ICF Days

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September 23 & 24, 2013
I am celebrating the special Mass for the New Evangelization this morning.  It is the first time I have used this Mass that was added to the Roman Missal by the Vatican for this Year of Faith.  I thought it was appropriate to use in this Mass with you, the Catholic school teachers and educators of our diocese.  You are my partners in the great task of the new evangelization here in our diocese as you assist in teaching our young people the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Evangelization is the fundamental mission of the Church.  As we heard in the Gospel today, Jesus came to bring good news to the poor.  The poor include not only the materially needy, but all in need of what makes life meaningful and beautiful:  faith in the God who loves and saves us.  The Good News of Jesus Christ needs to be brought to the people of today, to a world often filled with inner sadness and emptiness.  The faith we hold dear is the source of a lasting and unshakeable peace and joy.  Evangelization is the communication in words and in life of a love that embraces us and infinitely surpasses us.  The joy of faith in Christ is the only joy that can satisfy the insatiable hunger of the human heart.

Our Catholic schools should be communities of joy because they are communities of faith.  The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the supreme act of God’s love.  The Church’s mission is to proclaim His Gospel always and everywhere.  We do so in our Catholic schools.  That’s why they exist.  And no matter the subject you teach, you are all leaders and instruments in this evangelizing mission of our schools.  It’s why our Catholic schools exist.  We seek to communicate to our children the love and the life we have received:  God’s love and life that brings meaning and joy, truth, goodness, and beauty to their lives.

In many places in the world, including here in our country and our diocese, in some families, the faith has grown old and stale.  I’m sure you see this in some who send their children to our schools, yet do not live or practice the faith.  That’s why we need a newevangelization.  Christianity isn’t just a piece of information.  Catholicism isn’t just an ethical system.  It is a Word addressed to every person personally.  This Word is life.  It is a love that abides.  It is news so good and so necessary that no human being who has encountered it can keep it to himself.  We need to revive in our communities, our schools and parishes, zeal for the Gospel.  This Word which is a Person, a Divine Person, became flesh.  We must encounter Him in our own lives, in our prayer, in our hearts if we expect to be his witnesses and teachers.  When we encounter Him and live in a true friendship with Him, this comes across in all we say and do.  We experience the joy of living in Him and bearing witness to Him.  We must not think of the Gospel as only a book or a set of teachings.  It is much more.  It is the Word of God who became man to give us the joy of sharing in God’s own communion of life and love.  His life is communicated to us in the Scriptures and in the sacraments.  We are not saved by a formula, but by a Person.

You who are teachers in our schools do not operate or work as solitary individuals.  You do so as members of Christ’s Body, the Church – in communion with the Bishop, your pastor, and principal.  Though each of us must receive the Word of God personally, in meditating on the Scriptures, in the sacraments, and in prayer, we never do so as isolated individuals.  We live within a fellowship or communion that has its origin in Christ.  The Church is Christ’s Body and Bride.  The Church as a whole received the Holy Spirit’s gifts at Pentecost.  When you teach and communicate the faith, it is a communal action, an action of the Church, not an isolated undertaking.  We must therefore think, feel, and teach with the Church.

In our first reading today, Saint Paul teaches us to “be renewed in the spirit of (our) minds and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”  He’s reminding us of our Baptism when we were changed from the old self to the new self, when we put on Christ.  In the early Church baptisms, people would remove their clothes, receive baptism, and then don a white garment that signified the new life of righteousness in Christ.  In Baptism, our old self and slavery to sin was put off.  The new self we put on is the transformed life in Christ.  This was our re-creation in the likeness of God, when we put on Christ.  Saint Paul is reminding us of this radical change that took place at our Baptism and is teaching us to live by the inclinations of our new self, the true self that is united to Christ.  This entails ongoing growth so we are truly renewed in the spirit of our minds, in our innermost thoughts.  This growth happens when we prayerfully read the Scriptures, participate in the liturgy, and study the revealed truths of our faith.  These practices are important for our growth as Christians, for our evangelizing work, and for your fruitfulness as authentic teachers in our Catholic schools.  That’s why we have this day – it is for renewal.  Now when we are living this new self, it is reflected in our conduct.  Saint Paul writes about putting away falsehood and speaking the truth, not holding on to anger, doing honest work, allowing no foul language to come out of our mouths, etc.  He writes about removing all bitterness and malice and about being kind, compassionate, and forgiving.  Paul is teaching us right and wrong behaviors just as we teach our students the same.  Yet all this stems from the heart, living our true identity, received at Baptism, the new self in Christ.

As I said earlier, you are my partners in the work of the new evangelization.  Your vocation is so very important for the lives of our children and young people.  For our evangelization to be effective, our witness is even more important than our words.  We aren’t just to communicate information about God.  We are to communicate God, God who is in our midst and present in our lives.  Our lives as Christ’s disciples, our living in righteousness and holiness of truth, living the virtues and Beatitudes:  these are the most important ways we teach and hand on the Gospel.  This is what your students will remember long into the future.  Jesus didn’t redeem the world with beautiful words.  He redeemed the world through love – His suffering and His death.  His actions gave power to His words.  May our lives, our actions, give power to our teaching!

Thank you for your generous service of the Church.  May all of us grow in our lives as disciples of Jesus and may we be instruments of His life, His love, and His salvation in the lives of others, especially the young people we teach!