[The following homily was given by Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde on January 29 on the Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington, Virginia.]
Today's Gospel account clearly projects to us the image of Jesus the Teacher. "Then they came to Capernaum, and on the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. The people were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority"." How fitting and appropriate for us to reflect on Jesus the Divine Teacher as we begin today our annual observance of Catholic Schools Week.
Our Lord continues His teaching mission through the Church. Indeed, He is described at the end of St. Matthew's Gospel as sending forth His disciples with the mandate to go out and teach all nations (cf. Mt 28:19). By virtue of our baptism, we are joined to Christ in His teaching office or mission. Parents are the first and best teachers of their children, passing on to them the greatest gift they can give, next to the gift of life itself, and that is the gift of growing in the faith.
Others assist parents in their essential teaching role, especially teachers in the Catholic Schools, volunteer catechists in our parish educational programs and youth ministers.
In a special way, sharing in Christ's teaching office or mission is lived out in our Catholic Schools. Why does the Catholic School hold such a central place within Catholic education? Because in a sustained manner, the Catholic school provides the opportunity for a person to be formed totally: physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. I repeat that the Catholic school does this in a sustained manner — five hours per day, five days per week. No other process of formation has this extended time frame.
In my Pastoral Letter on Catholic schools entitled "Growing in Wisdom, Age and Grace," I outlined the role of our Catholic schools. "Our schools play a primary role in worship and service in the life of the parish and of the community. 'The Catholic school forms part of the saving mission of the Church, especially for education in the faith" and is not simply an institution which offers an academic instruction of high quality, but, even more importantly, is an effective vehicle of total Christian formation.' As our children become educated in Catholic schools, they will be drawn deeper into a love of Jesus Christ and recognize the importance of giving service to the Church, the community and to those most in need.
"Students in Catholic schools have the daily opportunity to understand, proclaim and live the Gospel. My hope is that our students in our Catholic schools will grow in the faith that is theirs by baptism. Regular participation in school Masses leads students toward a more meaningful appreciation of the Sunday Liturgy. Students learn about prayer and how to pray in order to develop their own personal relationship with Christ because prayer is the glue that keeps us united in Christ Jesus and through Him to one another.
"In our Catholic schools, students learn about and practice virtue. They learn to respect the dignity of life in all of its stages, beginning with conception, to recognize that every person is made in the image and likeness of God, and to develop a healthy and well-formed conscience that enables them to live morally good lives. We live in an age of overwhelming secular materialism, and our children need to be presented with values that really count; they need to be converted so that a real relationship with Jesus can become a lived experience and provide them with a renewed sense of energy and hope. Our Catholic schools nurture our youth by providing daily opportunities to learn about our faith, to grow as the young Jesus did in wisdom, age and grace, and to develop the values and virtues that will enable them to live an authentically Christian life."
Yes, students acquire wisdom through prayer and study — a wisdom that will enable them to cope with life's uncertainties — its twists and turns — and to inherit eternal life.
Dear principals, teachers and staffs of our 44 Catholic schools in the diocese, I thank you for your dedication and witness. Our students are growing in wisdom, in age and in grace through your faithful teaching and service.
Dear parents, may the process of Catholic education throughout our diocese supplement your primary role as the first and best teachers of your children.
Dear students, in our Catholic schools, you receive a firm foundation, which will allow you later on to go to the college or university of your choice. However, never forget that the primary purpose of education in the Catholic school is to enable you to become true disciples of Jesus and active members of His Church, so that you can bring the power of the Gospel into our culture and contribute to the common good of society.
Dear parishioners, here and again throughout our diocese, I thank you for your faithful support of our Catholic schools. They are indeed part and parcel of the parish and of the larger community.
I began with the image of Jesus teaching His people. I close with another image taken from today's alternative opening prayer: God our Father forming a people in the image of His Son. Yes, God desires that each one of us be formed more and more into image of Jesus. This is what it really means to be holy. The Catholic school provides a priceless opportunity for our children and young people to be formed into the image of Jesus. May we continue to support our Catholic schools and at the same time, allow God to mold all of us ever more fully into the image of Jesus His Son and Our Saving Lord. Amen!