Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

25 January 2014

A Light Has Shone

The Church in the United States begins its annual observance of “Catholic Schools Week.” Consider with me how today’s readings offer an oblique tribute to education.

Ignorance and error are often described as a kind of darkness, or a burden that inhibits people’s development. Education therefore provides a joyful release from the oppression of error and the darkness of ignorance, even as Our Lord declared: “The truth shall set you free” (Jn 8:32; veritas vos liberabit is the motto of numerous institutions of higher learning). 

The prophecy of Isaiah easily could be applied to the learning process and its results: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light […]. You have brought them abundant joy […]. For the yoke that burdened them…you have smashed” (9:2-3). Insight sometimes may come to people “in a flash,” but growth in knowledge and wisdom tends to be slow and incremental.

Such was the case for Peter, James, John, and the other Apostles, whom Jesus called into His school. They had to respect and trust the educational process. Like all other students of Truth, they would constantly need to “repent”—that is, to set aside incompatible ideas and practices. As Jesus’ disciples grew in knowledge and love, more would be revealed to them; more would have to be discarded to make room for the Lord’s light and life.

Our Catholic schools are privileged to teach the essentials of every academic discipline. In addition, they endeavor to form disciples of Jesus, devoted participants of the Kingdom of God and human society, people who are willing to set aside sinful habits in favor of virtues. This sort of formation has never been easy because of the wounded situations in families, wayward human inclinations and the enticements all around us. Both public and Catholic schools have to work with the support of their contributing families, who are the first teachers of their children in the ways of humanity and holiness.

I pray that every school does its best in these matters with our kids. But it is a true consolation that Catholic schools incorporate Jesus’ person and mission into their own, not only between the opening and closing prayers of each day, but also “after hours” when the real sacrifices must be made.

I can speak about the sacrifices my parents made toward tuition and expenses; although I helped, they certainly contributed the bulk of it—not to mention the rides to and from activities, and so forth. The teachers sacrificed time and effort and finances; some traveled to Pottsville each day from as far as Lebanon or Temple, and kept long hours in service to us kids. The priests in St. Clair and at Nativity were holy and human men who inspired me in my discernment of the priesthood. We also had a few religious sisters whose devotion was encouraging. I will be forever grateful for the opportunities for Mass and communal prayer, for nourishing friendships that endure to this day.

The sacrifices of every family and school community are movements toward the unity about which St. Paul spoke in the second reading. The Corinthians were given to creating factions based on whose sermons they listened to, whose curriculum they were following. Paul emphasized the centrality of Jesus and the need to stay close to the sacrificial love embodied in His saving passion. While Catholic schools work exceptionally well, especially in conjunction with a devout household and close-knit parish, we praise God for every context by which the new generation walks in Truth and Charity, celebrating Christ’s victory over the darkness of error and ignorance.

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