Thursday, August 22, 2019
Archbishop Thomas Wenski - The Archdiocese of Miami
Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily at the opening of the school year Mass at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale, Aug. 22, 2019.
Other schools teach the “test;” at Cardinal Gibbons we teach the “yes.”
We want you, our students, 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.
How’s that for a “mission statement” for this school?
Today, August 22nd, the Church throughout the world celebrates Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth. This feast affirms that Mary’s unique mission as the Mother of Jesus continues even today in her role as the Mother of the Church, as our Mother.
As we heard in the Gospel reading, when the angel told Mary that she would be the mother of the savior, it seemed like she was being given an “impossible mission.” But she trusted God and said “yes”: Be it done unto me according to your word.
As you begin this school year, let me repeat the words of the angel to Mary: Be not afraid. A new year, new teachers, a new class mean new challenges. If we forget that God is with us, that he is guiding us through the gift of his Spirit, these challenges might seem to us as “mission impossible.” Don’t be afraid to say “yes” to whatever God has as his plan for you; say “yes” as Mary did, and as she did, live the “yes” — and become that person that God has meant you to be.
Of course, some people are afraid to say “yes,” because “yes” means commitment. And some people think that commitment crowds out our freedom. They think that saying “yes” to God makes us less free, that it’ll take the fun out of life.
They have a wrong understanding of freedom — one that unfortunately has a lot of sway in our popular culture today. They think that freedom means “doing as I please,” that I can decide for myself what is good and what is evil.
This wrong understanding of freedom holds that any “yes” limits my freedom — and so it avoids commitments. We want choices — it is no secret that the murder of preborn children is cloaked under the rubric of choice, the freedom to choose.
We want choices — but when faced with 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 that, or to him or her, I may be in fact saying “no” to myself. It goes back to the fall from grace in Paradise. Adam and Eve thought that their “no” to God would be translated into a “yes” for themselves.
But Mary’s “yes” — and Jesus’ own “yes” to do his Father’s will — are “yeses” to God lived in total freedom. It is the freedom not to do as we please but to do as we ought, to be the persons that God created us to be. It is the ability to say “yes” to God and his plan for us — and not only to say “yes” but to live the “yes.”
A Catholic school like Gibbons is about making commitments and keeping them; it is about high standards of discipline; it is about keeping rules that are not there for stupid reasons — although sometimes we might not always understand the reasons for the rules. Commitment doesn’t limit our freedom — it is the way through which we express our freedom. Saying “yes” to God makes a person truly free —and makes life truly joyful.
To be a Christian — like being a good basketball player — means learning the rules and making them second nature to you, which means the discipline of constant practice. If you’re going to be a good basketball player — you’ve got to practice religiously; to keep at it and take the advice of your coaches. And to be a good Catholic Christian, to say and live a “yes” as Mary did, you’ve got to practice religiously — you’ve got to keep at and follow the advice of your spiritual “coaches.” Say your prayers — daily; go to Mass — every Sunday; do good to your neighbor — always.
Who remembers who LeBron James is? LeBron James might be perhaps one of the greatest basketball players ever to play the game. (Let me mention he played high school basketball at a Catholic school.)
On the court, he is free to do pretty much anything with the basketball. I’m sure that LeBron started off with a love of the game but that did not mean he did not have to practice, practice, practice; nor were the rules of the game a matter of indifference to him. He has become a great basketball player not by flaunting the rules — or picking and choosing which ones he thought mattered; no, he had to learn the rules of the game and practice until those rules became second nature to him. He is, you could say, a virtuous player — because he excels in all aspects of the game.
Well, the mission of Cardinal Gibbons is to make all our students love God’s game plan for their lives. We want to teach you that you can be holy — and encourage you 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 our desires towards achieving the good for which we were created, free enough to do the good that God asks of us.
This is what Cardinal Gibbons and all our Catholic schools are about —facilitating an encounter with Christ for our students, their parents and, let us add, for our teachers.
Isn’t it wonderful to be involved in Catholic education? So many other schools only can teach the test, here we teach the “Yes.” Mission impossible? Not if we say with Mary, whom we honor today as Queen of Heaven and Earth: “Be it done unto me according to your word.”