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In Catholic schools we teach the 'yes'

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Catholic Schools Week All-Schools Mass

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily while celebrating Mass for Catholic Schools Week with student representatives from archdiocesan schools, Feb. 1, 2023 at St. Mary Cathedral.

Other schools teach the “test”; in Catholic schools we teach the “yes”. We want our kids to follow the example of Mary, the first disciple, who with complete freedom – for she was sinless – said “Yes” to God when he asked her collaboration in bringing to fulfillment his plan for the salvation of the world.

Welcome to all of you – both those of you here at the Cathedral and those of you who are following this Mass via live-streaming. This week we are celebrating Catholic Schools Week. Faith, Excellence, Service are the three themes of Catholic School Week.

Catholic schools are communities of Faith. We want you to know God, to serve God and love God in this life so as to be happy with God forever. In other words, as people of faith we want to become like the saints in heaven.

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When I was a kid going to school, at my school, the teachers taught us to put on the top of every paper, J. M.J. That stood for Jesus, Mary and Joseph. My teachers (who were nuns) wanted us to make everything a prayer. Even homework could be a prayer if we lifted up our minds and hearts to God. Later on, some teachers had us write under J.M.J. the letters, AMDG, which stood for a Latin phrase, Ad majorem Dei gloria, for the Greater Glory of God. Now they did that because they wanted us to always make our best effort. You don’t give God much glory if you don’t do your very best.

So, we are communities of faith committed to Excellence in everything we do. Catholic education is faith filled and demands excellence – our very best. But it is not just for us to do well for ourselves. Catholic education is about service – to God and neighbor. In other words, we are to seek not just to do well for ourselves but to do good for others.

In today’s culture, our children have a difficult road to travel. Which is why we invest in Catholic schools – because we can teach the “yes”. Today American popular culture, which is certainly individualistic – and perhaps narcissistically self-absorbed (it’s all about me, isn’t it?) – holds that any “yes” is necessarily a limitation on “my” freedom. We see this in the numbers of people who flee from commitment – especially anything that might lead to a permanent commitment. We want choices – but when faced with a myriad of choices, how difficult it is to decide. We don’t want to constrain ourselves. We want to keep our options open – because if I say yes to this or to that, or to him or to her, I may be in fact saying “no” to myself.

In Catholic schools, education informed by faith can teach about what truly makes us free – and about who (namely, Jesus) makes us free.

Catholic schools still offer a unique blend of Catholic doctrine, moral values and academic excellence. A Catholic education, supported by parental example in the home, can teach character and form our young people in the virtues, i.e. those qualities that will make them free to say yes, to say yes to excellence as in the sense of St. Ignatius of Antioch’s maxim: the glory of God is man fully alive. This is freedom for excellence, the freedom to commit oneself to the pursuit of the good; it is the freedom to say yes to God, it’s the freedom to become holy, to become a saint. It is a freedom that helps us to contribute to human flourishing by promoting justice and the common good of all people in society. Our nation, our democracy is stronger, and better because of our Catholic schools and institutions.

The mission of Catholic schools is to make our kids love God’s plan for their lives. It is to teach them that they can be holy – and to encourage them to embrace the pursuit of that holiness with a resounding yes, a liberating yes to the knowledge of the truth, the truth that makes us free – free to discipline their desires towards achieving the good for which we were created, free enough to do the good that God asks of us.

Comments from readers

Maria E Semper - 02/02/2023 11:05 PM
I was moved to see the procession of all the beautiful banners representing all our schools. The Mass was truly a celebration and recognition of Catholic schools and the work they do. Archbishop Wenski homily is a testimony and an inspiration. Thank you for all you do for our children and the Glory of God.