St. Mary’s Cathedral in Trenton, April 29, 2014
When I think of Catholic schools --- and I think about them a lot --- a saying that I am very fond of always comes to my mind: “What you are is God's gift to you. What you become is your gift to God (Prayer, Hans Ur Von Balthasar).” Do you understand what that means? Think about yourselves and your own lives, in whatever grade you are now. Think about your talents and the things that you can do really well: hopefully your studies; perhaps sports or singing or school plays; perhaps service projects, whatever it is. Everybody has something they are good at doing, something that when people think of you they say, “Oh, yes, he or she does this or that so well.” Then ask yourselves, “Where did this talent come from?” You may have many answers but the most important and honest one is simply this: our gifts and talents, who we are … comes from God who created us and loves us. What you do with all these things --- what you become --- is your way of saying thanks to God and of giving him a gift.
Catholic school helps you recognize God's gifts, helps you take God’s gifts and make something beautiful with them for God. No one who has a gift wants to hide it, ignore it or throw it away. What a waste that would be! That's true for all of us. At the same time, everyone who gives a gift to someone else wants that gift to be something special and important and meaningful to the person to whom we give it.
We are still celebrating Easter and Jesus rising from the dead. We celebrate it as Jesus’ gift to us who believe: death is not the end for us or those we love. It is a doorway we walk through to new life with Jesus. We have that gift of faith. Our first reading today from the Acts of the Apostles tells us what the Apostles did with that gift:
The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the Apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them,
Wow! Wouldn’t it be great if we could say that today? If we could use God’s gifts --- what we are --- to become a gift to god and one another, the way those apostles and early Church did. Catholic schools exist to teach us that. Catholic schools connect the gifts we are given by God to the gifts we make of them in return. Catholic schools bring the “Good News” of Jesus into the classroom so that we can bring the “Good News” of Jesus outside the classroom into the world in which we live.
We learn many things in Catholic schools --- some of the same things that every student in every school learns: math and science, English and history, foreign languages and computer skills, art and music, gym and good sportsmanship, health and good citizenship --- but we learn something else. In a Catholic school we learn about God and the Church, we learn what it means to have faith and to share faith, we learn faith values and those things that make us good people, loving people, grateful people, compassionate, generous people throughout our lives. Yes, we learn what every other kid learns but we learn it in a different way and for a different reason. We have the freedom, the religious freedom cherished by our founding Fathers when they founded our great nation, to believe in God and to speak about those things that God asks of us which are the reason God created us, the reason we were baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church, the reason we go to Mass and receive communion, the reason we confess our sins when we fail and make mistakes, the reason we are different and why those differences make us stronger in life. Catholic schools teach us why bullying is wrong, why we should not lie or cheat or steal or hurt one another, why we should share the good things we have with those less fortunate than ourselves.
Catholic schools teach us that everything is a gift from God: our lives, our minds, our souls, our hearts, our emotions, our talents; and every gift has a special purpose also given us by God. We celebrate our Catholic schools because they are God’s gift, the Church’s gift to us and we, in turn, are God’s gift and hope and blessing to our world!
Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M.
Bishop of Trenton