Welcome back to a new school year!
I know that those words are not welcome by all students, but there are more than a few of you who are excited and eager for a new school year.
The thing I love most about school is that it is filled with opportunities for new beginnings. As the school year begins, older students will get to decide what classes to take as electives. Even younger students, with the help of parents and guardians, can decide again what sports to play, musical instrument to master, play to try out for, or club to join. Students increasingly come to know themselves and to choose the passion projects that motivate them and set them on new and exciting paths.
Our God calls us to new beginnings! Frequently we are asked to examine our lives, repent where we need to, and follow Christ more closely. God is certainly concerned that we learn to make the best use of our natural gifts — to reason and communicate effectively, to explore our world, and learn how to gather information and grow in wisdom — but God has shared with us that his greatest desire for us is that we learn to love God and neighbor more fully and completely. God — and all who really love you — are more concerned with who you are than what you can do.
I propose to students and teachers this year, that we place a focus on who we are and make a new beginning in growing our ability to do good and act lovingly. I propose that, along with grammar, science, and math, our Catholic School students focus on growing in virtue.
I’d like to see us each choose a Christian virtue that we would like to progress in, devote ourselves to little actions and prayer that will help us grow in the habit of acting with that virtue. Let’s each pick one virtue a term — or one each month — and intentionally practice it.
For example, if you find yourself more eager to speak than to listen to others, practice patience and humility by letting two or three people speak before you do. Or make the commitment that you’re going to invite everyone to speak at least once before you chime in a second time. When you fail, ask God for help. When you succeed, give thanks to God and ask God to help you make it a habit.
One helpful tool in this kind of endeavor is accountability. Perhaps we could share our desired virtue with a classmate or even a group within our class and share the ways that remembering our virtue has helped us respond in a more loving way to others or to situations.
Teachers, if it fits in your lesson plans, perhaps you can help students learn about the virtuous life, make choices, be consistent, and learn to share examples with others in helpful and appropriate ways.
What are the virtues I am talking about? Christian virtues! Traditionally the Church speaks of four Cardinal Virtues (prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance) that will help us develop the habits we need to grow in all natural virtues.
There are also three Theological Virtues (faith, hope, and love). These are graces given by God, but we can practice living into them and begging God in prayer for them.
We can also look to the Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5 for the kinds of Christian virtues that promote the vocation of the faithful. (Meekness anyone?) The fruits of the Holy Spirit from Galatians 5:22-23 may be ripe for our attention. The Church names 12 of these fruits: charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, and chastity (CCC 1832).
Christian virtues help us be the people God created us to be. They also help us to do good and make a positive difference in the world. The proper end of the virtuous life is the highest virtue and greatest good — love. Once obtained, Christian virtues help us to love God and neighbor. They are treasures of great value that, unless we lose them by ignoring them, are ours for eternity.
Welcome back to a new school year and a new beginning! We love you, so we want to focus most of all on who you are — a Child of God (and a little bit on what you can do with those amazing talents God has given you).
May God bless you with every good gift in this new school year.
Yours devotedly in the Lord,