The faith-family here in Sheridan gathered for Mass today to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their Catholic School. This Sunday, the Church begins a week of celebrating Catholic Education.
When I think of the goal of Catholic Schools, I think of the story of Michelangelo while he was carving his famous statue of the pieta. As he began chiseling this beautiful image of the Blessed Mother holding the lifeless body of her Son, Jesus, a small by from the neighborhood would walk by his work shop every day. The boy kept track of the artist’s work, with great curiosity. Finally, after weeks and months of steady progress, the boy walked by as Michelangelo was buffing out the final details of the masterpiece.
Fascinated at the end product, the boy walked up to Michelangelo and asked: “Mister, may I ask you a question?” Michelangelo said “Sure, what is it?” The boy replied: “How did you know that was in there?”
That is Catholic Education! We recognize the potential of every child, and we recognize the greatest way to bring that potential to its fullness is to introduce them to Christ and His Gospel. Christ, after all, is the Master Craftsman. In many ways, Catholic education is all about Conversion. Catholic education is a mini-version of the life-long pilgrimage of faith, of every believer becoming more and more like Christ.
All Christian life begins with the encounter with Christ. Christian life is about following Christ. Our life reaches its fullest potential when we acknowledge Christ as the Master Craftsman, and submit to His loving embrace, and the desire He has to free us from the things that disfigure His image within us.
Do we come to every Eucharist longing for Christ? When we come to Sunday Mass, are we aware that Christ is praying for us?! within us?! This presence and action of Christ within us and within the praying assembly is more important than our prayer, as important as that component is.
Do we come to the Eucharist prepared for Conversion? Christ wants to take away all behaviors, attitudes, and values that are not consistent with His. This is why the Prophet Isaiah says in today’s first reading (and is repeated again in today’s Gospel from Matthew): “People sitting in darkness have seen a great light.” Christ is that Light. As Christ brings His light to each of us individually, we are to then be that Light in the darkness of our world.
The Book of Deuteronomy (Chapter 18) also says: “When you come into the land the LORD has given you, you shall no learn to imitate the abominations of the people living there.” For believers of our day, that means we are to work to influence the culture around us by our practice and witness of faith. Our life is a continual process of conversion to the person and teachings of Jesus. These are the values, attitudes and behaviors we are to bring to the culture and society in which we live.
Part of this process of Christian conversion means also being on guard that we not take on the beliefs and practices of the world around us that disregard or even oppose the teachings of Jesus. It also requires great humility. Living our faith does not make us better than others. We cannot become arrogant or self-righteous. We are always sinners, but we are also redeemed, and called to continually walk with Christ.
Jesus was often taken to task because He ate and drank with sinners. Of course He did. What other options did He have other than to eat alone?! In every Eucharistic celebration the same dynamic is replayed, Christ sitting down with sinners, to heal, nourish, strength, and sanctify us.
This is where the joy and enthusiasm of faith is discovered. As the Prophet Isaiah reminds us again today, Christ “brings abundant joy and great rejoicing.” When we live for Jesus, we know this joy.
Where is our joy and enthusiasm for the faith?
Are we satisfied with Jesus, alone? Because, if we are not, we will never discover true joy, because the things of this world can and will never fully satisfy the human heart. I believe this is why there is so much violence and sadness in our world today, because we are living according to such worldly ways and values. Such worldly ways lead to an apathy of faith, and such apathy leads to a pathetic faith.
Yes, in this life, we will always live in the world, and there will always be trials and difficulties. But such trials cannot deny us joy if we recognize the abiding presence of Jesus. In the Gospel today, Jesus invites Peter and Andrew, James and John to follow Him. They did not believe in Him as the Son of God immediately. It was only in accompanying Him, listening to Him, watching Him that they came to believe. And so with us…
We are not alone. Christ is always with us. Christ is our Light, our Refuge, our Salvation. Let us follow the example of Peter, Andrew, James and John, and follow Jesus. Remain with Jesus. Be converted entirely to Jesus. Then, we will be fully equipped to live joyfully in the midst of the world, with a vibrant faith as credible witnesses to Christ!