The Gift of Catholic Education, 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), January 28, 2001

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Espirito Santo Parish, Fall River, MA
4th Sunday of OT, Year C
Catholic Schools Week Mass
January 28, 2001
Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor 12:31-13:13; Lk 4:21-30

Why did God give us a brain? So that we might learn the truth, and ultimately come to the conclusion that the truth has a name, Jesus.

What’s the purpose of education? To help us to learn the truth, to learn what’s right, and to help us always to live in the truth. That’s obvious. We teach math because we want young people to be able to be able to put it into action. Math’s no good if we know how to add or subtract or multiply or divide and then fail to use it appropriately in balancing our checkbooks, making measurements, etc. We teach English is no good if once we pass our tests we go out and speak in ways no one can understand. History is no good unless we learn from the good deeds and the mistakes of those who have come before us, unless we put the lessons we pick up into practice. It’s the same thing with religious education. We need to live it. Our task is not to know just about Jesus, but to know Jesus, the person. People in Nazareth thought they knew about Jesus. He was the carpenter’s son. But they didn’t have any faith in him. They wanted to use him just for miracles. They didn’t want to be open to what he wanted to do in their lives. They didn’t want to be open to the salvation he offered. Our Christian education is geared first to this.

But it’s more than just knowledge we’re after. It’s love. St. Paul to the Corinthians.

Education is more than instruction. Instruction means we’re concerned with whether you know how to add, read, know who the first president was, etc. Education means to raise you to be a good person, to use that knowledge to come to know God and love God. This major difference came to me last week at the Holocaust museum, when I read a passage from a Holocaust survivor named Chaim Ginott. He wrote to teachers specifically, but students can get a lot out of it too. “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.” He’s right. We see it today. Abortion doctors have gone to medical school. The Unabomber, Ted Kaszynski, went to Harvard. Many people in prison have bachelors, MBAs and even doctorates. 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.

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. So many 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. That’s why there’s a special burden on parents who send their kids to the public schools. Sometimes, we know, because of financial reasons, you’re incapable of sending your kids to Catholic schools. Your children will still learn to read and write in public schools, but they won’t learn about the true God. That means you have to teach them. They really can’t learn all that they need to learn about God on 90 minute sessions on Saturday or Sunday. They can’t. Even if the Pope were their teacher, they wouldn’t learn it all. And they wouldn’t gain the great cultural benefit that comes from doing everything in Catholic school with a Catholic purpose, starting the day with prayer, starting each class with prayer, etc. You’ve got an enormous burden. (I would also like to say to parents with kids in public schools for financial reasons that there is a new financial assistance available from the Diocese to help poor families get a Catholic Education, the St. Mary’s Fund. You can talk to Mrs Benoit, the school principal, about this great help)

The last thing I’d like to do today is to talk directly to all of the students here, both from CCD and from the school. I want to say two things. First, you’ve got some excellent teachers, who are not just really smart but also good people who love you. They really want you to learn and to grow into great human beings. But they can’t do it all. There’s an old saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.” They can lead to knowledge about the things that are most important, but if you’re not thirsting for the truth, hungering for knowledge, you won’t really benefit. If all you’re thinking about in school is recess, or going home to watch television, or play games on the computer, you won’t really benefit. The harder you work now the happier you’ll be later.

Secondly, you’ve probably already been asked many times in your lives what you want to be when you grow up. I want to ask you a different question, a deeper question, a more important question. I want to ask you, and invite the adults here, especially your parents and teachers, to continue to ask you: What do you think God wants you to be when you grow up? God has a great plan for you. You’re not just a number, one of six billion people on earth. But he created you out of love with a mission. As we read in the first reading with Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I dedicated you; a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” Before he formed you in the womb, he dedicated you to a mission. Many of you will have the mission of building up God’s family by raising up large Christian families. Some of you may have the mission to cure cancer or AIDS or some other important disease. Some of you may have the great mission to become teachers, to pass on the gift of knowledge you’ve received. And many of you will have the mission to become priests and religious sisters. Please always be open to what God wants in your life. He has a mission to help you learn how to love and to love others. Because, as St. Paul tells us, if you grow up and have a 100 room mansion down in Newport, several awesome cars, a beautiful husband or wife, two successful kids, if you don’t have love, in the final analysis of your life, you’ll have nothing.

So set your hearts on the GREATER GIFTS, as he says, FAITH, HOPE, and LOVE. This is what Catholic education is meant to help you to do.