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In celebration of Catholic Schools Week

By Bishop Terry LaValley
Bishop of Ogdensburg

Run a short homemade movie on the screen of your imagination.  Imagine that you come home some dark night and, to your horror, you see a 35 foot snake on your front lawn.  Your heart begins to pound wildly and adrenaline starts pumping into your bloodstream.  You quickly grab a garden hoe, and in your frenzy you hack the writhing snake into small pieces.  Satisfied that it is dead, you go inside and try to settle your nerves with warm milk.  Later, lying in bed, even with your eyes closed, you can still see the wriggling form on the front lawn. The next morning you return to the scene of the snake slaying and find, again to your horror, that there had never been a snake on your front lawn.  That which lies in pieces before your eyes was simply the garden hose which had been left out on the lawn.  It was always a hose, of course; but last night for you it was a snake.  What you saw last night was a snake, and all your actions and reactions followed from what you saw.  The fear, the hoe, the struggle, the effort to calm down—all followed from the vision of a 35 foot snake.

All our emotional and behavioral actions and reactions follow from our perceptions.  In that snake drama, we were talking about a vision of reality, a highly personal and unique way that each one of us perceives reality—a vision seen with the eyes of the mind.  We look at the various parts of reality through the eyes of our minds, and no two people ever see those parts of reality in exactly the same way.  You have your vision.  I have mine.
The important fact is this:  We always act and react according to what we see.  If I see a 35 foot snake, even though it is really a garden hose, my glands and my emotions, my hands and feet and palpitating heart all react to the “snake” I see.

There are many things that we perceive again and again in very much the same way.  Pretty soon such repeated perceptions, looking at a certain reality in the same way, gets to be a habitual way of looking at things.  Like the snake, we can begin to mistake our perceptions for reality.  For instance, over and over, society presents us with perceptions that are difficult to ignore:  making lots of money brings happiness; all schools are created equal; children know what’s best when selecting schools; athletics is the crucial determining factor when selecting a school for my child.  My friends, never mind the perceptions, the reality is:  we can give our children no greater gift than a Catholic school education. 

One of the most delightful privileges that I enjoy as bishop is to visit the Catholic Schools throughout our Diocese.  As soon as I enter the school building, it becomes clear to me that in our school families, religion is not an interruption in an already packed daily schedule, but a faith experience that permeates the whole of the day. 

Faith, Academics, Service, the theme for this year’s Catholic Schools Week, speaks of the reality, not perception, of what happens within the school family.  Unfortunately, too often, our own perception of religion is to compartmentalize it—put it either on the shelf, or over in the corner, without it impacting everything we say and do in life.  What is my perception of religion?  Remember, this vision of reality, this attitude will trigger my actions and reactions about Catholic schools.  For instance, religion can be faith or a front, the hose or a snake. 
Let’s, for a moment, consider some of the tasks of Catholic school educators.  They: love, inspire, challenge, affirm, correct, motivate, discipline, and impart knowledge.

The content of their labors include: Catholic faith, human values, knowledge, confidence, social skills, human dignity, creativity, sense of humor and self-knowledge. Years ago, Blessed Pope John Paul II, in an address to US bishops from the Midwest at their ad limina visit, said, “Catholic education aims not only to communicate facts, but also to transmit a coherent, comprehensive vision of life in the conviction that the truths contained in that vision liberate students in the most profound meaning of human freedom.”  Educators in our Catholic schools are enablers of a vision of reality.

In the Catholic school, there is no separation between time for learning and time for religion, between acquiring notions and growing in wisdom.  The various school subjects do not present only knowledge to be attained but also values to be acquired and truths to be discovered.  The mission of the Catholic School is the integral formation of students so that they may be true to their condition as Christ’s disciples and as such work effectively for the evangelization of culture and for the common good of society. 

Something distinctly different happens within the walls of the Catholic school: the pulsating love of Jesus’ Spirit enlivening and celebrating life.  It is a truly sacred environment.  But this hallowedness comes not from the walls, but from the Catholic school educators, students, staff and parents who are actively involved in the life of the school and parish family.

The reality is that in the Catholic School, we don’t see the stark dichotomy of religion and academics.  It becomes obvious that it is not an either/or situation where one always has to be sacrificed to the other.  Our students excel in academics and service precisely because they are steeped in and motivated by our faith.
It is with profound gratitude to all of our parents, parishioners, pastors, faculty, and diocesan staff that we celebrate Catholic Schools Week in the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

The Church is so aware of your sacrifice and commitment to our children because for you, seeing is believing!

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