Christ and Catholic Schools, Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B), January 29, 2006

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B
January 29, 2006
Deut 18:15-20; 1Cor 7:32-35; Mk 1:21-28

1) In today’s Gospel, we see that on the Sabbath day, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. All those who listened to him were “astounded at his teaching, for he taught with authority and not like the scribes.” He then showed the tremendous power of his authoritative words by silencing and casting a demon out of a man. That amazed the crowd even further. They asked, “What is this? A new teaching — with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

2) The same Jesus who entered the Capernaum synagogue on the Jewish Sabbath enters this beautiful New Bedford Church on the Christian Sabbath. And here he teaches with the same authority he wielded two thousand years ago. He has just spoken to us in the word of God and later he who created the heavens and the earth with his word will do something far more amazing than silence and cast out a devil. He will change bread and wine into his body and blood and cast himself into us. If we recognize what is really going on, we will be far more amazed than Jesus’ contemporaries two millennia ago.

3) Jesus teaches unlike any other teacher. His contemporaries said he “taught with authority, unlike the scribes.” They scribes always used to cite Sacred Scripture or Jewish tradition, to base their teachings on the authority of the word of God. Well, Jesus didn’t need to cite the word of God, because he was the word of God. In the Sermon on the Mount, for example, he contrasted himself to what Moses, their greatest teacher up until then, said to them in the desert: “You have heard that it was said — in other words, Moses said to you — ‘you shall not kill…’ ‘you shall not commit adultery… ,’ ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…,’ BUT I SAY TO YOU, you shall not even be angry with a brother, or look on a woman with lust in your heart, or if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other as well” (Mt 5:20-45). Authority comes from the Latin word for “author,” and Jesus spoke with authority because he was the author, the creator, of man and the world. To capture just a little of what it must have been like to listen to Jesus talk about God, about the world, about man, and about faith and morality, we can imagine listening to Bill Gates talk about computers, or Thomas Edison talk about electricity, or Henry Ford talk about a car. They could speak with greater authority than almost everyone else because they were the “authors,” the inventors, of what we now take for granted. Well, Jesus is our author of the world. He could command the seas and the wind (Mk 4:41) and the demons and they would obey him, because he is the Lord of all.

4) Jesus continues to teach with that authority. He does so clearly at Mass. The fathers of the Second Vatican Council reminded us that “when the holy scriptures are read in Church, it is Christ himself who speaks” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). That’s why we stand when the Gospel is proclaimed, because Christ himself is proclaiming it through his minister. But Christ also speaks to us with his authority through the teaching of the Church. He gave the Church his own amazing authority to continue his saving work. Before ascending into heaven, he said to his apostles: “Full AUTHORITY in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and TEACHING them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Mt 28:18-20). He gave that authority in a special way to the visible head of the Church he founded. He told Peter that he was the rock on whom he was going to build his Church and then gave him the authority to open and lock the way to heaven: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19). The Church firmly believes that that authority was passed down to St. Peter’s successors all the way to Pope Benedict. But Christ also gave his authority to the apostles as a whole (and their successors, the bishops). He made it very clear that they speak and teach in his name: “Whoever hears you hears me, and whoever rejects you rejects me” (Lk 10:16).

5) But Christ’s teaching authority doesn’t stop there. One very important way the Church carries out its mandate to teach with Christ’s wisdom and power is in Catholic schools. Today we begin the celebration of Catholic schools week and it is good for us at the outset to reflect on just how important Catholic schools are in Christ’s plan. They are the means by which new generations of disciples are formed in the faith and in all of the learning and skills necessary so that they can become the light of the world and transform it for the better. While there is no specifically “catholic” way to teach math, science, English, or social studies, each is taught within a greater context, because the laws of mathematics and science reflect God the Creator’s order, language is given so that we can communicate with each other and with God, history is taught so that we can build on the good done in the past and avoid the mistakes and sins. But most importantly, in Catholic schools, students receive more than instruction for their brains, because they are more than minds. They receive an “integral education” geared toward forming their souls and their character. The goal of Catholic education is not merely to help them get into high school, or college, or find a good job. It’s to prepare them to ace the final exam of life and live with Christ, “our one teacher” (Mt 23:8 ), throughout their life. As Aubrey Correiro, a first grader wrote in the Catholic Schools Week Essay Contest for our diocesan newspaper, the Anchor (my other job), “[My school] is special because Jesus is walking with us through the entire school. It is special to learn about Jesus. He loves us because we are his children.” Another first grader, Michael Leboeu, said that his Catholic school “ is special because you can learn your ABC’s and 123’s and all about God’s love. You can almost see the angels.” Imagine what he’d say if he were here at St. Anthony’s and could see these angels!

