The last dog days of summer are here. It means many things, including that school is about to begin or has already begun.
Sure, it was great to play baseball and soccer, maybe do a bit of fishing in the sun, but there is something about the school year that sets a tone. It establishes a rhythm and a schedule for all of us even while it accompanies so many other activities and meetings.
At this time of year, my thoughts and prayers are drawn to our Catholic schools and to our religious education programs. Their existence is very important and in many ways they serve as an anchor for our parishes and for the evangelization of our young people.
In the Diocese of Rockford, we have 40 parish grade schools as well as six diocesan high schools and two private Catholic high schools. And virtually every one of our 106 parishes has a religious education program.
Those numbers alone show the commitment of the Church and of you, the faithful, to pass on the treasure of Catholic education. And of course they are backed up by the very generous financial commitment of parishes and families.
We all recognize that one of the great resources of our Catholic education is personal commitment of time, energy and experience given by our teachers, principals and staff. For many of them, their contributions to Catholic education are not just a job but a means of evangelizing and of living out their faith.
Please remember to pray for them, to thank them and to support them as the new school year begins. We couldn’t succeed without them.
At the beginning of a new year, it is common to highlight special priorities, points of emphasis that should stand out in the midst of a wide commitment to excellence.
I would suggest two priorities for us, priorities that actually stand out each and every school year. They are the imparting of our Catholic faith and identity to our students, and the safety of our young people.
Defining the Catholic identity that we must impart to our young people through Catholic education is not simple. In an age of compromise in so many areas, it is easy to compromise with our faith as well.
This past Sunday at the Angelus prayer, Pope Francis talked about the depth of the choice we need to teach to our young people. He spoke about the temptation to use faith as a decoration for life, like a colorful frosting as the final outside addition to the cake, as he put it. But he said faith must be more.
God must be the basic decision for every choice in life. That means that God cannot be just an idea or an abstraction. It is God to whom we and our young people must offer our whole selves.
That kind of faith will require sacrifices. This is that element of formation that completely distinguishes Catholic education from any other public or private formation. It is this that we and especially our Catholic parents must desire and sacrifice the most for our young people.
The second priority is one that flows from our sad and recent experience in the Catholic Church. We must continue to do everything to ensure the safety of our young people, especially from abuse by adults.
Great efforts are still being made so that all priests, deacons, teachers, parents and volunteers are trained to recognize dangers and to promote a safe environment. The Diocese of Rockford continues to comply with the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and to benefit from the advice of a review board comprised of lay faithful, priests and religious.
As school begins again, we see loads of young people, often in uniforms and backpacks, heading to and from school. Keep them in your prayers please. We are starting another round of that process whose final goal for them is not just graduation, but eternal life in Christ.