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Why did God make me?

January 23, 2015
Archbishop Salvatore J. Cordileone

Catholic schools exist to help children learn and live the answer

One of the highlights in my ministry as a bishop is to visit our Catholic schools and interact with our children and young people. Invariably I find eager learners who ask good (and sometimes surprising!) questions, and teachers who clearly love their students and what they do for them. It’s always a “reality check” for me, in that it helps me to keep focused on why Jesus founded the Church in the first place, and why he promised to stay with her through the guidance of the Holy Spirit until his return at the end of time.

The theme for this year’s Catholic Schools Week, “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service,” contains in it the very reason why the Church exists. The theme suggests the answer given to one of the first catechism questions Catholic children memorized in bygone eras: “Why did God make me?” Our Catholic schools are one very concrete realization of the mission of the Church to assist her members to grow in an ever deeper knowledge and love of God through a vibrant life of faith that expresses itself in prayer and service. Yes, God made each one of us to know, love and serve Him in this life so that we may be happy with Him in the next, and our Catholic schools exist to help our children learn and live this answer to this most important question in life.

But there is another word in the theme for this year’s Catholic Schools Week equally instructive as to what our Catholic schools are all about: that all-important first word, “community.” We know from our Catholic theology that the Church is not simply a collection of like-minded people who share certain beliefs and practices, it does not exist merely for the sake of fellowship. Rather, the Church is the Body of Christ: we are organically related by faith to each other under Christ our head. No one comes to know, love and serve Christ all on their own, as if in a vacuum. We do so within the context of a community of faith; the Church founded by Christ is the way Christ unites us to Himself. More than an association of believers to offer each other spiritual and practical support, the Church is the sacrament of our encounter with Christ. “Thus, the Church has been seen as ‘a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’” (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Lumen Gentium, n. 4)

We see this community dynamic at work from the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry. As we just heard in the Gospel reading at Mass last Sunday (Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 18th), two disciples ask Jesus, “Where are you staying?”, and he responds with an invitation: “Come, and you will see.” And we heard that they stayed with him that day (John 1:39). The disciples first learned about Jesus by staying with him and with one another, and that is how disciples have learned ever since. And so it is that our students learn as a community: each of our schools is a kind of solar system made up of children, teachers, parents, administrators, priests and staff – all circling around Christ our Sun, receiving light from him directly and also from his light reflected in the lives of those around them.

When I look into the faces of our Catholic school students, I see a future full of promise. That promise will be realized if our students stay strong in their faith, grow in virtue and persevere in the values our faith teaches us. Our Catholic school communities – parents primarily, with teachers, administrators and pastors assisting them – exist to help our students grow as disciples. The more faithful our schools are to their Catholic mission, the more effectively they will help our children and young people truly thrive in what really matters in life: they will use their gifts and God-given talents to know, love and serve Him in this life, so that they will be happy with Him forever in the next.

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