On Beginning the School Year

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The other day I was having coffee with a former Totus Tuus missionary from when I was director of the Totus Tuus program for the diocese. He’s currently studying theology in college. Both of us share a passion for teaching theology. So naturally, when I mentioned that school was starting this week here at I.C., our conversation turned towards how to teach religion effectively. I won’t bore you with the philosophical details and turn this into a professional development seminar, but I would like to share two of basic principles we discussed that I believe will help as we begin the new school year.

Two Principles for Learning & Teaching the Faith

The first is that there must be a balance between teaching that the faith both a content to be learned, but also a relationship to be lived. Religion class shouldn’t be like the other subjects per se, in that it’s just something you learn and move on. It’s meant to affect every aspect of our lives. At the same time there must be a balance with good content so that it doesn’t just become a relationship without substance or meaning. In other words there must be balance between both the head and the heart, not one or the other.

The second principle I’d like to share is that our teaching of the faith should always be geared towards deepening and growing. In other words we shouldn’t be content with memorization of various lists, such as the commandments, beatitudes, sacraments etc. etc. Yes we should learn those things, but because they help us to grow in our understanding of the faith.

Our three readings today speak to these two principles as well. For in the Gospel we hear Jesus say, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink,” and, “whoever eats this bread will live forever.” This speaks to the need for us to have balance. That in order to achieve the growth in our faith, it is not just words or ideas, but also God’s grace received in the sacraments. St. Paul urges us to, “Forsake foolishness that you may live; advance in the way of understanding.” To forsake foolishness is to allow our faith to impact our entire lives, not just our heads. Similarly, the book of Proverbs tells us,  “Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.” This reminds us of the need to progress in our understanding of the faith, even if it is a mystery.

How do we accomplish these tasks? It takes everyone working together. Just because you send you’re kids to Immaculate Conception School, does not mean you get a pass in raising your kids in the faith. Sending you’re kids to Catholic school doesn’t rid you of that responsibility. It’s not merely the responsibility of the teachers, or the priests, or the parents. It’s everyone working together, school, parents, and the students.

“You’re smart, but you don’t know anything yet”

So to the students here whether you’re in kindergarten, or a senior at Helias, I’d like to share with you the best advice I received as a student. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear it until my first year in graduate school. The professor said, “You’re smart, but you don’t know anything yet.” What does that mean? Obviously we knew something, as do all of you. But it’s meant to be an attitude. That every day you show up to class, every time you pick up a pencil to write, or do a homework sheet, or pick up a book to read, tell yourself, “you’re smart, but you don’t know anything yet.” You’re smart, God has given you the ability to do the work. Don’t sell yourself short, think you’re not good enough or you can’t do it. But you don’t know anything yet, that means never be satisfied. Never think you know it all, the second you think you already know it all, you stop learning. Always be open to entering deeper into the mystery and learning more.

Home : School :: Dinner Table : Classroom

As for the parents, at the baptism of your children you took on the responsibility of being the primary educators of your children in the faith. There’s no asterisk at the bottom of the page in the book that says, “If you send them to Catholic school, you’re done.” The home is the first and primary school. The Book of Proverbs uses an image at the beginning of the reading today, setting the table. My suggestion or challenge for you as parents would to be to literally do just that. Set the table. If the home is the school, the dinner table is the classroom. Make an effort this year to sit down as a family at the dinner table. With no cell phones. Do this as often as possible. If you are already starting to make excuses for the different nights of the week. Don’t. Eat earlier or later. Make it a priority.

Then when you do sit down at the table, don’t just ask your kids, “How did you day go?” If you ask a teenager that question, you’ll get some sort of grunt, “meh,” “boh.” “fine.” Growing up, it feels like my parents rarely asked that question, instead it was always, “What did you learn today?” And you have better have had a good answer to that question. At the time I didn’t always appreciate the question, or the subsequent lecture explaining some bizarre piece of knowledge. However, now I see how it was helping me to advance in understanding, pushing me deeper every day. So when you sit down at the table, help your kids to grow by asking them, “What did you learn today?”

Learning as a Lifelong Pursuit

The other reason my father always asked that question was his belief that we always keep learning something new, every day, our whole lives. Growing in our faith does not end when we graduate high school or get confirmed. It’s a lifelong adventure. So for those of you here who don’t have children in school, for the “grown-ups,” we all have more room to figure out the balance of knowledge of our faith and living it out. We have room to grow and go deeper.

