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Jake complained about how expensive the oats were that he fed to Homer,
his mule. So, he began gradually to feed Homer sawdust for his diet. Day by day,
Homer was fed less oats and more and more sawdust until, finally, it was all
sawdust. Everything went fine—for a while—Jake was saving big bucks—but by
the time the mule became satisfied with sawdust, he died of malnutrition.

Our constant temptation is to change our spiritual diet from the ways of God
to the ways of society. Often, the changeover is a slow process. And, if we’re not
careful, we may get to the point where we don’t recognize the difference. We
become satisfied and comfortable with what society feeds us. When this happens,
we become spiritually starved, malnourished, and are in real danger of becoming
spiritually dead.

I mention this story this morning at this Superintendent’s Day event, to point
out that our Catholic schools provide a healthy diet of the ways of God in the lives
of our young people. You are very much aware that our Catholic schools are
places where the sacred is integrated with the secular and neither is denigrated in
the process. As Catholic school educators, you serve a healthy diet to our children,
a diet that produces well-rounded young girls and boys. The special character of
the Catholic school and its underlying reason for existence, the reason why parents
should prefer it, is precisely the quality of the religious instruction and formation
that is integrated into the overall education of the students. This integration is
crucial. A Catholic school does not insulate or isolate religion and faith from the
real world, so that the only time we consider the God question is, perhaps, an hour
on Sunday. This integration and formation enables Catholic Schools to build one
nation under God, as today’s theme indicates. You model and teach our
youngsters how to be good citizens.

You instruct our students about what it means to be persons of integrity and
faith. Values, morals, conscience, right and wrong, God, respect for life,
forgiveness, mercy, Jesus Christ—these are not forbidden words or foreign
concepts in our Catholic school vocabulary. Within a Christ-centered environment
and in partnership with families, the local parish and the community, our schools
prepare young women and men to responsibly take their place in the public square,
giving flesh to the faith they profess and to the lessons they learn. The Catholic
school environment nurtures those of all faiths to be caring and responsible
lifelong learners whose hearts of service have a global perspective.

Our Catholic schools exist as a profound and effective arm of the pastoral
mission of the Church—bringing God to all people and all people, especially the
young, to God. The school is and must always be a family, a partnership that
respects the parent’s crucial role in the education of their children. They cannot
leave their children’s minds to the teachers for a few hours a day the way they
might leave their carburetor off to a mechanic.

In their document, Declaration on Catholic Education, the Vatican Council
Fathers explained the aims of Catholic education: “That as the baptized person is
gradually introduced into the knowledge of the mystery of salvation, he or she may
daily grow more conscious of the gift of faith they have received; that they may
learn to adore God the Father in spirit and truth…and grow accustomed to giving
witness to the hope that is in them, and to promote the Christian transformation of
the world. In the setting of the Catholic school there is a gradual personal
formation and integration that unites each person more closely with God, which in
turn affects not only personal behavior but flows into a credible witness to the
grace of God within, which witness will touch people and change them and
eventually result in the transformation of our society and our world.” Yes,
Catholic schools can build one nation after another, under God.

It is the integration of faith into the whole learning process that is the key
contribution of the Catholic school, a contribution that neither public nor charter
schools can offer. As he was reflecting on the current state of our Catholic
schools, one bishop observed, “Make no mistake about it, there has definitely been
a dying connected with our Catholic schools over the past thirty years, a dying that
has taken its toll on pastors and principals but especially on teachers.” But, can not
this dying lead to a resurrection? I am convinced that this is the case. I ask you
who are Catholic teachers, principals, parents to look into your hearts to find the
hope that is still within, to find there the conviction that the resurrection will come.

Recently in a pastoral letter, Archbishop Dolan of New York spoke of the
mentality of some that considered our Catholic schools as being on hospice care.
“Many think that the good old days of Catholic schools are over. They have
served us well, but, sadly, their day is over, and twilight is here. So, the best we
can do is make their passing comfortable, and hold their hand while they slowly
pass into grateful memory.”

Archbishop Dolan’s response to that sentiment is the same as mine:

If there was ever a time in our society when we need our Catholic schools it
is today! We need well-educated faith-filled Catholics who are unafraid to give
witness to our faith in the marketplace. Faith without its application in daily living
is dead faith—faith masquerading, a fraud.

We need leaders, laity and youth with nerve, the same nerve that motivated
the construction of Catholic schools over a hundred years ago, nerve----the virtue
of courage. Sometimes I think we must stop with the attitude of throwing in the
towel, but instead throw down the gauntlet!

More and more today, we have allowed our faith to gradually be forced to
the edges of society, into a corner that doesn’t intrude, bother or impact anyone.
Like Jake, because we think it too costly, either financially or personally, to
witness our faith, to support our Catholic schools, we are gradually, as a nation,
dying from spiritual malnutrition. We want to be politically correct and, in the
process, be so morally wrong!

Not so, I say…not so for this one nation under God! We must be creative in
our proclamation of the faith and of our support of Catholic schools. We must not
become a people who lose hope, a people with no vision. Rather, what do the
economists tell us that we need most when things look the bleakest---invest your
assets. So, we, too, must invest our time, talent and treasure today into building up
a culture of hope for Catholic education in our nation, starting right here in the
Diocese of Ogdensburg. It will mean sacrifice. It will mean creative thinking
outside the box, going beyond what worked in yesteryear. But, with the power of
prayer and faith-filled determination, we can redouble our efforts to ensure that the
fruits of those who have been educated and formed by Catholic schools will
continue to bless this nation. Participating in the Partners in Mission workshops
and our attendance at events such as this today, are significant indications that the
Church of Ogdensburg will never tire of searching for new ways to support our
Catholic schools. Your participation is vital.

I want to express, on behalf of the entire Church of Ogdensburg, my deepest
gratitude to all of you who work in our Catholic schools. I am very much aware of
your tireless energy, constant commitment and real sacrifice. May God bless you
all for your hope-filled ministry of love!

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