Catholic School Mission Day 2016

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This Jubilee Year of Mercy has been a blessed time for the Church, an opportunity to focus on a central tenet of our faith, what Pope Francis has called “the beating heart of the Gospel” – the mercy of God. This is the first truth of the Church: the merciful love of Christ. All of us are called to serve that love and mediate it. Every ministry and apostolate in the Church must be involved in this task: professing and proclaiming God’s mercy and living and testifying to that mercy. The motto or theme of this Jubilee Year is “Merciful like the Father.” This is our program of life, to be agents of God’s mercy. And this is the program of our Catholic schools. As Catholic school teachers, you have a noble and holy vocation to form our children and young people in the way of Jesus, the way of the Gospel. Essential to this vocation is your witness to the merciful love of Jesus, mediating that love to your students.

Pope Francis wrote the following in the bull of indiction of this Jubilee Year: “Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.” I think it is good to reflect on these words as we strive to live the mission of our schools. As I have said many times, our Catholic schools are to be schools of the Gospel. If mercy is, as the Holy Father teaches, “the beating heart of the Gospel,” then mercy must be taught and lived in our school communities, beginning with the contemplation of God’s mercy and then the imitation of that mercy.

We are reminded of this mission of mercy by the crucifixes that hang in every Catholic school classroom. The fullest and most radical revelation of God’s mercy is the cross of Jesus Christ. When we look at the crucifix or pray before it, we see mercy. We see love, perfect love. Saint John Paul II taught that “mercy is an indispensable dimension of love; it is, as it were, love’s second name.”

The Latin word for mercy is “Misericordia.” It’s also the word for mercy in Spanish. The word “Misericordia” comes from two Latin words – miseria, which means misery, and cor/cordis which means heart. God’s heart extends into human misery and redeems it. This is divine mercy, Misericordia – God’s heart filled with infinite love embracing our misery. This is redemption! Divine love rescues us from our misery, the misery of sin. God the Creator is God the Redeemer! Jesus on the cross reveals that God’s love is greater than sin and stronger than death.

This past summer, I was privileged to lead 137 young people from our diocese to World Youth Day in Poland. One special place we visited was the Shrine of Divine Mercy in Krakow. When Pope John Paul II dedicated that shrine which is located near the convent where Saint Faustina received the revelations of divine mercy, he said the following: “The Cross is the most profound bowing down of the Divinity towards man… the Cross is like a touch of eternal love on the most painful wounds of humanity’s earthly existence” (August 17, 2002). These words had special meaning for us because we visited the Shrine of Divine Mercy after spending several hours at Auschwitz-Birkenau. We had walked through those camps, places of terrible suffering and evil, in silence. Tears flowed down the face of many of the young pilgrims. There was a certain incomprehensibility we all felt – how could human beings have so much hate and be so cruel? With that question in our minds and with deep sorrow in our hearts, it seems providential that we then went to the Shrine of Divine Mercy. Contemplating Jesus on the cross, we could understand in greater depth how tragic is the gravity of sin, as we saw at Auschwitz. But, at the same time, at the Shrine of Divine Mercy, we could understand more deeply how immense is the Lord’s power of mercy and love. Auschwitz can fill one with a certain feeling of despair as one contemplates the mystery of evil. The Divine Mercy Shrine fills one with a feeling of hope as one contemplates the love that is greater than sin and more powerful than death.

In the Divine Mercy image, the blood and water gush forth from the Heart of Jesus as the sign of mercy for all humanity. Misericordia – God’s heart, God’s love, reaching down to embrace our misery, to save us. We can share in the beautiful discovery that Saint Paul shared with the Galatians: “Christ loved me and gave Himself for me” (Gal 2:20). That is the discovery that changes our life. It changed Saint Paul’s life. As he wrote: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me;…. I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” Our Catholic schools should be places of discovery, where our students discover so many wonderful things in the various subjects you teach them. But the greatest discovery, the discovery that will truly change their lives, is this discovery; that Christ loves us and gave Himself for us. This is the heart of Catholic education. And I pray that our graduates go forth to live by faith in the Son of God, whom they know and believe love them and gave Himself for them.

Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” Many Jews rejected the cross on the basis of their faith and many Gentiles rejected the cross on the basis of their reason. Saint Paul, on more than one occasion, had the bitter experience of the rejection of the Christian proclamation. The Church increasingly has that bitter experience today. What we teach is not only rejected by many – there are also attempts to limit our freedom to live our Catholic faith. We also live in a world where religious extremists perpetrate acts of violence and terrorism in the name of God. The cross of Jesus is foolishness to them. We live in a world where secularism is becoming not only more widespread, but also more oppressive, even militant. The cross of Jesus is foolishness to secularists. As I say so often, today we need our Catholic schools more than ever. Why? Because our schools teach the truth and wisdom that they will not learn in our culture today (though hopefully they learn it in their families): the truth and wisdom of the cross.

The crucified Jesus is wisdom. He shows us who God is and His true nature, that God is love. He reveals the true power of God, merciful and totally gratuitous love. This is true wisdom, the wisdom we teach in our Catholic schools. We teach what Saint Edith Stein, a martyr of Auschwitz, called “the science of the cross.” You as Catholic school educators are called to be scientists, whether or not you teach science. Our mission calls us all to be scientists of the cross. Our laboratory is the classroom, the lunch room, the gym, and the athletic field. It is really the world. In this laboratory, we seek to discover the truth about God and man. In this lab, we discover God’s power. And we do discover it through an experiment, the experiment Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel – by denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Him, we find life, true life and true freedom. We discover God’s power and we enter into it. So in our Catholic schools, we learn and then we teach the science of the cross, the wisdom and the power of love. Like Saint Paul, we preach Christ crucified, who is still a stumbling block and a folly to many, but in our schools we teach without hesitation or equivocation that He is the wisdom and the power of God. I pray that we will live the wisdom we teach, the wisdom of the cross. May we live by faith in the Son of God of whom we can say with Saint Paul: “He loved me and gave Himself for me!” May the Lord bless you and your holy mission!