This morning I want to speak about two subjects: education and suffering. The two are not necessarily related.
One month ago, on August 15th, our school year began. Since, as Einstein said, time is relative to the observer, to some that may seem like only yesterday. To others, it may seem like “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”
It has not been the easiest of beginnings. We have experienced tragedy, sickness, and other challenges. But we have begun. The traditional beginning of the academic year in Catholic schools is a Mass of the Holy Spirit. By “traditional” I mean that it has been a custom for over a thousand years. The first universities in Europe were founded in the 11th Century. They include the University of Paris in France, Oxford in England and St. Andrews in Scotland.
The original purpose of those universities was to educate the Catholic clergy. Likewise, the original purpose of the American universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Princeton was to educate the Protestant clergy. Religion has long been the reason for the establishment of schools throughout the world.
Today, there are over 42,000 Catholic high schools in the world. Here in the United States, there are over 1,200 Catholic high schools. We may be there only Catholic high school in Idaho, but we are not alone.
There are also 221 Catholic colleges and universities in the United States, including Notre Dame, Georgetown and Villanova.
It was just published in the U.S. News and World Report that Carroll College, a Catholic institution in Helena, Montana is the #1 Best College in the Western Region of the United States.
Why is the Church so dedicated to education? We do many other good things, but schools are a major focus of our resources. The first answer is because Jesus told us to do this. The very last words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew are “Go forth and teach all the nations…”
Over 60 times in the Gospels Jesus is called “Rabbi,” a Hebrew word which means “Teacher.” The word “disciples” comes from the Latin Word “discipuli” which means students.
After Jesus returned to the Father, he sent the Holy Spirit to continue handing down the teachings of Christ, generation after generation.
The Holy Spirit is the divine Person who gives gifts. Not material gifts – we can buy those ourselves – but spiritual gifts which are absolutely free.
These gifts of the Holy Spirit are limitless. Sometimes, there are formal, but limited, lists of the Spiritual gifts of God the Holy Spirit. Things like wisdom, courage, and understanding. But there are other gifts like friendship, love and curiosity. Anything that increases faith comes from God. We may not use them, we may not believe in them, but they are always there for the asking.
Then there is suffering. There’s no need to define that since everyone has experienced it. Some people have more than their share of suffering, but no one since the beginning of time has been immune from it.
The question why there is suffering has been discussed by theologians, philosophers and social scientists from time immemorial. Everyone knows there is suffering, but the reason for it has mostly escaped our comprehension. Life is not unreasonable.
The main question is how do we deal with suffering. The answer is with those gifts of the Holy Spirit; gifts like courage, hope and endurance.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church is one summery among many of the Church’s teachings. But it only has one short paragraph on human suffering.
We know that Jesus suffered on the cross to redeem the world. But as St. Paul says, our sufferings make up for what is lacking in sufferings of Christ. This echoes what Jesus taught his students: “Pick up your cross daily and follow me.” When we suffer, we are helping to redeem the world.
Today is the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, also called our lady of Tears. Like any parent, Mary shed a lot of tears during the lifetime of her child.
We began this academic year in some measure of sorrow. Over the next 8 months, we have much more to learn. All of us. Teachers learn as much from their students as the other way around. Let us continue to teach one another, learn from one another and comfort one another in love and friendship.