We’re back to school.
Catholic elementary schools and high schools all over the Archdiocese of Los Angeles started classes recently, and religious education programs are gearing up again in our parishes following the summer break.
Students are also heading back to class at our Catholic colleges and universities. As I write, I’m looking forward to celebrating Masses with our seminarians to open the new school year at both St. John’s Seminary and Queen of Angels Center for Priestly Formation.
Catholic education is alive and well in Los Angeles.
All told, we serve more than 165,000 young people in our parishes and schools at every level. Our Catholic schools are the largest provider of faith-based education in the country, serving more than 68,000 students in kindergarten to grade 12, and enrollment is up again as we start the 2022-23 school year.
Of course, Catholic education is about more than numbers. Each of these students has a soul and a story all their own. These souls are entrusted to us to nurture and develop their God-given gifts and discover the purpose of their lives and God’s plan for them.
Since the pandemic, which caused such disruption in our country over the past two years, especially for schools and young people, we are witnessing a new conversation around education.
At every level, from the university to high school and elementary schools, parents, teachers, administrators, and political leaders are questioning: What is the purpose of education; what should be taught in the classroom; and how should we measure educational “outcomes”? In other words, what does it mean to be an educated young man or woman? These are important questions, and they reflect broader anxieties about the health of our young people, and also about the direction of our society.
For the Church, educating young people remains central to the mission entrusted to us by Jesus: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
Catholic education is always seen in light of Christ’s call to evangelize and make disciples. We are here to teach and to witness, and the two always belong together. As St. Peter said, we are a people called to declare the wonderful deeds of God.
The truths that Jesus taught do not belong only to our subjective, private lives. These truths are meant to change our hearts, but they are also given to inform and guide our common life; Jesus wants his teaching to shape society and the world, and the order of history.
We can gain knowledge of the whole world, learn all the secrets of the physical universe, the genetic sequence of the human body, but if we do not know God and God’s purposes, we are lost.
In fact, we see that every day in our world, the deep “disconnect” between our technological and scientific expertise and our moral and ethical capacities. We have the power to do many things. What we lack is the judgment about whether we ought to do these things.
What Jesus commanded, the truths that he revealed, make it possible for us to lead a fully human life.
Catholic education aims to communicate all these truths, which we can know by faith and reason: the truths about who we are, how we are made, and what we are made for; the truths about where we come from, and where we are going.
These truths include the knowledge of the sciences and history, theology, morality, and the arts.
We want our students to learn what they need to know to have a career. But we also want to lead our students to wisdom.
Wisdom means knowing how to live in the world, and what to live for, and why. It means being masters of our freedom, being able to control our thoughts and actions; it is a training in our desires, so that we want what is true, good, and beautiful. It means living with love, and a sense of wonder and gratitude for the gift of creation.
Education and evangelization meet in the encounter with Jesus Christ. In the Gospels, he is called Teacher. Everything we do in the classroom should be to open the hearts of our young people to know that he is the way, the truth, and the life.
Pray for me and I will pray for you.
And let us ask Holy Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, to help us in the beautiful task of preparing our young people to live as children of God, made in his image, and called to follow her Son, and to continue his mission.