Across the dioceses of Florida last month, Catholic schools were welcoming students back to class. Hardly had a full two weeks of classes begun when hurricane Irma came crashing into our state with a fury that forced all of the schools in south Florida to shutter themselves against its damaging elements. Thanks to the protection of Our Blessed Mother, we were spared the ravages of Irma that decimated much of the Florida Keys and adjacent areas. Soon enough, we were back to the “busy-ness” of education – Catholic education — of which I am a proud product of one of the best systems in the United States: Philadelphia Archdiocesan schools. With thousands of dedicated administrators, teachers and staff, and through the sacrifices of good parents, a common bond was forged that truly made possible the great Catholic schools there that remain today among the nation’s very best.
But what does that word “best” really mean in a Christian context? Most Catholics know that our schools do a great job of providing an excellent academic education in a safe environment; and they do it with very limited resources. This can have deeply positive results, especially for students from fractured homes or from impoverished and crime-laden neighborhoods. But the why behind Catholic education – the reason it exists – can sometimes be overlooked.
Catholic schools and catechetical programs, like PREP, aren’t ultimately about teaching young people to work hard, contribute to society, and be honest and kind to others. Clearly those virtues are important. But they’re not ends in themselves. They flow from the larger mission of our schools and programs. The goal of all Catholic education is to form young people in a strong Catholic faith, a faith rooted in the truth about God and humanity, a faith that can guide them to a fruitful life in this world, and home to the joys of eternal life with their Creator.
All Catholic education starts with a simple principle: Facts and achievements are empty – or worse, unless they’re embedded in a pattern of meaning. The deepest hunger of the human heart isn’t for knowledge but for purpose. That’s why Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John have always had such power: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (8:32)
Truth organizes reality. It gives meaning and direction to life. In doing so, it sustains hope. So, it’s no surprise that in cultures that refuse to accept the existence of permanent, objective truths, or a commonly shared higher purpose to life, suicide rates rise along with a general callousness expressed in barbarisms like abortion and euthanasia. Differing cultures can account for the differing attitudes toward suicide in some countries. But even adjusting for that, the data are striking. Of the 25 nations with the highest suicide rates in the world, eight of them are in Europe. Wealth offers no immunity: South Korea and Japan also rank high on the list, despite their advanced economies. The exponentially high suicide rate in nations like North Korea probably needs no explanation.
But, here’s the point. The belief that truth exists, is permanent and knowable (and is worth pursuing and fighting for because it makes us free) is the affirmation of the goodness and the real meaning of life, and is found only in and through the world’s loving Creator. He has made all life possible; He is the Alpha and the Omega. He alone gives real meaning to existence,
This enduring passion for truth is the fire at the heart of all Catholic education, from the first day of First Grade forward throughout life. So as another school year has begun, it’s a good time to remember what we need to be teaching, learning and doing in our classrooms — and even more importantly, why. That’s why we want to continue to expand the role of Catholic education in our parish – to give real meaning to our life.
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Many thanks to all those good people who made the annual Blue Mass celebration for our men and women in public safety service such a success last Monday night. Attendance was far greater than before and the reception was delightful. Many thanks to Mary Somerville, our new Director of the Parish Family Life Ministry, and to the Columbiettes for the lovely reception afterwards. Our own school children made beautiful, personal notes and letters to be given to all the men and women “in blue” who serve our area so dutifully and faithfully.
Please join Fr. Danis, our Sisters and many pro-life advocates from our parish this Sunday afternoon, October 1st, between 2 and 3 p.m., for our eleventh annual Respect Life Rosary, at the intersection of Federal Highway and Linton Blvd. All you need is a willingness to be there (and some sunscreen and a bottle of water!). God will be there and take care of the rest.