Recently, I was scrolling through Facebook and something interesting caught my eye. It was a list on BuzzFeed, the internet media company that specializes in social news and entertainment. The title of the list was, “24 Signs You Went to a Catholic School.” Being that I never went to a school that was not Catholic, from preschool through post-graduate studies, I read all 24 signs.
Some of them were amusing. Things such as small class sizes, uniforms, discipline etc. are both fond and funny memories. Others were offensive, but one has to expect that in today’s society and world. Overall, the tone of the list portrayed Catholic schools as an experience that one simply “got through” or survived.
However, I am proud to say that for me the opposite was true. Spending 25 years as a student in Catholic schools transformed my life for the better. Therefore, on a serious note, and in a spirit of gratitude, I would like to offer my own list: “Five Signs You Received a Catholic Education.” This list includes students who went to Catholic schools as well as those who received a Catholic education in some way, shape, or form — through faith formation, youth ministry, etc. So, here it goes:
1. You are happy. Last I checked everyone wants to be happy. What is happiness? According to the world, happiness is equated with money, possessions, fun, and absolute freedom — doing what we want to do without restriction. Moreover, happiness in the eyes of the world is whatever you want it to be. Then why are so many people who have all these things and more so unhappy? Because this is not what happiness is really all about. Our Catholic education taught us that happiness lies in God alone. It is based on the fact that God exists, that he created us in his own image and likeness, that he loves us, that he has a plan for us, that he sent his Son to save us, that he is still present among us today and his mission is still very much alive through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the Church, and that when our time on earth is done, the glory of heaven awaits us. This is our faith. This is what we profess Sunday after Sunday because this is what makes us happy, truly happy.
2. You like to party! More specifically, you like to celebrate. Celebrate what? The grace of God and the presence of Christ in our midst in the liturgy and sacraments of the Church. Our Catholic education taught us to go to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days not only because it is a commandment from God himself, but also because it is the way that we celebrate our faith. It is the way that our faith comes alive. All that Jesus Christ did to save us took place outside of space and time. The Holy Spirit makes these saving events present in our midst in the liturgy so that they will transform us and incorporate us more and more into the very life of God. I don’t know about you, but I believe that’s something to celebrate!
3. You are a rebel… I know what you’re thinking. My Catholic education taught me not to be a rebel. This may come as a surprise to you, but the opposite is actually true. There is a gross lack of morality in our society and culture, more today than in recent living memory. Our Catholic education taught us how to go against this grain, so to speak. Isn’t that what Christ himself did in the Gospels? He came to establish the Kingdom of God and to invite people to live differently, as a member of the Kingdom. What does this involve? Following the Commandments and the moral teachings of Jesus and his Church. Doing the will of the Father, not our own. Our faith teaches us to live a certain way and doing so today means that we have to rebel against the world in which we live, particularly because it is a world that will not last forever.
4. You are good at relationships. Throughout our lives we are constantly forming new relationships. One of the challenges that our human family faces today is the fact that we are more individualistic than ever. How do we change that? We go back to the very first and most fundamental relationship that our Catholic education did its best to attempt to foster: our relationship with God. What is the context for this relationship? Prayer. Prayer is what grounds everything in our lives. It is what helps us to get all of our other relationships right. In prayer we talk with God on a regular basis as with a friend. In prayer we simply respond to God, who is already reaching out to us. There are many forms of prayer that help us to do so, particularly the prayer that Jesus himself taught us, the “Our Father.”
5. You are successful. Many of the mission statements, mottos, and summaries of the philosophies of today’s Catholic high schools talk about preparing students to be successful citizens in the world, predominantly by teaching them to serve. They also talk about getting students academically ready for college so that they will have successful careers and lives. Yet, the essence of a Catholic education has to do with faith. Accordingly, our Catholic education taught us that success is measured by how much we love. Love, not in the Hallmark sense, but in the essence of what it really is, namely, an act of the will that says “yes” to God and his will and “yes” to others and their needs on a daily basis. The goal of this type of success brings us back to the first sign, happiness — in this life and in the next. If at the end of our lives the Lord says to us, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Mt 25:23) and welcomes us into heaven, then we have been successful. And, our Catholic education is what helped us to be.
My friends, Catholic education is something that we should be proud of. It is something for which we should be grateful. These signs remind us of how fortunate we were to learn about God and our faith. They also remind us to live it and share it with others, to be signs to the world today of God’s presence in our midst and of his Kingdom among us.
Father Seibt currently serves as the parochial vicar at the Church of Sts. John and Andrew in Binghamton. He received a Catholic education from the following schools: the Gingerbread House Preschool, St. Daniel School, Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School, Le Moyne College, and the Catholic University of America.