I have a tremendous respect for parents. They have to balance their own calendars, perhaps the calendar of their spouse, and their children. They are usually much busier than I am!
They definitely have a very difficult job, I think, one of the most difficult. Not only do they have to keep their lives organized, they have to raise their children to become saints when the world, the flesh, and the devil are against them. That’s a tall order! No wonder they agonize about and often face failure!
So they turn to you, the staff, faculty, and especially teachers of St Benedict’s Catholic School and Maur Hill Mount Academy, to help them. And you too enter into that battle against the world, the flesh, and the devil, for the sake of the young souls placed in your care.
The Gospel today places before you a very important question. In the answer to this question lies the solution to winning this battle. “Who do you say that I am?”
If we don’t get the answer right, we won’t be able to pursue virtue, overcome vice, and become saints. And we must teach our students to answer this question. We even have the example of St. Peter, whose first answer was correct—perhaps a good textbook answer—but it didn’t go deep enough in his heart.
Our students will give us textbook answers: Jesus loves me. Jesus is my friend. Jesus saves me.
All fine and good, but do they believe it? Do they live as if they believed it?
We have to challenge them to do so, all the way from kindergarten to the threshold of college life where they are thrust into the world and have to face battles all by themselves.
Are they prepared for that?
I suppose in this is a challenge for you first: who is Jesus Christ for you?
You can’t give what you don’t have, so you can’t teach the answer to this question if you don’t have the right answer for yourself first. And don’t think for a moment that I’m only talking about religion class.
Whatever subject you teach or sport you coach, you have to answer this question for yourself and challenge your student to answer it for him or herself, so that he or she could grow up to be saints.
Take, for example, the witness of St. Dominic.
At the age of 24 he traveled with his bishop Diego de Azevedo on a mission to Denmark, a trip that took them through southern France. There they encountered a world that had gotten the answer to the question “Who do you say that I am” wrong. They came face to face with three heresies, the Albigensian, Catharist, and Waldensian heresies. These heretics had strange ideas about the Catholic faith and the human person.
For them, the universe was a battleground between good, which was spirit, and evil, which was matter. Human beings were believed to be spirits trapped in physical bodies. And so St. Dominic and his bishop immediately began a campaign of preaching the truth. When the bishop died, St. Dominic took up the cause and began what would eventually be called the Order of Preachers.
As you strive to answer this question and work in the vineyard of the Lord, keep the example of this saint before you. The temptations today that our young people face are materialism, secularism, relativism, and religious indifference. The world’s answer to the question “Who do you say that I am” is simply “I don’t care.”
We must help to see that the answer is relevant to their lives and that there is a Savior who desires to encounter them and give them an experience of freedom that they have never felt. The way we do this is by preaching the truth to them in the context of relationships, of getting to know them and walking with them, helping them to see a better way.
You are the missionaries, the mendicants of the world, meant to accompany the young people and share with them the joy of the Gospel. You are the ones alongside the parents to show their children the way to sanctity.
When we place the gifts of bread and wine on the altar, I ask that you place this year on the altar as well, offering it at this Mass.
Let us pray for safety and protection for our students and staff, calling on our Blessed Mother to shelter them under her mantle of protection, so that they and we may be good servants of the Lord.