Tempus fugit – time flies! A new school year is upon us! On August 30, Catholic school administrators, faculty, and staff gathered for Mass at Holy Cross Church in DeWitt to mark the beginning of the school year. This annual gathering gives me the opportunity to address the indispensable role that administrators, faculty, and staff play in the education and formation of our children and young people. The homily I preached on that occasion is printed below.

The calendar tells us that the last day of summer is September 22. You, however, know that for all practical purposes summer ends when school opens. Perhaps like me you wonder, how did summer pass so quickly? My only answer is Tempus fugit, time flies.

   Once again I am delighted to be with you for the opening Mass of the school year. My association with Catholic schools spans many years beginning with my years as an elementary school student and extending through college, seminary, and graduate studies. Please know of my support for your schools, the pastors and parishioners who support them, the parents who choose them for their children, and especially for all of you who toil daily to make our Catholic schools centers of faith and learning.

   There is a woman in the diocese who helps me to stay in touch with good literature. On special occasions like Christmas and birthdays, she sends me a lovely selection from children’s literature. The most recent book I received is Nancy Tillman’s You’re Here for a Reason. It is a delightful book, beautifully illustrated, that presents a powerful message. Every person matters. Every person fits into life’s big picture and the world would be incomplete without each person.

   “You’re here for a reason. If you think you’re not, I would just say that perhaps you forgot — a piece of the world that is precious and dear would surely be missing if you weren’t here.”

   You are here for a reason. God has a plan for you and a piece of that plan finds each of you in one of our Catholic schools — as a teacher, an administrator, or a staff member. You have an indispensable role to play. While it requires the competence and skills necessary to convey knowledge, it requires something extra. People who work in a Catholic school are more than professionals. Hopefully their work is more than a job and a career or a paycheck. It is a calling, a ministry. It is working side-by-side and hand-in-hand with God, helping to fulfill the plan He has for you and to bring about His plan for the students entrusted to your care.

   Our Catholic schools should be sacred places where our students encounter Christ. Your example is crucial if our students are to meet Christ, experience His love and mercy, and come to love the Church. The more completely that you give authentic witness to the person of Christ, the more likely will your students become committed disciples of Christ.

   To my mind, no one has spoken more clearly about the role of the witness in passing on our faith than Pope Paul VI. I have shared his message with you in the past and offer it again as a reminder of the influence you can have on your students. “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (Evangelization in the Modern World, 41).

   As you begin the new school year, keep in mind that each child, each young person you meet is here for a reason. Each person is willed by God. Each person is a recipient of His love. Each person is precious in His sight, “the apple of His eye” (Cf Ps 17:8). There are over 100 verses in Scripture that tell us our name is written on the palm of God’s hand. I suspect some of you recall writing the name of a special person on the palm of your hand. God holds us by the hand and writes our name on His hand. What a lovely image of God’s enduring love for us.

   Expand the minds and hearts of your students. Teach them that the world would be different without them. As Nancy Tillman writes,

     “If not for your hands and your eyes and your feet, the world, like a puzzle, would be incomplete. Even the smallest of things that you do blossom and multiply far beyond you. A kindness, for instance, may triple for days . . . or set things in motion in different ways.”

   Tell your students that sometimes not everything will be to their liking. There will be challenging and difficult days.

    “So don’t be too worried if some days fall flat. Good things can happen, even from that.”

     “. . . life works together, the good and the bad, the silly and awful, and happy and sad, to paint a big picture we can’t always see . . . a picture that needs you, most definitely.”

   These words are meant for us adults too. Some days fall flat; some days have their share of “bad” and “awful” and “sad.” Certainly, the news of the past weeks has told us yet again about the sin of sexual abuse of children, young people, and vulnerable adults at the hands of those called to shepherd and care for God’s people. This news weighs heavy on my mind and heart. Yet in these dark days, I believe Christ is present and that His grace strengthens me, and all of us, to walk the path of prayer and conversion.

   In our darkest hour, Christ does not abandon us even when we walk away from Him. He watches over us and beckons us to return. We need to believe this message, live it, and pass it on to our students. The education and formation ours schools offer is not only for success in this life. Our awesome responsibility includes forming students for their eternal home. They have been created to know, love, and serve God in this world and some day to be happy with Him forever in heaven. My first grade teacher, Sister Mary Cecilia, told me and my classmates years ago why God created us. We need to repeat this message to our students. We need to nurture the seed of divine life  God has planted in them.

   Dear teachers, administrators and staff members — you are here for a reason. It is part of God’s plan.

   “A piece of the world that is precious and dear would surely be missing if you weren’t here.”

   Pass this message on to the students entrusted to your care. Tell them they are “here for a reason.” If not for their smile, their laugh and their heart “this place we call home would be minus a part.” Tell them, “Thank goodness you’re here! Thank goodness times two!

   Be assured of my prayers. And I say to you — “Thank goodness you’re here! Thank goodness times two!

   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.

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