EN 41).
The charge to Catholic teachers is thus to educate students for this life and prepare them for the next by instruction and by example. The very nature of authentic Catholic education is the search for goodness, beauty and truth and the cultivation of wisdom and virtue under the guidance of the Church. The various arts and sciences are pathways for growing closer to God since students learn in these the endless wonders of His creation. A passion for learning is a passion for Jesus Himself, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Catholic schools play an important role in forming disciples to know, love and follow Jesus. The teacher-ministers, principal-ministers and support staff of Catholic schools reflect this every day as they not only teach, but also model, the faith for our more than 40,000 students in this archdiocese. For that I am very grateful.
Although not all our students are Catholic, it is the mission of our schools to be Catholic in every classroom, lunchroom, hallway and gym. They are Christ-centered communities rooted in the Gospel message. At the same time, as I have frequently noted, Catholic schools are everybody’s schools because they form students into leaders who will help to make the world a better place – more peaceful, more civil, more faith-filled.
Please join me in keeping all students, parents and school principals, faculty and staff in our prayers as this new school year begins.