Schoolhouse Rules and the New Testament

Roanoke Catholic School

Both our readings at Holy Mass today touch on “the Law.”

We might reasonably wonder whether or not the New Testament actually teaches us to obey the Law.  After all, St. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “You are separated from Christ, you who are trying to be justified by the Law.”  And we read in St. Luke’s gospel that “the Pharisees were amazed to see that Jesus did not observe the prescribed washing before the meal.”

Must we, then, follow the rules?  If we walk by pure faith, awaiting our blessed hope in Jesus, can we wear skirts above the knee?  Can we talk in class, even when we’re not supposed to?  Can we butt in line, as long as we believe in Jesus?

Here’s the thing.  We can read the New Testament from beginning to end, and nowhere does it say that the Ten Commandments are wrong.  The Law of God always demands our obedience.  And good school rules, laid down by good teachers and principals, serve a good purpose—namely, that everybody get a good education.

brunelleschi_crucifixSo: No talking when you’re not supposed to, no butting in line, and no short skirts.

But:  We can’t parade around like little Mr. or Miss Goody Two Shoes Pharisee, either.  Everyday we have to look at a crucifix and remember:  Our God and Savior died to save sinners.  He forgives sinners.

The Law of God demands a lot.  All of us fail sometimes.  When we admit the truth, God forgives.  Not only that, He gives us help from heaven so that we can do better.

If it were just us and The Rules, we would find ourselves hopelessly lost and alone.  That’s what St. Paul means when he writes that no one is justified by the Law.  But it’s not just us and The Rules.

God has a special plan for each of us, so that we can become exactly who He made us to be.  Each individual plan unfolds with its own unique beauty and glory.

He gave us His Law to help us find our way.  The Law is good.  But even better is the fact that He was willing to die so that we could always have a fresh start, no matter what.  A fresh start on the journey to becoming our true selves in Christ.

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Roanoke Catholic School 125th Anniversary Homily

Roanoke Catholic School

Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. (John 6:54)

I am not especially good at anything in particular. I do very much enjoy running.

My dear fifth- and sixth graders, I think I was your age when I discovered that I love running. My father ran a 10K, and there was a “Fun Run” for the kids. About a mile or so. I got it into my head that I would run the Fun Run. I remember feeling like I was going to vomit when it was over, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Now, at such a ripe young age of ten, the idea of trying to run a mile in less than five minutes never even entered my wee mind. It was when I was your age, dear eighth graders, that I first met the most demanding man I have ever known in my life. My high-school track coach.

The immortal Coach Oliver 'Skip' Grant
The immortal Coach Oliver ‘Skip’ Grant
The feeling that I was about to vomit …it happened again. A lot. Through many merciless workouts presided-over by Coach Grant.

Then, when I was your age, dear 10th graders, all the stars aligned. It was a crisp spring afternoon. I never owned a pair of racing spikes, but that day one of the seniors on the team had a new pair, so he lent me his old ones. Our meet was held at the school with the finest track in the conference. And I managed to run a mile in 4:56. I guess I have been basking in the quiet glory of that moment ever since.

My point is: I started in one place, a place where the idea of running a sub-five-minute mile didn’t even exist. Then Coach Grant kicked the butts of all his runners into the kind of shape that none of us had ever imagined we could be in. A whole new kind of accomplishment lay within my grasp. I had a new horizon. Thanks to workouts that seemed designed to kill, I managed to reach the goal.

Seems to me that this is what “education” is. We start in one place, where the world is hemmed-in and small, even though we might not even realize it. Then someone generous gives us exercises to do, which we do not want to do.

But, by doing them anyway, we wake up one day, and the world is bigger, wider, brighter, and more interesting. Not only that. Now, thanks to all the toilsome work I have done under the guidance of someone who wants to see me succeed, I actually have the mental and psychological strength to accomplish something beautiful and impressive in this grand world.

For 125 years, right here on this lovely little plateau, teachers have been giving homework. For 125 years, students have been saying to themselves, “I really do not feel like doing all this homework.” For 125 years, parents of Roanoke Catholic students have been hollering in the house, “Have you done your homework yet?” And for 125 years, students here have been getting smarter, and more creative, and more interesting, and more capable.

But that is not all. Sub-five-minute miles come and go. Truth is, all our successes in this world come and go. Smarter and more creative and more capable—all of these can be for the good, but they can also be for the bad.

There is yet another horizon.

little last supperLike I said, when I was 10, I didn’t even know what running a sub-five-minute mile meant. When I was 15, I ran one. When you’re 14, it feels like endless studying and tons of homework. When you’re 23, you realize it means that now you have some skills that you can use to make the world better. The whole time, while you’re a pilgrim on earth, you wonder, What’s the meaning of life? And Jesus Christ answers: Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will live forever.

