By David Cooley.
The beginning of a new school year is both exciting and overwhelming. There is so much to do, and when there is so much to do it becomes even more important for us to focus on what really matters.
The mission of the Catholic Church is to form disciples for Jesus Christ and our Catholic schools, more than any other system in place, provide a privileged way for countless young people to encounter the Lord. What a tremendous, awesome responsibility we all have!
Catholic schools don’t exist to form engineers, mathematicians, lawyers, athletes, artists, or even good citizens—although those are some positive outcomes for students. Catholic schools exist for nothing less than to create saints.
And what are saints? Simply put, saints are heroes who live virtuous lives in a challenging world despite all the obstacles.
How can Catholic schools, practically speaking, approach such a huge undertaking as forming saints and changing the world? The answer couldn’t be clearer — by primarily focusing on heroic Christian virtues!
No matter where we are, or whether we are teachers or students, principals or parents, coaches, or guidance counselors, the four cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice, and the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity must always be on the forefront of our minds.
Perhaps, these days, we hear a lot about faith, hope, and charity, but not so much about prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. These four Christian virtues have the power to change any atmosphere.
Prudence helps us to recognize our limits but also to discover the concrete means of putting our faith into action. Sometimes when we start something new, we take on too much at first and get burned out too quickly. If we get our priorities straight, center on prayer, and put God first in our lives, everything else should fall into place. Prudence is the virtue that will help us slow down and recognize our need for prayer and the sacred.
Temperance is so important today, for example, when it comes to our relationship with technology. The technology that exists today gives us a lot of power and leaves us with numerous distractions. It also provides a temptation to focus more and more on ourselves and to be less attentive to others. Unfortunately, Technology seems to be taking over many lives and leaving people, especially children, feeling empty and sad.
Temperance, while helping us seek excellence in enjoyable things, calls us to a moderation that protects our interior life and opens a way to contemplation. Today’s world tells us that all suffering must be avoided at all costs, but when pleasures and possessions become an end to themselves, they become idols that turn us away from God. We must limit our wants as best we can and teach young people to do the same. We could all spend a little more time (or a lot more time) in Eucharistic adoration.
Fortitude — Christian Bravery — is so important and will, ultimately, bring people back to God. We must not be afraid to preach and live the Gospel every day. Students in Catholic schools must learn to be the salt of the earth and a sign of contradiction for the world — the Lord did not ask us to avoid having enemies, just to love them. We need less “cool kids”, “influencers”, and “bullies”, and more Christian heroes who stand up for what is good, true, and beautiful.
Founded on their faith in God, students must have the courage to confront the contemptuous laughter and ridicule of those that conform to the ways of the world. They should learn through the examples of their parents and teachers to be brave witnesses, filled with joy and love for the Lord. The strength of Catholics comes from the truth of Christ. We have nothing to be afraid or ashamed of.
Finally, when we talk about justice, first and foremost, we must recognize that it is right and just to worship God, to love Him with all our hearts, all our minds, and all our strength. Gratitude for our lives, and the blessings in our lives, is the first step in seeking justice. From there we begin to understand what we have been given and what it means to give others—made in the image and likeness of God—their due. We also must come to the realization that not passing on our faith is unjust to others. If we keep the Gospel from those we love, we are doing them a great disservice. We cannot let our own shortcomings and ignorance prevent us from passing on what is ideal.
These are just a few short reflections that barely begin to scratch the surface of the importance of Christian virtues that can serve as a springboard for a blessed school year. Even as the world gets more complicated and confusing, the answers lie in the constant wisdom of the ages. Students at Catholic schools must be formed to see the world through the eyes of faith. They must be strengthened by the sacraments.
As the world continues to organize itself more and more against God, our Catholic school communities must not be content to just make a little room for Him on the calendar but determine to place Him at the center of everything. That is how others will come to recognize what it is that makes Catholic schools so different, and they will desperately want to be a part of it. Let us be ready to open the doors because we can never have too many saints!