My dear friends, I try to go around and visit our Catholic Schools as often as I can. I find there is something special there. I talk with people who are involved in Catholic Education about why this is. It usually comes round to thedifferencethat is found in our schools compared to other schools. The difference is found in the way we deal with and treat the children and young people who come to us to learn. That difference comes directly from the faith that all of you who staff our schools and offices have within you.
Now, there are many different ways that this faith takes root in our hearts and in the way we live our lives. We look at each other and see these differences. When I look at my own life, I couldn’t count all the people who have left the mark of their love of God and of the Catholic Faith on me. And I know that it is the same for you. There is no one way that we live our Catholic faith. There is no one way that we witness to our faith in Jesus Christ.
But when each of us lives that faith that is in us, we are an example of how good and how special that faith has been for us. And when we show that example, then we are being witnesses to the Good News of what God does for us in Jesus Christ all the time. We are being missionaries, as Pope Francis continually is continually calling us to be. We are evangelizing.
All of us do this, the teachers in the class room, the staff in the offices and cafeterias, the people who care for the grounds, the people who drive the buses, the people who keep everything clean and healthy.
It is good to remember who we are in this context of Catholic Education. In the first reading this morning we heard the opening of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. He says: this letter is from Paul and it is addressed to the Church of God that is in Corinth. We read that letter because we are part of the Church of God that is in Regina. The Church is people.
He goes on to say that the Church is people who are sanctified in Christ Jesus. In other words, we have been made holy by God. That doesn’t mean that right now we are perfect and without fault. Corinth was a sea port town. The Church there had lots of problems and challenges. But they still remained those people whom God had made holy because God had entered into a relationship with them in Jesus the Risen Lord and they were honestly trying to live that relationship. And that is who we are.
And he then said that we are together with all those who, in every place, call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Although we have our own challenges and successes both personally and as a Church who educates its children, we share one thing that unites us throughout the world. And that is we believe in Jesus and continually we call on him continually for help, for guidance and also in gratitude. And so we all have play a part in our goal to make this difference in Catholic education strong and clear.
I remember very clearly as I was a child in elementary school. There were eight grades of thirty some students in each grade. The school was staffed by the Sisters of Charity and three very committed lay women. I remember a great deal of those eight years. I remember each and every teacher I had. There is one person who still stands out in my most positive memories of those good years. That person was Mr. McEachern – he was the school’s janitor.
He was patient with us, always a friendly and encouraging word - positive, helpful and a very kind man. He treated us with respect. We saw him at Mass every Sunday. He was an exemplar of Catholic education. By being himself, he helped us understand the basics.
In our Catholic schools, in the great variety of personalities and life experiences; in the many different ways we encounter the children and young people and their families there is one common and basic reality that every person who works in catholic education lets shine forth to brighten lives around them.
Pope Francis, in his writing “The Joy of the Gospel” says: “In this basic core, what shines forth is the beauty of the saving love of God made manifest in Jesus Christ who died and rose from the dead.”This is what all of you do.
That is at the heart of the Faith that we, each of us, all of us, let shine out from the way we live our lives and do our work. Because of our faith what shines out is beauty. This beauty is the brightness of love: a love that is sacrificial, a love that gives life, a love that encourages and guides, a love that nurtures and protects. We love because God loved us first and loves us now. We show love to everyone who come to our schools. And if we happen to love some more than others, it is because we love those on the margins in a special way.
God’s love for us was clearly shown when Jesus, the Son of God, took on our human condition completely and died for us. The power of that love was shown when Jesus was raised from the dead to a new life which has been given to us and which we will live forever. Not just a few, but all of us.
Pope Francis tells us over and over again that in all our Catholic institutions we need to continually build a culture of encounter. In other words we need to go out and engage the world around us. This is exactly what we do in our Catholic Schools. I remember one comment that Pope Francis made about this need to encounter and to engage when he talked about giving money to those who beg on the streets. He said that we shouldn’t just throw the loonie into the can or the hat, we need look the person in the eyes and put the coin in their hands.
In the culture of encounter, we don’t start with the coin we give, we start with the person. In Catholic schools, we don’t start with the curriculum or the knowledge, we start with the person. And in our Church, we don’t start with the Truths and Commandments, we start with the person: Every person, all persons, without exception, without exclusion.
So, in Catholic education we don’t just drop educational facts into the minds of our students, we engage them and encounter them in the different facets of their lives. We accompany them and lead them to grow in knowledge, certainly, but also in their relationships and in particular their relationship with God. We engage these young people socially, intellectually and spiritually.
We reach out to everyone, without exception or exclusion as Jesus the Christ reached out to all. We reach out with a message which, as Pope Francis says,“concentrates on the essentials, on what is most beautiful, most grand, most appealing and at the same time most necessary.” (EG 35)
The most concrete signs of our reaching out are our hands. So I would like now to bless your hands. The Book of Deuteronomy (28:12) speaks of a blessing which is fulfilled in our lives through Jesus Christ:
"The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand."Deuteronomy 28:12
I would ask you now to stand and to put your hands out in front of you, and place your palms up to receive this blessing.
Blessed be the works of your hands, O God our Father
Blessed be these hands that have touched life.
Blessed be these hands that have nurtured creativity.
Blessed be these hands that have held pain.
Blessed be these hands that have closed in anger.
Blessed be these hands that have planted new seeds in hearts and minds.
Blessed be these hands that have cleaned, washed, mopped, scrubbed.
Blessed be these hands that are wrinkled and scarred from doing justice.
Blessed be these hands that have reached out and been received.
Blessed be these hands that hold the promise of the future.
Blessed be the works of your hands, O God our Father, through the Holy Spirit in Jesus Christ, our Lord.