By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, November 8, 2010

Catholic Education Sunday 2010

Yesterday morning many of us benefited from an extra hour of sleep. We have reached that point in the calendar when we turn the clock back one hour to return to standard time. I mention this because on that same day we marked Catholic Education Sunday, and this image of the clock, turning it either back or forward, can serve as a helpful analogy to appreciate the great gift and opportunity that Catholic education is in the province of Alberta.

In one dimension of Catholic education there can be no thought of turning back the clock at all. We need to think only of technological advances in the fields of computers and communications, where change is happening so rapidly. Our children catch on to these far more quickly and easily than people of my generation and older, and they have become essential to providing education in our day. In this area Catholic schools are not distinguished from their public counterparts. In either system there can be no turning back of the clock when it comes to educational methods and tools.

However, if we continue to use the clock analogy we become aware of other very significant ways in which Catholic education is distinct and where its blessing stands forth clearly. When it comes to the purpose of Catholic education, the clock stands still. At the heart of all that happens in our Catholic schools is something timeless that never changes. Rather, I should say some One who never changes: Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and forever (cf. Hebrews 13:8). Catholic education seeks not only to teach the child but also to form the child to be a lifelong disciple of the Lord. The faith of the Church permeates all learning and all activity in the school so as to lead the student to a living and life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ. Technologies may change, methods may advance, but the purpose that unites all our efforts never does. On this point the clock moves neither backward or forward. The right moment to meet the Lord and to be renewed in him is always now.

Yet as we meet the Lord in the present we are inevitably pointed toward the future. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life (cf. John 14:6), the One who alone leads us to an endless future, to heaven. This is the point of the Scripture readings for this Mass. Long ago the brothers Maccabee were united in their conviction of a resurrection to new life after death. This strengthened them to confess their faith even in the face of death (cf. 2Maccabees 7:1-2, 7, 9-14). In the Gospel Jesus confirms that there is life after death (cf. Luke 20:27-38). Of course, he does so not only by his particular teaching in this Gospel passage but also and above all by his own rising from the dead. Therefore, if Catholic education is an environment where the Lord is sought and encountered, then it must be a place where the clock is turned forward. Catholic education must point the student toward his or her eternal destiny and show them the path that leads to its fulfilment. In our Catholic schools we prepare our students for a happy and productive life in this world, certainly; but we also, and even more importantly, prepare them for eternal life, by leading them to Jesus and forming them for a life of holiness.

Catholic education is distinctive. It is a great treasure. I grew up in a province that did not at the time have a separate faith-based educational system. In such an environment it is very difficult to hand on the faith, especially in our day. In this province we have Catholic education, and because we have had it for so long the danger is to take it for granted. We must never yield to this temptation. To preserve and strengthen this gift we must be ever appreciative of its beauty and always vigilant against anything which might weaken or even threaten it.