Educators: Convincing heralds of mercy

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for the Catholic Institute Day Mass at All Saints Church in Manassas.

Saint Joseph Calasanz. Which Saint Joseph is he? No, he is not the husband of Mary, the Mother of God, and foster father of her Divine Son Jesus Christ. Who is he then? And why are we seeking his prayerful intercession as we take part in this annual Catholic Institute Day Mass?

In the Church calendar, today is the Optional Memorial of Saint Joseph Calasanz. This means that, in addition to him, there is also another saint whose optional memorial can be chosen for today's liturgy. I chose Saint Joseph Calasanz because he is very similar to each one of you gathered here this morning. He too was a teacher of youth; in fact, he founded a community of men whose primary goal was and still is the formation - education of young people: the Clerks Regular of the Pious Schools, or, as they are more popularly known: the Piarists or the Scolopi Religious Institute.

Saint Joseph Calasanz was born in Spain in 1556. After studying law, he became a priest and an effective missionary in the northern part of his diocese, near the Pyrenees Mountains bordering France. He later went to Rome, where he was moved by the plight of young boys who were uneducated although they possessed great potential. So, with two other priests, he opened in Rome in 1597 a free school for boys. Other teachers joined him and, later on, as I mentioned, they became a religious community devoted to the education of the young. Saint Joseph Calasanz' heart was filled with the Gospel love described by Saint Paul in today's first reading. Here is how he counseled his fellow teachers: "All who undertake to teach must be endowed with deep love, the greatest patience and, most of all, profound humility. They must perform their work with earnest zeal" (cf. Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. IV, p. 1350). He and his companions understood what the Lord Jesus told us in today's Gospel: "… whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me."

Saint Joseph Calasanz' later years were marked by internal dissent within his community. He was dismissed as the superior general but later was proven to have been unjustly and cruelly treated. Reconciled with the priest who defamed him, Saint Joseph died two months later, in 1648. He was canonized a saint in 1767.

Like each one of you, Saint Joseph understood that the best gift which parents can give to their children is the opportunity to be formed in their total personhood: body, intellect, emotion and soul. Like you, he understood that in forming and educating young people in the truth which Jesus Christ is and which Jesus Christ teaches through His Church, both the church and the nation benefit - indeed, the entire society. These young people can then become articulate members of the church and faithful citizens of the nation. Again, I quote from Saint Joseph Calasanz' writings "All who belong to the society of men, and especially all Christians, praise those who increase the human dignity of young boys, especially poor boys, by giving then a proper education. (If Saint Joseph were living now, he would include both young men and women.) Above all, parents are happy that their children are led through straight paths. Civil leaders rejoice to gain upright subjects and good citizens. The Church is especially joyful that others who love Christ and proclaim the Gospel are added to its following" (cf. Ibid.).

What Saint Joseph Calasanz did in his lifetime and what each one of you are doing now is revealing in concrete ways the love which God has for every one of us, a love which became visible in God's Only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, a love which offers us salvation through the Dying and Rising of Jesus Christ, a love which reaches out to everyone, especially the most in need. Your participation in the educational mission of the Church and in my episcopal duty to teach and to catechize proclaims the core of the Gospel: Love God with all you are and have, and love others as Christ loves us, especially the most in need.

Another way to describe this two-fold love is to name it "mercy." As Pope Francis recently reminds us, "Jesus Christ is the face of the Father's mercy … Jesus of Nazareth by His words, His actions and His entire person (1) reveals the mercy of God" (cf. "Misericordiae Vultus," No. 1). In so many ways, both formally and informally, each one of you reveals to those entrusted to you the Person of Jesus Christ, who is the face of God's mercy.

Moreover, once each one of us has experienced God's mercy, made visible in Jesus Christ, made available to us in daily prayer and extended to us in the sacraments, especially in Penance and in the Holy Eucharist, we, in turn must be the heralds of mercy to others, especially to those on the fringes, whether the fringe means a material, educational, emotional or spiritual arena. In fact, Pope Francis unequivocally states: "the Church feels the urgent need to proclaim God's mercy. Her life is authentic and credible only when she becomes a convincing herald of mercy" (cf. Ibid., No. 25). Each one of you, then, must be a convincing herald of mercy by the way you interact with those entrusted to you in our schools, with their families and with one another. This witness to mercy is essential. In turn, you will be preparing the young men and women to become themselves convincing heralds of mercy.

So, as we begin this new academic year, I challenge each one of you as well as myself to become a convincing herald of mercy. How? By allowing God's mercy to envelop us through prayer, by witnessing to God's mercy and by inviting the young to experience for themselves God's mercy and then to pass it on to others, in tangible ways.

Surely, Saint Joseph Calasanz himself tasted God's mercy and assuredly extended that same mercy to everyone he met. As we seek his prayerful intersession for us during this new academic year, let us ourselves become and remain convincing heralds of mercy!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015