The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on August 23, 2016, at the Catholic School Educators Opening Mass at All Saints Church in Manassas.
What is God saying to us through His Living Word just proclaimed as we Catholic School Educators gather to take part in this Eucharistic Sacrifice? So, soon we will begin another academic year. How do these scripture readings assist us as we take up the privilege and the responsibility of forming the young people entrusted to us to be faithful disciples and committed citizens, as we lead them out into the wider understanding of the various disciplines we teach, as we equip them to be missionary disciples, as we lead them closer to the Lord Jesus, and to eternal life?
In today's first reading from Saint Paul's second Letter to the Thessalonians, the Lord is reminding us to “stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that [we] were taught.” Living the faith ourselves and teaching our students how to live the faith themselves: this is rooted not in a set of proposals or ideals, however attractive or honorable, but in a decision to embrace a Person, Who is the Way, Who is the Truth, Who is the Life: the Lord and Savior Himself Jesus Christ. Living in a deeply-personal relationship with Him within the Community of His Disciples, the Church: this is what discipleship implies. How do we know that we are not in error? Because God's Word in Sacred Scripture and the Tradition alive through the centuries, officially taught and interpreted through the Teaching Office of the Church, guarantee that we travel the right path and lead our students to do the same.
Jesus Himself, in today's Gospel passage, confirms that Catholic formation/education is life-giving and life-saving. Of course, we initially hear the “woes” He speaks! However, calling to mind the wider context of the message in this section and digging beneath the surface, we hear Jesus insist: “First things first!” There are priorities, not everything has the same weight. Do not neglect what is more important, “weightier,” by putting too much focus, on what is less important yet still to be obeyed. Judgement as God sees, Mercy and fidelity: these are weightier than monetary considerations
Moreover, “live from the inside out.” What is in the heart is key and central, not what lies in outward appearances. Consider how these wise directives relate to our young as they struggle with a culture that proclaims “look good even if you are not,” “do not worry about the truth, say and do anything that gets you ahead,” “people are to be used, not treasured,” “me first” and the list goes on.
Yes, standing firm on Truth, rooted in Jesus. Yes, “first things first” and “live from the inside out” - live with integrity! And thirdly, look for role models that inspire. Despite our frailty and human weaknesses, every disciple is called to be like Jesus, to image Jesus! So too, each one of you in your God-given mission to teach in the Name of Christ and His Church! So, each one of us, each one of you, must daily seek to be drawn into a closer union with the Lord Jesus, so that we can give good example. From our own experiences, we know how a good and faithful teacher makes all the difference in a person's life.
Our young seek role models. How sad when those who could be role models fail by giving an example that is empty and misleading. The saints are real role models. How often do we really propose to our young the inspiring and encouraging way of life of our saints, especially young saints? Yes, we need to provide them with solid life-stories, not those with events that make these saints unable to be imitated because they seem to have lived life in a world that is objectively unreal. Saints are redeemed sinners, like us, yet open to the transforming grace of Jesus!
Today's Saint, Rose of Lima, was the first to be canonized from the New World! Yes, some of her penitential practices were very odd - not to be imitated! But, beyond those, Rose ardently loved the Lord Jesus, lived in a deep union with Him, and reached out to assist the poor and infirm in Lima. Despite her limitations, she became a saint!
So beloved Catholic educators, sharers in my episcopal duty to teach. “Stand firm, rooted in Truth, Who is Jesus Himself!” Seek “first things, first” and “live from inside out” - teach others to do the same! Be inspired by role models, the saints; show the young how they can become saints. In the end, may you and your students “live Jesus!” So, echoing Saint Paul, “May the Lord Jesus Christ encourage your hearts and strengthen them in every good deed and word”- this school year and always!