Fr. Roger J. Landry
Bishop Connolly High School, Fall River, MA
Catholic Schools Week
Feast of the Presentation
February 2, 2001
Jesus is the “light of revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of his people Israel.” These words from the elderly Simeon are as true today as they were 2000 years ago when he said them in the Temple. Jesus remains God’s light of revelation to all nations, to illumine our minds with the Truth and to warm our hearts with true love. There are many reasons to celebrate Catholic Schools Week here at Bishop Connolly, and many reasons to be grateful for all the very good things that go on here, but the greatest reason to celebrate Catholic schools week is to celebrate the fact that we here have the greatest teacher of all, Jesus.
Focused on forming the whole person.
Education is more than instruction. Instruction means learning how to calculate the circumference of a circle, how to put together grammatically a coherent sentence, who Calvin Coolidge was, how to shoot a free throw. Education means to raise you to be a good person, to use that knowledge to come to know God and love God in Himself, in yourselves and in others. We celebrate Catholic Schools Week because at Catholic schools you receive not just instruction but receive an education.
This major difference came to me a week ago Sunday at the Holocaust museum in Washington, DC, where 14 of us from Connolly joined 199 others from the Catholic High Schools of the Diocese to March in support of life. Throughout the visit to the Holocaust museum, one cannot be struck with the simple cruelty and lack of love present in the Nazi policy of hatred toward all non-Aryans, but most especially the Jews. One cannot be struck with the cold efficiency of the anti-Jewish propaganda, of the pogroms against them, and most especially of the gas chambers and other killing centers, where they were killed on an assembly line by the millions. At the end of the visit, Mr Lauzon showed me a letter found in the back of a book he had bought which was particularly poignant, eloquent and most pertinent to what we’re doing here at Bishop Connolly. It was written by a Holocaust survivor named Chaim Ginnott. He addressed the letter to teachers specifically, but students can get, I believe, just as much out of it.
“Dear Teacher,” he said, “I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness: Gas chambers built by learned engineers; children poisoned by Educated physicians; infants killed by trained nurses; women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates. So I am suspicious of education. My request is: help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.”
Chaim’s absolutely right. Everything we learn in school is meant to help us not just get a job, or pass a test, but to help us to become more human. Today we’re seeing the devastating effects that misused instruction can bring about. Doctors are killing children in the womb and killing elderly patients in their hospital beds. Biologists are using their scientific know-how to manufacture children in test tubes and then freeze them indefinitely as if they were mere tissue samples. The Unabomber, Ted Kaszynski learned what he needed to mail-bomb innocent victims two of the nations’ finest universities, Harvard and Berkeley. There are more and more “white collar” prisons, where the inmates have bachelors, MBAs and even doctoral degrees. They all are smart by the world’s standards, but they’re not human beings. To be a human being means to be all that God created us to be, ultimately not just to know things, but to know God and our place in his plan, to love God and to love others. Jesus, as the Second Vatican Council teaches, shows us how to be truly human, he reveals to man man’s great dignity and makes his supreme calling clear.
That’s the great gift of Catholic education, because our teachers can form the whole person, they can talk about God, they can talk about true right and wrong, they can talk about the purpose of life, about heaven, about hell, about Jesus and why we’re here. So many good public school teachers today are worried that if they talk about these most important things in life, they’ll be sued by the ACLU under a distorted notion of the separation of Church and state. What a gift this is!
The point of a Catholic education is not just to prepare you the SAT but for the final exam of life, in which you will meet face-to-face your Sole Teacher who died out of love for you and gave you the choice in life of whether you’d respond to such love with love in return. Connolly exists not just to help you get into college, or to get a good job, but to help you become whom God calls you to be. God gave us a brain not just so that we could have greater earning potential than dolphins or gorillas, but so that we might know him and come to love him, so that we might learn the truth and come to realize that the truth has a name, Jesus.
Our task is not to know just about Jesus, but to know Jesus, the person. Jesus is either who he says he is — the Son of God — or the greatest liar of all time. There’s no middle ground. He’s not just a good person, a good moral teacher. He claimed to be the Son of God. He claimed that His Flesh and Blood were true food and true drink and that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we have no life in us. He said that whatever we do to the least of his brethren we do for him. He said to his apostles, whatever they forgive on earth is forgive; whatever they bound on earth is bound in heaven. Our Catholic education is meant to bring us to the truth about Jesus.
For a Catholic school to do this, it must have a strong Catholic identity and purpose. Catholic means more than just in name. It’s more than just a place where most of the people were baptized Catholics. It means that it’s inserted and a real living part of the Catholic Church throughout the world. A Catholic school’s purpose is not to produce a society of independent thinkers who know at least what the Catholic Church holds on a particular issue. It’s a synthetic school in which everything is seen from the perspective of the faith, of heaven, of the importance of all of this. That’s why religious education can never be just another subject, one that people don’t take as seriously as others. Catholicism has got to permeate everything the school does. There are several features of Catholic identity:
• A love for the Christ, for the Church he founded, and for all of those in the Church
• A deep trust in God working through his Church
• A Catholic culture of service and kindness — To build a Catholic culture requires everyone’s contribution. There’s a saying that it can take hundreds of people to build a building but one can destroy it. It can be a teacher, an administrator, a chaplain, a student, all of us.
• Love for the sacraments, all seven of them.
But there are two potential pitfalls of a Catholic education, that we cannot brush over, but need to tackle head-on:
1) Supposed hypocrisy — If a student were disciplined at a public school like Durfee, and the student didn’t like it, the student would generally focus his anger on the particular teacher or administrator, maybe on the school, but it wouldn’t focus his criticism on, for example, the”entire hypocritical city of Fall River.” In a Catholic school, often the students will leave with a bad taste for Catholicism in general. That’s the great responsibility that all teachers bear in a Catholic school. Every one is a religion teacher, whether they’re teaching science, math, English, foreign languages or gym, working in the computer lab or mopping the floors. But at the same time, students need to recognize that if a teacher or administrator or chaplain or custodian does something they don’t like, that it’s not because all Catholics are hypocrites, because they don’t seem to live up to that student’s conception of the Gospel.
2) Loss of faith, know-it-all-ism, conscience/opinion of Catholic universities.
Jesus grew in wisdom and understanding. He calls us to do the same, so that we might pass that final exam of life and bring others to join us.