During Catholic Schools Week, I had the opportunity to attend a number of activities in our Catholic Schools. Among them was the celebration of Mass at Seton Catholic, Bishop Ludden, and Bishop Grimes. The homily that I delivered on those occasions is printed below. Our 22 Catholic schools are gifts to our diocese. Please pray for those engaged in this important ministry and for the ongoing vitality and viability of our schools.
The other day when I picked up my cell phone I groaned! I noticed it was “dead.” It had no charge. You know what that means — no phone calls, no texts! Have you ever had that happen to you? Cell phones have become the primary way we stay connected to parents and friends, often to games, to scores of our favorite teams, and to the weather. Frequently, homes do not have a landline and everyone in the family has their own phone. A cell phone is useful, however, only if it is charged. We all want our phones charged and ready to use. We do not want to be caught with a “dead” cell phone. We need to plug them in regularly to keep them charged.
We are like cell phones. We need to be plugged into the right source in order to stay charged. As students, you need to stay plugged into all that your school has to offer you. Let me share a story.
A traveler passing through a stone quarry noticed three stonecutters at work. Each was busy cutting a block of stone. The traveler asked the first stonecutter what he was doing. The stonecutter replied, “I am cutting a stone.” The traveler asked the second stonecutter the same question. He answered, “I am cutting this block of stone to make sure that its dimensions are uniform, so that it will fit exactly in its place in the wall.” The traveler thought the second answer was better than the first answer but he still was not satisfied. He asked the third stonecutter who also appeared to be the happiest of the three. “What are you doing?” The man answered, “I am building a cathedral.”
Sometimes like the first two stonecutters, we pay attention to what is right before us and fail to see the long-term results of what we are doing or why we are doing it. All three stonecutters were working on a block of stone but only one saw the ultimate reason he was laboring over the stone.
What is the ultimate reason for the existence of your school or any of the other 21 Catholic schools in our diocese? Is it their outstanding academic programs? Is it because they provide safe, secure, orderly environments that support learning? Is it the state-of-the-art technology opportunities and the multi-media centers? Is it their competitive athletic programs? Is it because they successfully prepare you for a career or the college of your choice? Certainly, these are very good reasons why Catholic schools exist. However, you can find these elements in other schools. So what is unique about a Catholic school?
I learned the essential reason for a Catholic school — indeed the ultimate reason for my existence — from my first grade teacher, Sister Mary Cecilia. She told a classroom of 60 students — that’s right, 60 first graders in one room with one teacher — that God made us to know, love, and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.
The primary reason a Catholic school exists is to form minds and hearts to know, love, and serve God as good citizens of this world and one day to be happy forever in heaven. Every Catholic school should be a sacred place where students meet Christ who shows them how to live in this world so they will one day be citizens of heaven.
Many people do not know how to get to heaven. A Catholic school shows you the way. It shows you what you have to be plugged into: a personal relationship with Christ; reception of the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation; prayer; service to others including those who are less fortunate or often forgotten; respect for the dignity of the human person made in God’s image and likeness; care for creation; the commandments and beatitudes — in short, the Gospel and the teachings of the Church.
It may seem a bit strange or unusual to look at education in terms of eternal life. Much of education focuses on forming productive citizens for society and future leaders. A Catholic school education does this but it does more. It looks at life in terms of eternity — our final destiny — and forms us as followers of Christ.
Every one of you carries the spark of divine life within you. Every one of you — all of us — are called to live in such a way that one day we will enjoy the beauty, peace, and joy of heaven. This may seem like a far-off day and for most of you this may be the case. However, God calls us to Himself at a time known only to Him. On your journey of life and faith, it is important to stay connected — to be plugged into Christ who wants to be your companion and walk with you. If at times you stray from Him and, staying with the dead cell phone image, lose your charge, know that He will always welcome you back to the warm embrace of His love.
The third stonecutter knew that the tedious and time-consuming task of cutting the stone had a purpose — a lofty purpose. His stone would be part of a massive cathedral. His work had a purpose that looked toward the future. He saw not one stone but a cathedral.
The life of a student is time-consuming and sometimes it may be tiresome. At those times, it is important to remember the purpose of your Catholic School education. Make sure you keep your charge by being connected to Christ and like the stonecutter be attentive to what you are forming, with the help of God and many others: a good citizen of this world and a good citizen of heaven.
Be assured of my prayers for you. Please pray for me too.
If you have a prayer intention you would like me to consider during the weeks ahead, please mail it to my attention at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202.