31st Sunday of Ordinary Time (Deut 6:2-6; Mk 12:28-34) “Love in Our Catholic Schools” PDF Version
Homily for the 31st Sunday of OT, Year B (2018) (Catholic Education Sunday in the Catholic Dioceses of the Province of Alberta, Canada): Deut 6:2-6; Mk 12:28-34
As we take time this weekend to give thanks, reflect and consider the challenges of Catholic Education in our community and throughout our province, the Gospel Reading today invites us to consider what is the very core of Catholic Education: That we are to teach and live as those who love God with all their heart, all their soul, all their mind and all their strength and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
The People of Israel knew that they must make it the priority of the greatest gravity and importance to teach their children the most important lesson one can acquire in this life: Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one; you shall love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Every day the Jewish people would make this prayer. Every Jewish child knew it so well it as natural as breathing as they spoke these sacred words. Parents, local schools and their community’s synagogue would work together to make sure that all children knew that this was the reason they lived and moved and had their being: to love God, always and forever.
So too it remains the priority that parents, a local Catholic school and a local Catholic parish work together to teach our children how to love God above all else. It is also imperative that each of us believe that doing so will be what allows our children to excel in academic excellence, sporting excellence, excellence in the cultivation of the fine arts, and all other facets of Catholic Education. IF we teach our children to love God above all else, they will open their hearts to that font of grace and truth that will allow them now and in days to come to be those dynamic disciples who will proclaim the Gospel to all of creation!
The challenge then resides in our Catholic schools to ask in a spirit of humility and continual discernment this pivotal question: Are we, and by we I mean all who teach and work in a Catholic school, alongside parents and the local parish community, teaching our children to love God with all their heart, mind, body and soul and help them know that striving to do so will help them to excel in all aspects of their education?
To emphasize this point, consider the following hypothetical situation: Imagine if tomorrow our provincial or federal government mandated that Catholic schools can continue to exist but that they would have to remove all external symbols of our faith. No more crucifixes, statues of the saints, posters with quotes from the bible or lives of the saints, no symbols of the Catholic Faith. IF they were removed, and if some stranger walked into our schools, would they still know with certainty that this was a Catholic School because of the evident love of God that radiated from the students and all who work within the school?
This hypothetical situation, which we dare to hope will not come to pass in our schools, can lead us to reflect on this question: Are our Catholic schools “Catholic” in appearance and external symbols only or does our Catholic Faith, first and foremost rooted in love of God, shine forth in the hearts of those who abide in our schools’ walls, and affirm without a shadow of doubt that God resides within because each and everyone who walks through them has a sense that the divine life of God is within them, visibly and invisibly encouraging us to love God with all our being and be loved by Him in return?!
These are not words of judgement but words of challenge for each of us to consider how well we are teaching this truth within and outside of our schools and where we can do so look to improve where we are already doing this well.
Our Lord today also commands us that to be His followers is to love our neighbour. As a student in a Catholic School for 6 years and as a priest working in Catholic schools for 7 years, I believe that among the strongest attributes of our Catholic Schools is that our children are learning how to love their neighbour. Our schools have a passion for seeking to do good onto others, to be involved in the works of social justice, to include and not exclude their peers, to show respect and affirmation as opposed to judgment and degradation to each other, in short, we are seeking to love each other and praise be Jesus Christ that this love is alive in our schools.
But again we are faced with a perplexing challenge in regards to how we are teaching our children to love their neighbour. It is more and more evident in the world around us that love of neighbour unites the world while hate of neighbour ravages our fragile planet. Men and women, some of whom are part of a particular religion, while others have little to out right denial of God’s existence, are striving to love their neighbour, meaning as Catholic Christians we would be arrogant and foolish to think we alone have the monopoly on teaching the world how to love our neighbour.
This then begs the question of do we really need Catholic Schools to teach our children to love their neighbour when many non-Catholic influences are showing us that they can do the same?!
What then makes the love of neighbour, as taught in a Catholic School, uniquely Catholic? It is undeniable that there are many voices in our province, nation and throughout world calling out our Catholic Schools to step up and show why Catholic schools need to exist when many feel quite confident they too can teach children to love their neighbour as themselves, in ways that both agree and profoundly disagree with how our Church believes love of neighbour is to be manifested accordingly to the will of God and taught to us through the teachings of the Catholic Church? If we fail to teach our children to love their neighbour from the truth of our Catholic Faith, then we have shown that maybe our schools are not needed after all…
Everything that is good, true and beautiful in this life and the world to come is worth fighting for to the very end. So too it is with Catholic Education. If more and more we are being called to stand up, bear witness to our Faith and fight for our Catholic Schools, and do our uttermost to assure they are Catholic in their entirety, then let us not fail to pray, as a school, as parents, as a parish community, to truly love God with our whole being and our neighbours as ourselves.
Twice or more times a month I am privileged to visit our school to lead individual classes in short periods of Eucharistic Adoration. Jesus Christ, truly present in His Sacred Body and Precious Blood, walks the halls of this school, showing us that He is with us always, that He has consecrated this school to His Most Sacred Heart and lovingly desires to be with us for He knows that He is welcomed here. I believe that these times of prayer, where students steal quite moments to pray, while also being distracted by many things around them, because they are kids, will provide the divine fire to help our students to love God to the best of their abilities and to love each other, even when they don’t, knowing they can be forgiven and start again.
These times of prayer, alongside all of the great work being done here, affirm me that our school is doing the work of God. So let us rejoice in the gift of Catholic education, let us continually be challenged to keep it safe and make it thrive, let us not be afraid to fight for what is ours and always strive to live those two great commandments of love of God and love of one another…