By Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz
Every year when “Catholic Schools Week” rolls around, I get nostalgic. I was blessed that my parents were able to sacrifice so that I could have a good Catholic school education. A half a century has now passed, but I believe that the deep effects of the learning, character building and development of my religious attitudes and desires still remain. If I characterized such a gift as an investment, our family truly got our money’s worth!
Last Tuesday, I celebrated a special Mass at Saint Albert the Great Parish for representatives from our Catholic elementary and secondary schools and then on Friday, I traveled to the Diocese of Memphis for a Catholic school Mass at Saint Benedict High School. What a privilege it was to lift up in thanksgiving to God the special gift of Catholic schools.
I am told that throughout the USA there are about 1.8 million students in over 6,300 Catholic schools. Bishop Michael Barber of Oakland, current chair of the USCCB Committee on Catholic Education said, “Young people today need Catholic education more than ever. In a world where truth, beauty and goodness are considered all but subjective, the Way, Truth and Life offered us in Jesus Christ are our only source of direction, clarity and hope. Furthermore, being rooted in faith does not endanger the academic quality of Catholic schools, but in fact is their very motivation for excellence in all things.”
This year’s theme is “Catholic Schools: Learn. Serve. Lead. Succeed.” In the homily at both Masses, I gave thanks for the well-rounded educational experience in which our students uncover their dignity as children of God and deepen their formation that excels in academics as well as social and human formation. All of this is accomplished in an atmosphere that supports their growth in soul and spirit.
Pope Francis has consistently called us to move outward from self-preoccupation to a life of love of and service to others in gratitude for God’s gifts and moved by His grace. Recently he emphasized this theme at Panama’s World Youth Day, taking the theme from the “fiat” of our Blessed Mother Mary, who with trust, humility and love responded to the Angel Gabriel: “Let it be done to me according to Your word.”
A preacher commenting on Mary’s “fiat” shocked the congregation by announcing, “Mary never said fiat!” Then he quickly added, “because she did not speak Latin!” He then intriguingly stated, “You all know the Aramaic word that she likely used! She said ‘Amen’ – Let it be done according to God’s will.” I must admit that each time I give the host at Holy Communion and say “The Body of Christ,” the response of “Amen” has taken on a deeper meaning.
In Catholic schools, each student learns to say “Amen,” not only with his or her lips but more deeply with a life lived for Christ and for others. Let us salute and pray in thanksgiving for our Catholic schools.
Hindsight is almost
Over the past two weeks, I learned an important lesson about the way social media and media reports can drive me to a hasty decision. Having been at the National Right to Life March in Washington, D.C., I was inspired by my experience of thousands of people coming together to provide a clear witness to stand up for human life from the moment of conception to natural death. I was so discouraged to see a video clip that appeared to show poor behavior that I reacted too quickly to it.
As a more complete story emerged, I can see now that I acted too quickly. I have to say that my response was somewhat out of character with the normal way in which I seek to make decisions. Rightfully, I later joined Bishop Foys of the Diocese of Covington and apologized to the Covington high school Catholic community and the students involved for the hasty judgment I made. I am aware that Bishop Foys will bring a pastoral mind and heart to any final resolution. The lesson that I learned is that while the social media network has been a great blessing in allowing us to communicate widely and quickly with people, it also has severe shortcomings.
Years ago, I supported an effort by the family life ministry of the Canadian Catholic Bishops Conference to promote guidelines for the proper use of social media. I am reminded that haste in judgment is never helpful, and this incident is a good lesson, not only for me, but also for others, as we seek to use these communication vehicles well.