Diocesan Teachers Institute – September 23, 2019
Ezra 1:1-6; Luke 8:16-18

Today’s gospel passage from Saint Luke which the Church provides for our consideration and reflection on this Monday of the 25th Week of the Church year seems tailor made for today’s gathering.  …  It’s challenging.  It’s encouraging.  And it’s hope-filled.  …  “No one who lights a lamp conceals it with a vessel or sets it under a bed; rather, he places it on a lampstand so that those who enter may see the light!”  …  Light – a pretty significant image, isn’t it?  So significant, in fact, that it’s recounted in similar ways in both Saint Mark’s and Saint Matthew’s gospels.

Yet, at the heart of the image, particularly as it’s conveyed in Saint Luke’s version today, is the demanding reality of Christian discipleship.  Let’s put Jesus’ words in context.

Just prior to this portion of Luke’s gospel, we hear the parable of the sower that puts today’s passage in perspective.  …  A sower who went out to sow seeds – seeds of faith.  Some seeds fell on rocky soil that prevented their growth.  Some fell amid weeds that grew up and choked them.  And some seeds fell on fertile soil that enabled them to grow.

The point of today’s gospel passage then is as simple as it is profound.  Care for the gift of faith.  …  Nurture it.  …  Protect it.  …  And understand that for the gift of faith to flourish, there is a need to act on it – to give our faith a life, a voice and a heart!  In fact, in the few verses immediately following today’s passage, Jesus’ mother and family approach him in the midst of a crowd and he’s informed that they wish to see him.  Jesus’ response:  “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.”

Translated:  “Let your light – your faith – shine brightly for all to see and for all to experience.

What a great opportunity we are all given today – and especially you, our teachers and administrators – through our participation in the life-giving, gospel mission of nurturing faith in and through the Catholic School system of this local Church.

Last year when we gathered, we did so in the midst of a yearlong celebration commemorating the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Diocese of Scranton.  You might recall that in reflecting upon the history of this Diocese, it quickly becomes clear that we could never effectively tell our story as a Church without telling the story of our Catholic schools – established and built in their earliest years by women religious from various congregations who journeyed to unknown and undeveloped regions of northeastern and north central Pennsylvania to serve the mission of the Church.

Today, we give thanks for the countless numbers of women religious and lay women and men who laid the wonderful foundation for Catholic schools upon which we are so privileged to stand today.  Our vision for our schools has necessarily evolved over the years.  Today, I’m excited to say that it has begun to take particular shape and form as we navigate the challenging yet exciting waters of the 21st century with its explosion of knowledge and opportunity.  But we are able to look to the future with hope only because of dedicated educators like you who see themselves first as disciples of Jesus – believers committed to the mission of the Gospel, who are willing to not only teach about Catholic faith, but to model it and to live it out in service of our brothers and sisters – especially our children.

A few years ago, I read a story in a magazine written by a teacher who learned a significant life lesson from a student in the school where he taught.

“Between classes one day in the schoolyard, a group of high school students had circled a mentally disabled boy and were pitching their spare change at him, taunting him and calling him all kinds of names.  Unaware that he was the object of their scorn and ridicule, he happily picked up the change that ricocheted off him and put it in his pocket. 

By the time I got to the scene, the circle was between five and six students deep.  As I attempted to break through and stop the spectacle, a 15-year-old girl beat me to it.  She forcefully broke through the circle, put her arm around the boy, and led him out, ignoring the transference of hostility that was now aimed at her. 

Such an immediate response to cruelty and human need has caused that 15 year old girl to remain in my mind – probably – hopefully – forever as one of the greatest heroes I have ever known.”

Could such a story happen in a school other than a Catholic one?  Sure.  In fact, it did.  …  The difference is that it should happen in a Catholic school.  …  And it will happen – when you continue to model and live out your faith on behalf of the lives that are woven into your own.  …  It will happen through your ongoing commitment to excellence – academically, socially and spiritually – on behalf of our children and the young men and women who are served by our Catholic School system.

Thank you for your willingness to embrace this moment and to serve the lives God gives to your care.  May God give you the grace to allow yourselves to be used as his instruments and the wisdom to turn to him for help in the midst of the mission that you’ve embraced.  In so doing, your light will shine brightly as a reminder of who you are as disciples of the Lord and as a beacon of hope for every young person whose life encounters yours.

God bless you and thank you!