Jesus is the Unseen but Ever-Present Teacher in Catholic Schools

Jesus is the Unseen but Ever-Present Teacher in Catholic Schools

As I write this column, Catholic Schools Week 2023 is being celebrated throughout the diocese. Due to the weather, however, I will be able to attend only one all-school Mass to highlight the role of Catholic education, at Notre Dame Regional High School, Cape Girardeau, on Fri., Feb. 3. I take these occasions as an opportunity to thank all of the teachers, principals, DREs and PSR teachers who day-after-day, week-after-week, commit themselves to passing on the faith.

In my message this year, I made note of an advertisement in The Mirror, our own diocesan paper, as well as in other publications called, “A Dozen Reasons to Choose Catholic Schools.” Those reasons included a faith-based education rooted in Catholic teachings along with academic excellence, partnering with parents, striving for high standards, imparting values, respect for the individual, and others. After reading all 12 of them, I thought of a 13th reason to choose Catholic schools: When we gather in our school communities, we gather as the Body of Christ! That is the potential for every Catholic school, that we BE the Body of Christ and TREAT EACH OTHER as the Body of Christ.

In all of our schools, in all of our classrooms, in the hallways, in church, in the science lab, or in gym class, we are the Body of Christ. And being such, we are challenged to recognize Christ in every student, every parent that partners with the school, and in every staff, teacher, principal, and administrator. Meeting this challenge, our schools will become places of encounter with Jesus. This is the 13th reason to choose Catholic schools.

Each school should be a tool for evangelization, spreading the good news of Jesus Christ. Do we make mistakes along the way? Certainly: but we keep striving to create a culture of encounter where faith—the very presence of Christ—is experienced simply by walking through the front doors of a school. This is actually nothing new! I’m sure all of you have heard the mission statement for Catholic education: “Let it be known to all who enter here that Jesus Christ is the reason for this school, the unseen but ever-present teacher in all its classes, the model of its faculty, and the inspiration for its students.” a special thank you to all of her principals and teachers, staff and administrators, and to all the parents for your commitment to Catholic education.

Do you remember the Precepts of the Catholic Church? I remember them as the “Seven Precepts of the Catholic Church,” and in refreshing my memory, I found various expressions of these precepts. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 2041-2043 lists the following: attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor; the reception of Holy Communion during the Easter season (referred to as the Easter duty) and if necessary, prior confession of sins at least once a year; the observance of the days of fast and abstinence established by the Church; support the Church financially and materially, along with supporting the missionary efforts of the Church.

Many of our Protestant friends attend churches where tithing is simply expected. In fact, when they register in their churches, they are expected to bring a copy of their W2 form and from their earnings, it is determined how much they will offer each year. Most of our Catholics would have a stroke if this was the case in our faith tradition, and there would be a cry to heaven if we were to do such a thing. The principles of stewardship in the Catholic Church encourage us and challenge us to give of our time, talent, and treasure based upon a thoughtful contemplation of the gifts that we have received from God. I bring this to mind, because of our recent DDF planning committee meeting where one of the members said that if everyone would just tithe, we wouldn’t have to go through this campaign every year. That is true. However, I do know that many people who cannot afford much financially give most generously of their time and talent. I shared at the meeting a story I heard on Catholic radio where a couple was starting a new business and felt like they could not donate to the church on a regular basis. The wife, a convert, was used to tithing a certain portion of her annual income and challenged her husband that they should try it. He thought it was a crazy idea. But he agreed: they tithed and although things were tight during the first years of their business, they were able to pay all their bills with a little leftover.

Although we may not be used to the tradition of tithing 10 percent of our income to the Church, I have found the generosity of our people to be overwhelming. Throughout the pandemic and beyond, you have committed to the financial support of the diocese and your local parishes and I am grateful. By the way, my mom always used to say that she tithed 10 percent of her children back to the Church because out of the 10, one became a priest (me)! I thank each of you for your gifts of time, talent, and treasure to your parish and to the diocese, which supports my ministry.

Published in the February 3, 2023 issue of The Mirror.

New Evangelization in the New Year

New Evangelization in the New Year

I ’d like to go back prior to the Synod, prior to the Eucharistic Revival, and prior to the pandemic, to that time when I shared with everyone the statistics for our diocese regarding the decline in sacramental practice. Although there were some bright spots, one of my major concerns was the decline in baptisms and the consequences that would have down the road for the diocese. The other major concern was the drastic decline in couples entering into the sacrament of Marriage. In the midst of the Eucharistic Revival and discerning the local parish concerns we learned from the Synod results, we must continue to discover how we, as a diocese, can reverse these trends.

In one sense, we are fighting the culture. More and more people are disaffiliating with organizations, whether it be the Church, the government, or educational institutions. At the same time, we still combat the rise of the “none generation,” those who claim no religious affiliation at all. Add to that the scandal and other factors and you can see how these issues have all come together to create the perfect storm. In the meantime, we have continued our day-to-day life in the parish and the diocese without seeing the larger picture. Amid all this change and in large part, we remain “business as usual,” which is not moving us from “maintenance to mission.”

Apostolic Mission

I came across a little 90-page paperback book, From Christendom to Apostolic Mission, Pastoral Strategies for an Apostolic Age, University of Mary Press, 2020, by Msgr. James P. Shea. In my mind, this is the best articulation of what has transpired in our culture over the last couple of decades, and I recommend everyone to read it. The basic premise of his writing is that the Church that we grew up in and what the Church stood for and wanted to accomplish was often complemented and supported by the culture or governments. That is what Monsignor Shea refers to as “Christendom.” The culture of today has pretty much rejected Christianity and the Church now finds herself alone, without support, and oftentimes directly attacked as she tries to proclaim the Gospel. In a sense, we find ourselves in a situation similar to the early Church. And if the Church is going to grow, it must be fully, actively embracing its “Apostolic Mission.”
Some quotes for your consideration:

“In an age of change, the Church needs to pay attention to the modes by which she carries on her graced battle to be sure that she is not ‘fighting yesterday’s war,’ using strategies that for whatever reason are outmoded and have become ineffective.”

“We are dealing with the first culture and history that was once deeply Christian but that, by a slow and thorough process, has been consciously ridding itself of its Christian basis.”

These two quotes highlight the call of Pope St. John Paul II when he wrote in his document on evangelization, “The mission of evangelization today calls for a new program which can be defined overall as a new evangelization.” I think it is our task, in our day, to discover what new modes and new programs are needed in light of our current culture. In one sense it can be overwhelming. However, in another sense: it can be very exciting, which brings me to another point. Our priests are hard workers! But, we should also ask ourselves if what we are doing is effective for the local church and her apostolic mission? This also applies to those involved in our PSR programs, our Catholic schools, RCIA, adult faith formation, youth ministry, and sacramental preparation. Are there best practices that we could incorporate? Can religious formation be more effective? How enriching are our small group gatherings?

To that end, some 20 of the clergy of our diocese will be attending a conference Jan. 24-26 entitled, “Priests for an Apostolic Age,” with the keynote speaker being the author I mentioned above, Msgr. Shea. Please pray that the Holy Spirit will show us the way to move forward in our ministry! In future columns, I will continue to highlight some of the principles outlined in the book so that all of us can be pondering how our diocese can grow in the years to come.