And this leads to my final thought: Whatever her faults, the Church is the only, truly free, community in creation. Not "free" in the mixed-up language of our political culture, but really free; free in the deeper sense we find in Scripture. She is the family in which we encounter Christ, who is the way the truth and the life; the same Christ who said "no one comes to the Father except through me." She is the vessel through which God pours hope and holiness into the world. She is the silence where we can hear God calling our name. She is the path we take to answer Christ's call, "Come follow me," and also His command, "Go, make disciples of all nations." When our teaching is obedient to her teaching, it is obedient to His will. Our job as Catholic educators is to draw the souls we teach into the Church, into her freedom, into His will. If we can begin to do that, God will change the world.
III. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." He also said, "You will know the truth and the truth will make you free." But He also said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace on the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword" (Mt 10:34). Those are hard words for the Prince of Peace, but they make sense in the face of the three great opponents of the Gospel in every age-- the world, the flesh, and the devil. We tend to frame the struggle between virtue and sin in slightly different words today, but the reality is exactly the same. The truth will set us free, but it won't make us comfortable-- and it will certainly make the enemies of Christ bitter not only toward Him, but toward us.
When I was confirmed, the bishop gave me a light slap on the cheek to remind me of the persecution that might come because of my faith. I became a soldier of Christ in a spiritual war that has gone on throughout history on every continent, in every culture and in every individual heart I suppose expressions like "spiritual warfare" fell out of favor in the 1960s because they had a flavor of militarism or preconciliar theology. But I think it's time to reclaim the truth at the heart of those words. Spiritual warfare is real. We are soldiers of Christ, and we are engaged in a war for the soul of the world with spiritual enemies who hate the human person and all of God's creation. The cost of that war is the blood of martyrs, and the history of this century is written in it. That's what I mean by missionary realism. If you teach the truth, brothers and sisters, you are the friend of God. And if you are the friend of God, you are the enemy of those who revile Him. St. Paul says it most powerfully in Ephesians 6, 10-17:
"Finally, be strong in the Lord and the strength of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.
"Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the Gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God."
Catholic education cannot be done by the disaffected or lukewarm. It's for people who have a fire in their heart for God; who love the Church and her teachings; who want to be a lion for the lord and not a housecat. It's for missionaries and soldiers of mercy, justice and truth. It's for souls who see their own suffering as a small price to pay, to be part of God's great work of redemption.
The "good news of great joy" is that the hardest victory is already won. Christ has opened the door to new life. Our job is to follow Him and lead others to Him. I know you have that hunger in your own hearts, or you wouldn't be here today. As we begin this season of Lent in this Year of the Holy Spirit, I ask you to pray for me-- as I will pray for you-- to have the same courage which the Apostles found at Pentecost: to preach Jesus Christ with passion and conviction, in season and out, so that others may hear and believe.
God bless each of you, and thank you for the tremendous work you do.