Homily for Orlando Diocese’s Catholic Teachers

OMNI ROSEN CENTRE, Aug 26, 2003

In today’s gospel, Jesus has some harsh words for the teachers of his day – the scribes and the Pharisees. “Blind guides”, he called them. However, if he were here today, I am sure that he would say: “Present company excepted”. Let’s hope so anyway.

While this passage is not an easy one to preach on, it does show us that Jesus was no shrinking violet. He could and did speak the truth to power. We can also see why “the powers that were” opposed him – for what was certainly good news for the poor, the blind, and the prisoner sounded like bad news to them.

I believe it was Karl Barth – a Protestant theologian of some note – who would conclude his readings of the scripture with these words: “We have just heard the Word of God, now we must place ourselves under its judgment.” In other words, we must ask ourselves: Is it good news or bad news for us.

The scribes and the Pharisees remind me of that mischievous kid who had so exasperated his mother’s patience that she shouted at him: “Johnny, you’re a good-for-nothing.” And he with a twinkle in his eye answered: “I am so good far something – I good for being a “bad example”. So today, we have the scribes and the Pharisees – teachers of their day – serving for us as “bad examples” – they show us what not to do.

Our culture today in the US is not a little bit anti-authoritarian. And this goes beyond the recent failures of leaders whether in Church, business or politics. It goes back even beyond the 60’s when I and others my age would say: Trust nobody over 30. It’s one of the signs of the time that people don’t do what we tell them to do just because we tell them to do it.

Pope Paul VI sensed this and when he wrote Evangelio Anunciantis, he said that people today look not so much to teachers as they look to witnesses. It is witness that convinces not words.

As Catholic teachers we count on you to teach the Faith – but given the reality of our times, we’re not going to be good teachers if we are not good witnesses. Our children today won’t follow “blind guides”. But they will follow witnesses.

Statistics tell us how fractured the families of our children are. Even Catholic School children are increasingly coming from broken homes. We can only marvel at the sacrifice that single parents make. And, to be sure, it is not easy even for intact families with both parents working to pay for the increasing costs of educating their children in Catholic schools in a nation that refuses to acknowledge the value of faith based education by subsidizing religious schools or by at least allowing tax credits for parochial school education. Even secular France has a more enlightened policy towards its Catholic schools.

Nevertheless, parents still come to us and willingly sacrifice to provide their kids with a Catholic education – an education supported by your teaching – and, very importantly, by your witness. In the name of Bishop Dorsey, I thank you for what you do. And I thank you for your sacrifices as well. For we know that you could be making more money elsewhere than by teaching in a Catholic school.

The best thing about our schools – and what makes your sacrifice and the parents’ sacrifice worthwhile – is that we can teach from within a particular understand of the human person. We know that he is created in the image and likeness of God. And because of this particular understanding, we can teach values – and again, more importantly, we can teach virtue.

This goes beyond what is sometimes called teaching “self-esteem” to kids. I personally think all this attention about kids’ “self-esteem” is a lot of hooey. It’s all well and good, I guess, that a kid feels good about himself – but, without teaching values and virtues, you can end up raising an “ax-murderer” who has “great self-esteem” and no remorse for what he has done.

In teaching virtue, we teach that is more important to do good than just feel good. Feeling good should not be anybody’s goal in life. One should strive to do good – and that sometimes – truth be told – that always means, sacrifice, effort, suffering – but if we do good, then good feelings may follow – as the side effect but not the goal of our action. You know, its like the football coach – he does get the kids to practice, to sweat, to train just because he tells them that it feels good – they don’t train to feel good but to win.

Now one good thing we do is to go to Mass on Sunday – in fact, it is the least we can do in returning to the Lord what he has given us. And this is one thing that it is important that we teach our kids – about going to Mass on Sunday – and to go even when they don’t necessarily feel like going or when they feel like doing something else.

In this I would hope that you as Catholic teachers also are witnesses. I think that on Monday morning you discussing your participation at Mass, the importance that you give it, etc. will help set the benchmark for the kids and through the children the parents. And we know that most of these kids that are looking at us on Monday morning were not in Church on Sunday. But again, it’s important to remember that the sacrifices we and their parents are making are not just to get these kids into Vassar, or Harvard, or Princeton. We are trying to educate them to make a gift of themselves – to God and to a future family.

I remember when my uncle Vinny had just become the proud parent of his only son, little Vinny, he had a terrible car accident. He had a flat tire and when he went to the rear of the car to get the spare and drunk driver reared him and in the accident he lost both legs below the knee. Thanks to prompt medical service he survived and quickly learned to walk again with two prostheses and a cane. He walked pretty well – but with a limp. When little Vinny became a toddler, his mother my aunt became very worried. She feared that he had contracted polio or some other disease – because he wasn’t walking straight. After many tests, x-rays, etc. one day instead of my aunt, my uncle took the boy to the doctor and he immediately diagnosed the problem. You see, we talk about God being all powerful, almighty – but for a little kid, the people he sees as all powerful and almighty are his parents – and his teachers. The boy limped because his father did. He wanted to be like his daddy. He did as he saw.

All of us have to make sure we walk in such a way that we model for the children entrusted to our care a straight path to the Lord.