That’s why the parish is offering a program like Alpha, to help give space to ask questions so that one can grow deeper in their faith. Later, in October, I will be starting an adult education class where each week we’ll look at various topics which affect our Church and world.

Wisdom has prepared the table for us. Here we come to the Altar to be nourished by the food and drink of truth for eternal life. God’s grace affects not just our hearts but also our minds. With this new school year beginning it’s an opportunity for all of us to keep growing deeper in the knowledge of our faith.

Immaculate Conception Church
August 19, 2018 A.D. – 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time – Year B

*As always these homily texts are representative, as I deliver my homilies without text or notes, and naturally there are variations from Mass to Mass.

On Obligation and Consistency

Yesterday I read an article online titled, “10 Reasons American go to Church — and 9 reasons they don’t.” It wasn’t just for Catholics, but nonetheless as a former journalist and a theologian I found it to be a fascinating read.

One reason included was particularly relevant for today, 31% of go to Church because, “they feel obligated to go.”

Given that the study was for more than just Catholics, and certainly not merely in reference to today’s feast, I suspect that number might be quite a bit higher for those of us gathered here on this holy day of obligation, the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This poses for us two questions worthy of consideration:

  1. Why do we as Catholics have these holy days of obligation to begin with?
  2. What’s so special about this particular feast, the Assumption?

The key to understanding both of these questions is consistency, or in other words, as the Gospel tells us this evening, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

So why does the Church have this Holy Day of Obligation? The Church’s mission is help us all get to heaven. So she names these holy days, and has other “rules,” not so she can be some sort of evil controlling dictator, but rather so that she can carry our her mission in helping us get to heaven. In that regard she is being true to herself, true to her mission, she is consistent.

It’s easy for us to get busy, especially this week with school starting up again. Even I as the priest can be tempted to point out that there is the Back to School BBQ tonight and a parish council meeting, and can forget what matters most. It’s easy to get distracted from our faith with a wide variety of things that are going on in our personal lives, in our families, and even in our country or world. So many of us have been talking about how with school starting up we can get back to the regular routine. Even Sunday Mass can become a part of our routine to the point that it can begin to seem somewhat empty. So in having these holy days of obligation, while they may appear to be an inconvenience,  the Church is consistent in her taking times every so often to interrupt our routine, our schedules, our busyness and remind us of the eternal. Thus the holy day of obligation is not so much a burden, but rather a gift, which throws us off and gives us a chance to remember God, a chance to recalibrate our lives and our priorities.

In the end, the reason the Church has these holy days of obligation is so that we can grow closer to God. Interestingly enough, 81% of respondents to that survey said the reason they went to Church was just that, “to grow closer to God.” For those of you wondering 59% go for the sermons, and it was even less for Catholics.

So regardless of our motivations for showing up, how does the feast of the Assumption help us to grow closer to God? Despite the false critiques, we as Catholics do not believe Mary is God.

Rather, there is an old latin phrase which helps us understand today’s feast. Ad Iesum per Mariam. To Jesus through Mary. Mary’s role is to lead us to Christ, to God.

She is consistent in doing just that, leading us to Jesus, from her very Immaculate Conception, until now her Assumption into heaven. We teach that she was Assumed into heaven because it is consistent with her whole life, conceived and lived in purity, without sin, and pointing us to Christ. She was immaculately conceived, so that her body could give life to Jesus. Throughout her life, she is always accompanying Jesus, and leading us to him. Now as she is assumed into heaven, she once again points to where he is now, where we ought to want to go.

Even today, she brings us here in her name, so that we can receive her Son in the Eucharist. Not just because obligated to do so by the Church, but rather because we want to be closer to God. She wants us to be closer to God. There is no closer we can be to him than to literally receive him into our bodies in the Eucharist. So instead of being inconvenienced or obligated out of guilt this day, we rejoice that we have a Church who is consistent in her teaching in helping us get to heaven and Mary who is consistent in bringing us closer to Christ. Ad Iesum per Mariam.

Immaculate Conception Church
August 15, 2018 A.D. – Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

*As always these homily texts are representative, as I deliver my homilies without text or notes, and naturally there are variations from Mass to Mass.