My dear sisters
and brothers in Christ,
How quickly the summer months pass and rather soon our children and young people will be returning to school. When contemplating the formation and education of our youth, we cannot but be so deeply troubled about the violence that has become a regular part of our culture. In our streets, neighborhoods, towns, cities and states, nation and world, our young people observe violent actions as the solution to problems and daily occurrences of war both near and far. Still another tragic lesson being taught is that human life is disposable. Quickly eroding is the fundamental principle that all human life is sacred and we are created in the image and likeness of God. Although there is a great diversity among people, our greatest identity, our true source of joy, is that we are a daughter, a son of God; we are His children and we belong to the family of God.
Jesus, the First Teacher, so close to His death continued to teach. At the Last Supper, the One rightly called Lord, Master and Teacher, put on the apron of service and washed the feet of His disciples and told them to do likewise in fulfilling the apostolic commission. This act is the culmination of His many lessons captured in His words: "I give you a new commandment: love one another. Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other" (John 13:34). It also was at Golgotha that Jesus’ lessons on forgiveness shone brilliantly in the midst of the darkness of Good Friday. Nailed to the cross, Jesus looked down upon His captors and then prayed to His Heavenly Father: "Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
The lessons taught to our children are incomplete without the lessons of Jesus. Without the message of the Gospel, we deprive our children of what they truly need to navigate their way in the world and to become positive and hopeful leaders in the Church and in society. Our Catholic schools and parish religious education and formation programs are essential components of our diocesan ministry to teach as Jesus taught. In these places our children are expected to come to know and to love Jesus and to embrace the Christian life that He reveals in Holy Scripture. As all education is in pursuit of the truth, so religious education pursues the ultimate Truth, the living Truth, Jesus Christ. In Him, love and truth are united and from this union mercy and justice are born. Jesus Christ became the standard by which we judge our own lives in order to achieve, in His words, the goal of all academic endeavors: "In a word, you must be made perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). I am deeply grateful to the administration, the teachers and staff of our Catholic schools and religious education and formation programs for their dedication to this vital apostolate of the Church.
But education reaches beyond the boundaries of our schools and parishes. At the baptism of their children, parents are reminded that they are to be the first and the best of teachers for their children in the ways of the Christian life. Our schools and religious education programs strive to be a great support to our families, but they cannot replace the needed positive influence of families that embrace the faith, where prayer is a part of everyday family activities and weekly attendance at Holy Mass is a regular practice. Indeed, the education of our children is a cooperative effort on the part of parents, schools, parishes and religious education programs.
In his poem, "A Psalm of Life," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow writes:
"Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul."
Like us all, our children have an eternal destiny, life with God forever! But one’s relationship with God begins in the here and now. Education is a principle vehicle for developing this relationship with the Lord.
With gratitude for the gift of our children and invoking the Lord’s blessings upon them, I remain
Devotedly yours in Christ,
The Most Reverend
Salvatore R. Matano
Bishop of Rochester