It’s back-to-school time, a great time of year.

I know many of you have been getting ready for the new school year with your kids and grandchildren. All of the archdiocese, confirmation and religious education programs are starting up again in our parishes.

I’ve been sharing in some of your excitement. As you know, last week we kicked off the 75th anniversary year for St. John’s Seminary, and the new school year has begun at Juan Diego House.

I had the honor recently to celebrate the 100th anniversaries of two of our elementary schools — Mary Star of the Sea in San Pedro and Our Lady of Lourdes in East Los Angeles — and also the 50th anniversary of La Reina High School in Thousand Oaks.

And this past Sunday at the Cathedral, I had the joy of commissioning new catechists for our parish religious education programs.

So this promises to be a bright new year at all levels of our Catholic education system.

Catholic education is vital to the Church’s identity and mission here in Los Angeles. As you know, one of our five pastoral priorities in the Archdiocese is educating and forming Catholics for deeper knowledge and more intense and prayerful living of their Catholic faith.

As many of you know, we have about 80,000 children in our Catholic elementary school and high schools. That makes us one of the largest school systems, public or private, in the state of California.

We run these schools, as a labor of love and sacrifice, because we believe that every child deserves the chance to grow up to his or her own God-given potential.

For us that means providing high-quality education that gives kids the skills and knowledge they need to make a difference in our communities and in our world.

Catholic education means all that but also much more. Because we are not only preparing our young people to go to college and to get jobs. We’re preparing young people to live as children of God and people of faith.

For that, it’s not enough to have “book smarts.” We need the capacity for God — the capacity to know God and the desire to respond to his calling in our lives.

So we want our young people to know Jesus, to have a relationship with him that is growing throughout their lives. Growing through prayer, through liturgy and the Sacraments, through reading the Gospels, through knowledge of the Catholic faith and love for the Catholic tradition.

We want our young men and women to grow and mature as people of virtue and service.

We want them to know that God is present and close to them. We want our young people to be comfortable with God — comfortable talking to him in prayer and listening to what he is saying in their daily lives.

Through our religious education programs — both in our schools and in our parishes — we are laying the foundations for this life-long relationship with Christ.

I am grateful for the dedication of our catechists, teachers, administrators, benefactors and all those who make these programs possible.

We need to remember that education in the faith is a lifelong adventure. It begins when we are young and continues throughout our lives. Our religious education won’t end until we take our final breath.

Religious education for adults means always growing and strengthening our living relationship with Jesus Christ. It means making the solid rock of that relationship the foundation for our lives.

In the weeks ahead, our Office of Religious Education will be sponsoring special congresses in each of our pastoral regions, beginning this Saturday in the San Fernando Region.

These are great opportunities for you to grow deeper in your knowledge of the faith through workshops, prayer and building friendships. I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities.

It’s never too late to learn our faith better and to get involved in the Church’s mission of education. 

So let’s keep praying for one another this week. We need prayers, all of us!

Let’s pray in a special way this week for a greater desire to know our faith and to live it. To really see the beauty of God’s creation and the sanctity of all life — and to bear witness to that through serving society and serving our neighbors.

And may our Blessed Mother Mary help us to keep growing in our knowledge of the faith and our love for Jesus Christ.

Archbishop Gomez is the author of “Men of Brave Heart: The Virtue of Courage in the Priestly Life” (Our Sunday Visitor, 2009) and “Hombres de corazón valiente: La virtud de la fortaleza en la vida sacerdotal” (Spanish Edition).