January 31 to February 6 is Catholic Schools week. This week is a time to celebrate the great legacy of Catholic Education as well as honor the many sacrifices the people of God offer to make our schools possible. We have a proud legacy of Catholic education in Norfolk that will continue to bless future generations. Thank you for all you do to advance this mission.
I have benefitted greatly from Catholic schools, having attended one from first grade all through seminary, and can personally attest to the power of receiving a total education – spiritual, human, and academic.
However, Catholic education is not magical. It’s primary purpose is to help make disciples of Jesus Christ; people who don’t just know about Him but have come to know Him. Young people will glean this not from studying religion or taking tests about the 10 Commandments. Rather, they will look to adults – parents, teachers, administrator, and pastors – to show them the look and feel of a disciple of Jesus.
At the heart of mature discipleship is the ability to set aside ones needs and seek the good of another. If Christian adults truly desire the best fruit of Catholic education for their children they will always be pointing them to the next step in their relationship with Jesus. It’s simply not enough to go to school in a building with crucifixes in the classrooms and Mass with classmates once a week (and consider this to suffice for Sunday worship). That’s not discipleship.
Young people need adults to help them to listen to the voice of God and discern His will. In lieu of this we run the risk of simply providing mountaintop experiences, exciting in the moment, but lacking a pathway to something real and enduring. So what do adults need to do? They need to develop a habit of personal prayer. “An approach to Christian faith and prayer which seek to manufacture ‘spiritual highs’ at all times rather than developing the daily discipline of prayer is more about feeding addiction than honest Christian spirituality.” (Fr. Michael Cummins)
Why say all this? Because our parish invests a very substantial amount of resources in our Catholic school; about 75% of our total budget. With that kind of outlay we had better be making disciples. But the statistics show that, most of the time, we are not. I know this is hard to hear but it’s true. A 2008 Pew Survey showed that 80% of young people stop attending Mass by their early twenties. This is true regardless of which school they attend. If this doesn’t sound an alarm what will? The good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.
The popular author and speaker Matthew Kelly says that the most important thing people want to know is if they can hear God speak to them. Teach them this and you won’t have enough room in your church, in your school. During this Catholic Schools Week I’m inviting adults to more satisfying way of life. Let us help you hear the voice of Jesus. He has something to say to you. Fr. Niggemeyer and I, along with many others, can help you learn how to encounter Him. Your children want to learn this, from you, their parents. Be not afraid! God will give you everything you need and you’ll be so satisfied by what you find.
“If Christianity, as so often and so rightly has been said, is not primarily a doctrine but a person, Jesus Christ, it follows that the proclamation of this person and of one’s relationship with him is the most important thing, the beginning of all true evangelization and the very condition for making such a thing possible. To reverse this order and put the doctrines and obligations of the Gospel before the discovery of Jesus would be like putting the carriages in front of the railway engine that is supposed to pull them. The person of Jesus opens the highway of the heart for the acceptance of everything else. Anyone who has once known the living Jesus has no further need to be goaded along; we ourselves burn with desire to know his thought, his will, his word. It is not on the authority of the Church that we accept Jesus, but on the authority of Jesus that we accept and love the Church. So the first thing the Church has to do is not present herself to the world, but present Jesus.”
~ Father Raniero Cantalamessa, O.F.M. Cap. (preacher to the papal household).