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