Homily for a Teachers’ Day of Recollection

     As a priest, I often see the worst of humanity. Whether its violence and death on our streets or seemingly unthinkable assaults on human dignity in healthcare centers that are supposed to nurture and heal, it often seems that I live in the darkest corners of the culture of death. Frequently I find myself lying awake at night wondering how human people can treat each other the way we do. Yet as I lie awake disturbed and unable to sleep I often find comfort and hope in the lives of our students.

     You see, our students are growing up witnessing a generation who were taught that if they could shake off the shackles of truth, religion, and morality, they would find true peace and happiness. Sadly so many of our contemporaries have bought into these lies which are keeping them from truly flourishing. For so many in our society the shackles of truth, religion, and morality have been removed and all we have to show for it is death and decay. Perhaps a silver lining amidst all the darkness is the realization that as our society grows darker and darker, it can no longer be hidden. While evil has always existed in our world, today it is so prevalent that sadly even our youth see the death and decay around yet in the midst of the darkness they recognize that there has to be another path available to them.

     This time of darkness is then truly a difficult yet privileged time to be an educator. For as you no doubt know, the word educator is derived from the 2nd conjugation Latin verb educere meaning to lead out. You and I have the sacred privilege of leading our students out of the slavery of a godless modernity. We have the blessing of showing our students that new path which is rooted in the belief that “the highest freedom is the yes in conformity with God’s will.[1]

     It is this understanding of freedom which should spur us as educators to make the sacrifices we make. This knowledge of true freedom allows us to teach from a particular understanding of the human person which is so often lost in society today. For we know that we were created by love, in the image and likeness of God and so since God loves  us, He only wants what is best for us. Thus our constant yes to His will leads to our true human flourishing. With this vision we teach certain values and more importantly we teach virtue. We don’t educate our students simply to get into Harvard or Princeton because we acknowledge that “all arithmetic and writing are useless if they (students) do not know the purpose of their lives; if they do not learn why we are on earth and if this knowledge does not produce freedom, serenity and goodness.”[2] No we educate them to flourish as human persons. We are seeking to educate them to make a gift of themselves to God and to a future family.

     We teach from a place that acknowledges “although each individual has a right to be respected on his journey in search of the truth there exists a prior moral obligation, and a grave one at that, to seek the truth and to adhere to it, once it is known.[3] Underpinning our vocation as educators is the belief that “only true values can lead people to realize themselves fully, allowing them to be true to their nature. The truth of the values is to be found not by turning in on oneself but by opening oneself to apprehend that truth even at levels that transcend the person.”[4] We as educators must show our students that “the believer should be driven by a restlessness of a discoverer who must make his epochal findings known, win acceptance for it, and develop a practical application.”[5]

     So as we sit at the edge of a new school year, today’s Mass of the Holy Spirit invites us to take a step back and ask ourselves why we are here. What is it that we truly seek to teach? Where exactly are we leading our students? And then heading the famous Latin phrase nemo dat quod non habet, no one gives what he does not have, we are invited to ask the Holy Spirit to inflame within us His 7 fold gifts which “complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them”[6] so that we can hand these virtues down to our students as we seek to lead them from the culture of death and prepare them to bring the light of Christ into the darkness of our culture. For as we prepare to equip our students to show their contemporaries that the alternative to the culture of death is life as a disciple of Jesus Christ we must always keep in mind “the intrinsic relationship between communication of God’s word and Christian witness.”[7]

[1] Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal. Church Fathers and Teachers. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010. Pg 62.

[2] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg 371.

[3] John Paul II, Encyclical Veritatis Splendor (6 August 1993) §34, at The Holy See, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor.html

[4] John Paul II, Encyclical Fides et Ratio (14 September 1998) §25, at The Holy See, http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_14091998_fides-et-ratio.html

[5] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Dogma and Preaching Applying Christian Doctrine to Daily Life. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011. Pg 218.

[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), §183.1

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Post Aposotlic Exhortation Verbum Domini. Boston: Pauline Books (2010) § 97 Pg 145.

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