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Happy New Year! Teach them of God's love

Archbishop Wenski's homily to school teachers and principals

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily during a Mass with archdiocesan principals, teachers and staff gathered for their start-of-the-school year reunion, Aug. 15, 2018, at the Broward Convention Center.

Happy New Year! For those of us whose lives are built around the school calendar, August — not January — is the beginning of the year. We begin the year with great hope — and so we begin with prayer, for only those who have hope, pray.

Today, of course, the universal Church celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, body and soul into heaven. Where Mary has gone, we too hope to follow. Therefore, the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin “anchors” our hope, indeed our conviction, that God created the human race for more than just to die one day.

As we learned in the catechism of our youth, “God has made us to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him in this life and to be happy with him in the next.” Like Mary, each one of us is created in the image and likeness of God; and, like Mary, each one of us is called to a future of hope, realized in the vision of God in heaven. 

Through her Assumption into heaven, Mary already participates in that future of hope to which we as a pilgrim people aspire — thanks to the grace of baptism which has made us children of God and heirs to the promises of Christ. Thus, Mary’s assumption, body and soul into heaven, stands as a counterpoint to the secularism of our age and, at the same time, when faced with the various trials that we may undergo in this world that is sometimes described as a “valley of tears,” Mary’s assumption assures us that God does, in fact, keep his promises. As we honor Mary whom all generations will call “blessed,” we also invoke her intercession that through her prayers we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

In today’s first reading, from the Book of Revelation, the beloved disciple to whom Jesus entrusted Mary, his mother, writes of the struggle between the woman and the dragon. This dragon, in St. John’s vision, certainly represented the power of the anti-Christian Roman emperors, like Nero who unleashed a bloody persecution against the early Christians. Next to the might of the Roman Empire, the early Church must have appeared as a defenseless woman with no chance of survival and even less of victory.

But the passage refers more than just to the struggle between the early Church and Nero; rather it refers to the epic battle between good and evil that the People of God are engaged in while we traverse this “valley of tears.” And how often, throughout history, the power of evil and hatred seemed so much stronger than the power of good and love?

This was certainly the case for much of the 20th Century: World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War. Nor can we fail to mention the serial holocausts of that century: the Armenians, the Jews, the Cambodians — and, of course, the unborn killed through abortion. And as we approach the end of the second decade of the 21st century, things don’t seem much improved, do they? In fact, as Pope Francis, said: We are living not so much through an era of change, but rather through the change of an era. This change has shaken the confidence of many in the institutions on which the foundations of our society have been built. Institutions, like government, academia, the press, business and the Church, have allowed corruption — and complacency in the face of corruption — to undermine their credibility.

In a catechesis on the text of our first reading, Pope Benedict said that the dragon of the Book of Revelation “exists in new and different ways. It exists in the form of materialistic ideologies that tell us it is absurd to think of God; it is absurd to observe God’s commandments...” “Today,” he added, “it seems impossible to imagine a God who created man and made himself a Child who was to be the true ruler of the world.”

But today’s solemn feast of the Assumption of Mary reminds us that God has the last Word. In this epic battle between good and evil, God will win. God is stronger than the dragon: Love conquers, not selfishness.

Mary is the woman described in the Book of Revelation as clothed with the sun. This is a poetic way of saying that she is totally with God — and as such, she is “the sign of the victory of love, of the victory of goodness, of the victory of God” because Mary’s child, Jesus Christ, overcame the dragon. Thus, her assumption into heaven is a sign of great consolation, for the assumption reminds us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church as we make our pilgrim’s way to heaven.

Again, “Happy New Year!” As you begin this new academic year, I thank you for embracing this work which is really a means of family evangelization, for our mission also embraces the child’s parents and siblings. 

And I pray that you as Catholic educators, by word and example, prepare our young people for heaven by helping them to put into practice — with ever wider hearts and broadened minds — what they will learn from you of the love of God. The sacrifice of parents and our parishes to support Catholic education will be well worth the price if our young people’s existence is no longer “self” centered but rather directed towards others. 

Pope Francis, who as a Jesuit priest taught school, said, “Our generation will show that it can rise to the promise found in each young person when we know how to give them space. This means that we have to create the material and spiritual conditions for their full development; to give them a solid basis on which to build their lives; to guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be.”

Or, as Pope Benedict said, in speaking of our mission as Catholics in the world: If we don’t give them God, we give them too little.

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