‘Blue Ribbon of Excellence': In education and in evangelization

Given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde for the Blue Ribbon Mass of Thanksgiving at Saint James School in Falls Church.

Here at St. James School, when a student completes 8th grade, he or she takes part in a ceremony where family and friends come out to see all the graduates receiving their diplomas. At that time, the eighth graders have completed all they can do here at Saint James, and they will be sent forth to enter high school, prepared by all they have learned from the priests, the principal and school staff, and especially their teachers.

Most likely, for each of you dear students, there will be other graduation ceremonies as well, such as when you complete your studies in high school and college. Sometimes these are called commencement ceremonies. Why that name: "commencement"? Because it comes from the word that means "a beginning."

Why would we name a graduation ceremony after a beginning when so clearly it comes at an end? The reason is that when you complete your work at school, you are sent forth to begin something anew! When you finish 8th grade, you are ready to begin high school. When you graduate from high school, many of you will be ready to enter college. When you graduate from college, you will be sent forth to begin your careers as teachers and doctors and engineers and whatever God has called you to do in your lives. I hope for some of you that will be the priesthood or the religious life!

So, we come to understand that with the completion of some events in our life, we are sent forth on a new mission! We experience this at each graduation, but we also experience this at Baptism, at Confirmation, and, actually, at every Mass in which we take part. It is in these sacraments that we hear the priest or deacon tell us to go forth, strengthened by the grace we receive from Jesus, to bring His Gospel message to the world.

Yes, over and over, Jesus Christ asks us to go and preach the Gospel. As this morning's Gospel account reminds us, we are not the first to hear this. As He was about to ascend into heaven to be seated at the right hand of the Father, Jesus gave His Apostles - and us - a final command: "Go, therefore, 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 all that I have commanded you."

Why does Jesus send each one of us to start fresh after we receive His grace in these sacramental celebrations? We understand why the priests should do this, but why the students? Because as Christians, all Christ's disciples - even the young! - are called to spread the good news of salvation! Jesus Christ came to forgive our sins! He came to bring us eternal life! He came to open the gates of heaven to all who listen to Him! We are all called to spread this good news of how much God loves us because we want everyone to know about Jesus and to love Him very much! After all, the love of Jesus within our hearts helps, enables and empowers us to live life with meaning and purpose, with hope that endures!

But St. Paul asks us in today's first readings, "(H)ow can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach? And how can people preach unless they are sent?"

As followers of Christ, we are sent. We who are strengthened by Him are asked to begin preaching in every place we go: on the playgrounds, on the sports fields, in our schools. Of course, we are also called to preach in our families, and with our friends. It is in the family, in this church, and in this school that we learn about Jesus. In the home, in the pew and in the classroom, we meet God made visible in Jesus, and come to know and love Him. And the best way we preach is by our witness: how we speak and act in daily life, that is, how we make Jesus present throughout our own words and actions day in and day out.

Today, I am here to celebrate with you the Blue Ribbon Award which your school, Saint James, has received for the second time! It has received this award twice because the faculty, staff and clergy of the school have worked very hard to make sure that every child receives an excellent education in math, science, social studies, reading, computer science, and many other subjects. Knowing about all of these topics prepares the students to move on to the next level of high school, and at Saint James, parents know that their sons and daughters will be exceptionally prepared.

More importantly, however, parents know that their children are prepared to go forth from here knowing and loving Jesus Christ. Saint Bonaventure said, "If you learn everything except Christ, you learn nothing. If you learn nothing except Christ, you learn everything."

I congratulate each of you, dear students, but also Sister Mary Sue Carwile; your principal; your teachers; and the entire staff of this outstanding school. I also congratulate Father Posey, your pastor; Father Horkan and Father Tran, your parochial vicars; the other priest-residents who also assist here; and your deacons Mr. Fishenden and Mr. Gliot. I am proud of each of you and all of you. I am grateful to your parents, who sacrifice much so that you can come to this school and also the parishioners and school benefactors for their support. I also am grateful to Sister Bernadette, our diocesan superintendent; and the entire dedicated staff of our Diocesan Schools Office for their support. I thank them as well as the U.S. Department of Education for its recognition of you - as I mentioned, for the second time!

So, as we give thanks to God and to one another and as we rejoice in Saint James School being awarded the Blue Ribbon of Excellence, let us recommit ourselves to achieving another Blue Ribbon, not from the government or the diocese, but from Jesus Christ: the Blue Ribbon of Excellence for making the Lord Jesus known and loved in the real world: the Blue Ribbon of the New Evangelization! Congratulations and may the Lord bless you with His peace always!

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015