Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz celebrated the annual back-to-school Mass for Catholic elementary school educators Aug. 12 at St. Gabriel Church, telling those who’d gathered that he thinks of their classrooms as the “Promised Land.”
“Don’t you consider your classroom the Promised Land?” asked the archbishop. “That’s where those students of yours will come to grow and develop and become all the people God wants them to be. To be truly Catholic is to be truly human; it’s to affect every aspect of that person’s life including uncovering their gifts.”
The educators also heard from Mary Beth Bowling, superintendent of Catholic schools, who welcomed them and assured them their Catholic faith will see them through another challenging year.
“Catholic teachers have risen to the challenges in the past and will do so now and in the future,” said Bowling. “At the very core of our ministry is our faith — our own personal faith and the faith we willingly share with our students.”
Bowling, who took the helm as superintendent July 1, said her hope for educators this school year is that “despite the challenges, we remain true to our mission as Catholic educators recognizing that we are the hands and feet, the voice and smile, the care and compassion of Jesus to those whom we serve.”
During his homily, Archbishop Kurtz called his listeners’ attention to the day’s first reading from the book of Joshua, where the Israelites were led across the Jordan River on their way to the Promised Land. The Ark of the Covenant guided and protected the people.
The ark contained three things, the archbishop told the educators.
- It held the tablets with the 10 commandments. “This reminds me of how important it is for us to shape and form our life by the guidance of God’s law,” he said. “What a gift you’re giving. You’re teaching good conduct, good principles and faith.”
- The rod of Aaron was also in the ark, and was a symbol of leadership, the archbishop said. Leadership is needed in a classroom, he noted, because “you know what a classroom is like where a teacher doesn’t lead? It’s called chaos. Is that good for the students? There needs to be direction.”
- The ark carried a chalice with the remnants of mana that God rained down from heaven to feed the people while they were in the desert. Only a certain amount was given to the people on a daily basis, which the archbishop said reminded him that he needs to pray every day.
“I have to ask God for guidance not only at the beginning of the year but every day,” he said. “And sometimes there may be a day when you say, ‘It’s not every day, it’s every hour of every day.’ Because we very easily, on our own, can be our worst enemy. … We need the Ark of the Covenant. We need the presence of Christ in our life.”
Archbishop Kurtz also drew the educators’ attention to the Gospel reading from the book of Matthew, where Jesus tells his disciples they are to forgive 70 times seven times. That Gospel reading is about the thing students will remember “50 years form now,” he said.
“The thing they’ll remember is the way in which you asked for forgiveness, said you’re sorry and the way in which you gave forgiveness,” said the archbishop.
He noted that when it comes to forgiveness, God has already taken the first step in forgiving every individual.
“Let’s talk about one of your students, let’s say your most active student,” said the archbishop, drawing laughter from the congregation.
“You don’t forgive your most active student because that person proves himself or herself worthy of forgiveness,” he said. “You forgive because God has first forgiven you. And it’s the power of your forgiveness and the power of at times saying, ‘You know, I was wrong,’ that will prove to be the most effective witness to the gift of your faith.”
Following the Mass, the educators heard from William Parker author and founder of Principal Matters, LLC., an organization dedicated to helping school leaders find ways to motivate students, inspire teachers and improve school communities, according to the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Catholic Schools.
Parker presented a keynote address on “Living your best life now as an educator.” He shared 10 self-care tips for educators to keep in mind during the school year.