There is yet another horizon of ‘education.’ And there is only one coach, only one teacher who can lead us to it, help us reach it, carry us there: Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus, Who says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice. Who says: Give, and more will be given to you. Who says: Whatever you do for the least of my brothers, you do for me. Who says: Repent of your sins, and believe.

This school rightfully takes pride in all of our success as an educational institution. We commit ourselves to upholding the high standards that have been set by all the Roanoke-Catholic students and teachers and parents and coaches and administrators and staff that have gone before us. This is a celebration of the horizons of success that have opened up in this world for all the people who have come together here to form this institution.

But, above all, we praise and bless and adore our Father in heaven, Who has made us His children in Christ. Roanoke Catholic School has a lot of impressive ambitions. But the most important of them all is: We want to give glory to our heavenly Father.

We say we believe that Christ feeds us with His very own Body and Blood from the altar. That’s the faith of the Catholic Church; that’s the faith of Roanoke Catholic School. The world might think we’re crazy for believing in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but we don’t care. We believe it anyway.

This isn’t just an excellent school with an illustrious 125-year history. This isn’t just a place of academic and extra-curricular success. This is a place where we meet Christ, the Son of God. This is a place where we learn from Him as His disciples, where we seek His mercy, and where we grow strong in spirit by feeding on His Body and Blood. We have a lot of grand horizons. But the most important one is: Eternal life with God.

Catholic-Schools-Week Homily

Why would we keep Catholic Schools Week at the end of January? After all, the school year certainly offers other, warmer weeks—when we might have a picnic, or a Catholic-Schools-Week cookout or pool party?

Well, there’s a reason…

Angela Merici holy cardWho’s the heavenly patron of all Catholic schools? St…. His feastday falls on January… (28th)

But: St. Thomas Aquinas is not the only heavenly patron of Catholic education with a feastday during the final week of January.

Whose feastday falls on January 31? Right! St. John Bosco, who went out into the streets to find boys who needed an education.

And whose feastday do we keep today, on the 475th anniversary of her holy death? St. Angela Merici. She went out into the streets to find girls who needed an education.

All three heavenly patrons of Catholic Schools Week believed that a good education starts with one thing, namely Jesus Christ.

In our gospel reading at Holy Mass, we hear the Lord Jesus insist that doing the will of God is the most important thing. And in the first reading, we hear St. Paul declare: The will of God is for us to be consecrated through Jesus’ offering of His Body for us.

So we can draw a straight line: Christ ———-> the saints of Catholic education ———-> us celebrating school Mass together.

When it’s cold and blustery outside during Catholic Schools Week, that reminds us that we belong in school. We belong inside, learning about Christ, and about the wonderful things that He has designed, and made, and made beautiful.

At Roanoke Catholic School, we count ourselves thoroughly blessed to have: 1. the constant help of God, 2. the grace of the sacraments, 3. the intercession of our patron saints, and 4. the love and help that we give each other.

We belong together in school. God Himself has united us in the truly worthwhile endeavor of seeking His Kingdom and growing into the people that He made us to be.

Pledge of the Christian Gentleman

Roanoke Catholic School

The young men of the sixth grade at Roanoke Catholic School and I chatted about some things (which you can read below, if you like) and then took this pledge:

Pledge of the Christian Gentleman

Calling all the saints in heaven as my witnesses, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph, I pledge to respect myself as a young man made in the image and likeness of the Creator.

I will honor all my classmates, especially the young women, who someday will be wives and mothers, like my mother. I will respect the young ladies I know in the same way that I would want my own mother to be respected.

I will strive daily to grow in genuine manliness, which means self-restraint, honesty, and, above all, kindness.

May God help me to grow up to be a man that a good woman would want to marry.

And may God guide and direct me, a Christian gentleman, to help build up His Kingdom of true love.

[…some prefatory remarks:]

Gentlemen, you have reached an age when we need to talk together about your growing up into manhood.

On tv, on the radio, on the computer: we are constantly besieged by suggestions that are beneath our dignity, beneath the dignity of Christian gentlemen.

One message we hear is: A real man is a ‘player,’ someone who can seduce a lot of women, who everyone admires for his ‘conquests.’

But, in fact, that is just a pathetic boy. He imagines he has a lot, but in fact he has nothing, because a good woman would never give him the time of day. His inner weakness shows itself by his outward rudeness and desperation.

