Developing a relationship with Jesus remains top priority in education
As we approach Labor Day, we are aware the daylight hours are growing shorter. The first dry leaves have begun to blow around the yard. The summer season, which is characterized in this part of the world by such vitality, is drawing to a close.
In our liturgical life, too, we will begin to pray and reflect as we worship about the coming end of the world as we know it. Our days are numbered; they fade like the grass and flowers of summer. We are given so many possibilities to know and serve God, but they are limited.
Against this backdrop of things coming to an end, we also witness at this time of year many new beginnings. This has a great deal to do with the start of a new academic year. It is important we do not take this new vitality for granted. In the church’s parishes, schools and apostolates, this vitality is clearly a manifestation of the power of the Holy Spirit.
The action of the Holy Spirit seems especially evident in the opening of the new St. John Paul II Newman Center, adjacent to the campus of the University of Nebraska at Omaha. The archdiocese has sponsored an active campus ministry program at UNO for many years. The presence of FOCUS missionaries (Fellowship of Catholic University Students) in recent years has given the program new scope and depth.
It has long been a dream to build a facility where Catholic students could meet, pray, study and encourage each other to respond to the call of Jesus. As UNO has become more of a residential campus, our dream began to include the possibility of a Catholic student residence, in addition to spaces to pray and meet.
That dream is being realized at 71st and Pacific streets, as the St. John Paul II Newman Center welcomes university students for the first time. More than 100 students have moved in; hundreds more are finding their way to the center for Mass, a place to study and a place to make friends. Two priests have also taken up residence: Father Joseph Taphorn, director and pastor, and Father Andrew Roza, associate director and archdiocesan vocation director. I look forward to dedicating the Newman Center’s beautiful chapel in January.
Students at Wayne State College also enjoy the blessing of a vibrant campus ministry program. Of course, the Catholic college and university campuses provide regular opportunities for Mass, the sacraments, prayers and service to the community. In all of these settings, students are able to meet Jesus, to grow in a mature faith and to learn the ways of discipleship. It gives me great joy to see all of this come to life during these weeks.
Our 70 Catholic schools also have come to life again, welcoming more than 19,000 students this fall. The great power of Catholic schools is rooted in sacrifice now, as it always has been. I acknowledge with gratitude and admiration the teachers, pastors, parishioners and parents who readily place their time and material resources at the service of the formation of the children in our families and parishes.
All of this sacrifice ensures that we are able to offer an excellent education to our students, as the results of this work consistently show. As we begin a new school year, we must renew our commitment to make our schools centers of evangelization. At the heart of the mission of each Catholic school is the determination to introduce every student to Jesus Christ. Jesus loves them and desires to have a personal relationship with them. In this relationship, our students find the true meaning of their lives, and they become most fully themselves.
The introduction of our children to Jesus also involves schooling them in the ways of discipleship. Living in Jesus is demanding, even as it is rewarding. This is always best done in partnership with parents, who have their responsibility from God to form their children in the ways of faith. A Christ-centered school complements, and can never substitute for, a Christ-centered home.
Parish religious education programs also begin afresh these days. More and more of our parishes are developing a pattern of catechizing and forming parents, to equip them to teach and lead their children at home. Resources are provided for prayer and activities that invite Jesus to be at the center of family life at home. With the right training and formation, parents can take the lead in bringing their children to Christ and accompanying them in living as his disciples.
In our Christian understanding, these new beginnings help us to see the end of things. This does not mean we simply look forward to the last day of school. Rather, the way we go about the work of education and formation helps us realize our true purpose. We have been created by God for a holy purpose, to live fully, to know the truth. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. To have life in him is to be fully alive. To know Jesus – not just to know about him, but to know him – is to possess the truth.
Let’s not settle for anything less for our students – and for ourselves – than the life and the truth that we find only in Jesus Christ.