“We don’t teach them because THEY are Catholic; we teach them because WE are!” I have heard this quote attributed to the former Archbishop of Washington, James Cardinal Hickey. Apparently, this was the Cardinal’s response to a question of why Catholics should support a Catholic school that doesn’t have many Catholics among its student body.
Building up the Body of Christ
I think of the wisdom of Cardinal Hickey often in my ministry and his quote came to mind last week during a school Mass. Specifically, during communion, a guest in attendance noticed that several students did not approach the altar to receive the Eucharist. In fact, during communion, it is easy to observe that less than 30% of my students are Catholic. After the Mass, this person commented sarcastically saying, “I thought this was a Catholic School? Frankly, it doesn’t look too Catholic to me!”
Real Catholic Identity
I find myself often defending the Catholic identity of my school based on the percentage of Catholics enrolled. In my particular case, how does a 182 year old school, owned by a rather traditional community of habited sisters, run by a permanent deacon and that has well-attended school Masses (even when they are optional), not seem Catholic? My verbal response to this comment was more measured than my actual emotions but, I said, “I just preached to hundreds of non-Catholics about the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary in our salvation. Where else does another Catholic priest, deacon or even a bishop get that opportunity?”
Go forth and teach the nations!
In the great commission, Jesus instructs us to “Go forth and teach the nations!” (Matthew 28;19-20). Non-Catholics are always invited to share our faith and can prayerfully participate in Mass without receiving communion. However, I suspect that this happens most often in an inner-city Catholic school. Now, does that mean all of my students convert to Catholicism prior to graduation? Certainly not. But, I do believe that anyone exposed to the truth will eventually be attracted to it. And, as Catholics, exposing the world to the truth of our faith is our job!
Check out this wonderful article about 19 Baptisms in a Washington, DC Catholic Parish School. St. Augustine’s Catholic School – Way to go!!!