6) Catholic school is such a gift because it does not ignore what is most important in a child’s life, or a person’s life: his or her relationship with God. My parents sent me to a public school, because when my twin brother and I were starting kindergarten, there were special programs in the public schools for color-blind children. But public schools were different then in Lowell. Almost all of my teachers were Catholic, and, in fact, many of them used to moonlight as my CCD teacher on the weekend. They would remind Catholic students when it was a holy day of obligation. Two thirds of the teachers would arrive to school on Ash Wednesday with ashes on their forehead. Today, however, because of the aggressive secularism of higher ups in public education and the threat of lawsuits because of a false interpretation of the separation of Church and state, young people receive an education in which, very often, they feel like they’ve got to leave their souls at home. The most important part of their upbringing — the formation of their character, of their soul, of the relationship with the Creator — is officially ignored. And for that reason, kids who transfer from public schools to Catholic schools rejoice that they can finally be themselves. Listen to what fifth grader Leticia Malta wrote in the Anchor essay contest about her transfer from a public school to a Catholic school at the beginning of this year: “The thing I like most about my Catholic school is the freedom to talk about God. I mean just imagine in a public school! You would be in big trouble just if you said, ‘God or Mary, Mother of God or Jesus,’ and those are the most important words in the world to me! Now imagine talking about Jesus anywhere you like! And you can talk to your friends about him too! And they would not be like ‘I’m telling that you talked about God.’ But at school they would join your conversation and like it. How wonderful is it that in every class from Spanish to art to gym we talk about Jesus. We even get to have Advent candles! We also get to go to Mass every Friday and that is very important to me too. The other thing I like about my Catholic school is the people, because everyone is nice. In public schools people have fights and bullies and some people say and do inappropriate things in school! I’ve been in a public school before and I could never hear the teacher because people were always talking. And don’t get me wrong I think some public schools are nice, but if I could go back in time I would have always gone to a Catholic school.”

7) The importance of a Catholic school in the moral upbringing of children is only growing as public school administrators in our state Department of Education, and their allies on Beacon Hill, are no longer just ignoring young kids’ souls, but now proposing to do things that will positively poison them. On Tuesday of this week, there will be hearing up on Beacon Hill about House Bill 1641, called the Massachusetts Health Curriculum Framework. This curriculum, being pushed by the pro-abortion group Planned Parenthood, would force children as young as FIVE years old to — and I’m quoting from the proposed legislation — “define sexual orientation using the correct terminology (such as heterosexual, gay and lesbian),” “identify the components, functions and processes of the reproductive system… and the physical changes as related to the reproductive system during puberty.” If having kindergarten teachers speak to innocent five year olds about lesbianism or puberty is not enough, it gets worse. It will mandate that in order to graduate from high school, all students will need to learn about sexuality, birth control and abortion from the perspective of the biggest abortion provider in the country. Up until now, parents have been able to absent their children from such courses, but this bill will make it mandatory. A student will not be able to receive a high school diploma from a public school without passing the course. Parents seeking to defeat the legislation are meeting up at the State House on January 31st at 1 pm and I’ll happily give parents here who would like to participate the information on how to do so. My point is that this is an example of what children in public schools today are facing. Catholic schools, on the other hand, are able to work in a different curriculum about love and life. They are able to discuss, for example, what St. Paul says in today’s second reading about “being anxious about the affairs of the Lord” and about the beauty of virginity. They are able to talk about the great gift of married love between a man and a woman and kindergarteners are safe from having to learn about things that will rob their innocence. They are able to relate each and every topic to Jesus and what he is asking of them in the gift of life he has given them.

8 ) I’d like to finish by giving the beneficiaries of Catholic schools the last words. Sometimes adults can wonder whether young people are perceptive enough to notice the distinctiveness of Catholic schools and why they’re so important in their upbringing. Listen to the testimony of these three students and you be the judge:

a. “The best thing about being in a Catholic school,” says one fifth grader, “is that you never get made fun of for believing in Jesus Christ. It is such a relief to know that you are free to talk about Jesus. In some schools you can’t talk about Jesus. If you talk about Jesus, kids would make fun of you and wouldn’t play or talk to you. And that is why I love my Catholic school so much” (Jacob Tavares, St. Anne School, Fall River).

b. “What I love about my Catholic school,” says another fifth grader, “is that we learn to follow the teachings of Jesus every day and we are able to learn about our religion. I’m also thankful that we can say the word God in school. I appreciate the opportunity to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist during the week and on holy days with my classmates. We learn and practice good morals and manners so there are no bullies to worry about. I don’t have to listen to anyone using bad language around me. I also like the teachers because they are nice and they understand me. I love going to school every day because of them. I feel safe because nobody I know would even think of bringing drugs or weapons to school. Everyone gets along and are friends. I also like that we can say the Pledge of Allegiance, and we can say ‘Merry Christmas’ to each other instead of ‘Happy Holidays.’ I like it when my school puts on a Christmas play or concert. Holy Trinity School is a real community of students, teachers and parents that work together to keep the teachings of Jesus in my life. I am very happy to be a part of this community” (Matthew Brown, Holy Trinity Regional School, West Harwich).

c. Finally the retrospective wisdom of an eighth grader from New Bedford: “During my education at Holy Family, I have been provided with many tools I will need to succeed in my future. However, the most important instrument of learning I have been granted is love. Learning to love other human beings has greater value than any diamond in the world. At my school, it’s not only the things we learn, but how we learn and how we apply them with love, that makes Holy Family-Holy Name the wonderful school it is” (Alyssa Quann, Holy Family-Holy Name, New Bedford).

9) As we can see, in Catholic schools, Jesus continues to amaze them with his authoritative teaching. They are inspired hunger after and emulate the character, compassion, virtues and values of the Master. Those lessons are contagious and more valuable than “any diamond in the world.” How lucky we are to have a Catholic school in our parish! May God help us always to be grateful for it and never take it for granted, because it is a bridge to heaven from which our children can “almost see the angels.”