Jesus_ChildOn the other hand, a real man has the inner strength to be gentle—a gentle man. This is the truly strong and powerful man. He has within himself the strength to keep his conversation, his friendships, and his actions pure. He does not injure others, does not drag them down to a dirty level. Instead, he lifts other people up. He inspires other people to believe in themselves, like he believes in himself.

How to be a gentleman? Simple. Share in the mind, and in the actions, of the original gentleman, Jesus Christ.

How many times did Jesus make sexual suggestions to a woman? Never. Let’s analyze this fact briefly.

Sex is not evil. To the contrary, sex is one of the most marvelous goods. It is where we all came from. [If Kirk and Ann White had not spent some serious time together in late September, 1969, the chapel would have been quieter when I was speaking, and this url would result in error 404.]

So Jesus did not avoid the subject because it is evil. He avoided it for one simple reason: Because His mission in life did not involve…marriage.

There is one way for a gentleman to bring up the subject of having sex with a woman. One. One simple question. A very dramatic, very beautiful, very courageous question. “Will you marry me?”

A gentleman introduces the subject of having sex with a woman by uttering this question, and in no other way.

You guys are…12? 11? 13? Now, you have to be at least 18 years old to propose marriage. And it’s probably better to wait until you are between 20 and 25. So you have at least six years before you have to bring up the subject of having sex with a woman. Six years until you can bring it up. In the meantime, don’t let such matters spoil your friendships. And let the good Lord unfold for you the beautiful future He has planned.

Let’s take the pledge of the Christian gentleman…

School Family

In the unlikely event that you would like to read my “Catholic Schools Week” homily, here it is:

Roanoke Catholic School

We rejoice to come together as a school family, celebrating our membership in the great family of God, the Church.

Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother. (Mark 3:35)

Jesus’ statement gives us the right to call ourselves a family. And to consider ourselves part of God’s family. We become members of that family by doing the one thing we are here together to do: the will of God. Roanoke Catholic School exists for one fundamental reason: to help us learn to do the will of God. That makes us a ‘school family,’ like nothing else ever could.

st-thomas-aqNow, St. Thomas Aquinas, heavenly patron of Catholic schools… A very quiet man. Did not talk a lot. He listened a lot. And, by listening all the time, and reading quietly, he became incredibly smart, and holy.

St. Thomas’ life teaches us that God’s will for us is, above all, to learn things. The more we learn, the more we will love God and each other. The more we know about God, and about all the wonderful creatures He has made, and all the kind deeds He has done—the more we learn about this endlessly fascinating world, His creation—the more full of holy love we will be. And our very love of the truth will bring us together and make us love each other as brothers and sisters more and better.

Our heavenly patron St. Thomas teaches that everything true and good leads us towards God. Every honest effort we make to learn something brings us one little step closer to heaven.

Pray for us, Angelic Doctor! Help us to stay on the path of truth. Help us to learn something true and beautiful every day, so that we can grow in love together as members of God’s family.

Serene Mountaintop Point-of-View

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. (Luke 10:41)

Anybody ever hiked up to the top of a mountain? Mill Mountain? McAfee Knob? Sharp Top? Dragon’s Tooth? Mount Rogers? Pike’s Peak? Mount Everest?

From the top of a mountain, everything down here looks small. Up on McAfee Knob, you can see down to here, where we are.* You can see the Wells Fargo Tower, and it looks like a little Lego. You can see planes taking off from the airport, and they look like model airplanes.

mcafee knob signNow: Who lived His life–from beginning to end–Who lived His life with the point-of-view of God?

He walked the earth, stood very close to us, as one of us human beings, but He saw everything just as God sees everything?

And, because He could see everything, as if from a mountaintop, He had perfect peace. He could see how everything fits together. He knew exactly what He needed to do, and He did it. Everthing else, He entrusted to His heavenly Father.

Who am I talking about?

He said to Martha: ‘Calm yourself, my child. Don’t fuss. Mary has chosen the better part. She has focused her gaze on Me. Her eyes are fixed on the one thing necessary, on the answer, on the key that unlocks the great mystery of life. Rest your soul in Me, and you will know what to do. And you will have the strength to do it.’

Anybody ever heard of the Serenity Prayer? What does ‘serenity’ mean? Right: interior peace, calm under pressure. The prayer says, ‘Lord, give me the courage to change the things I can for the better, the serenity to accept what I cannot change, and the wisdom to know the difference.’

There is one man Who can actually teach us to live this prayer out every day. And He will give us the graces to fulfill it. The King of true serenity, the man with God’s point-of-view: Jesus Christ.

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* Roanoke Catholic School!