Parents are the first teachers

Readings: Is. 55.6-9; Ps. 145; Phil. 1.20-27; Mt. 20.1-16

At the start of the school year, I want to thank teachers in general and religious education teachers in particular. Today in the parish we are celebrating Catechetical Sunday. At the 10:15 Mass we will bless and commission our parish's religious education teachers. A dozen titles are used to describe Jesus. The title he most frequently uses to describe himself is "teacher." We Catholics are renowned for our doctrine. We teach clear principles, priorities, and reasons for what we believe and do. We Catholics emphasizes education and catechesis.

Parents are the first teachers. Home is the first school of love, and the first school of faith. You have your children at home for a limited number of years. Constantly, you are teaching values, and practical applications. You teach your children to be idealistic, and ultimately to be realistic in an untidy world. You prepare your children for life in this world, with their eyes and soul set on eternal life. Someday, you will stand before God and be responsible for having taught your children the words and ways of God. There is a limit to what you can do. You can teach your children, but you cannot learn for them. You can lead them, but they choose how far and in what ways they will follow. Over time, children must separate themselves from their parents' home, and learn to live on their own. You spend years caring for them; it is their job to learn how to take care of themselves. Your job is to give them roots, and to give them wings. Try your best to bring them to God by bringing them to church every Sunday. Parents, thank you for being the best of teachers.

School teachers, what a wonderful vocation you have. It is a labor of love. You impart not just information, but also inspiration. You good teachers communicate with love and grace. For the slowest students, you slow down to make sure they understand the basics. For the brightest students, you run with them, and throw open the windows of their mind, and the chambers of their heart so that they might see and appreciate the breadth and depth of life. You don't teach your students just for a year; you impact your students for their whole life. I still remember by name and appreciate my earliest school teachers: grades first to third in public school, and fourth through eighth in Catholic school. My high school teachers and college professors, I remember some more than others. About all my teachers, I remember their kindnesses. I remember best those teachers who challenged me most. To all our school teachers, I want to say, "thank you." I want to encourage you: "to teach is to touch a life forever."

Religious education teachers, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you. You instruct the parish's children on Sunday mornings in the Catholic Faith Formation program, and in the Children's Liturgy of the Word program. In the RCIA program, you study the essentials of the faith and religion with adults who are questioning about whether or not to join the Catholic Church. In the baptismal preparation program, you sit down with young couples, and update them about the Church, and the responsibility of bringing up their children in the Church. Weddings and the birth of children are oftentimes occasions for young adults to come back to Church. As leaders of the Catholics Returning Home group, you sit and discuss with adults who have drifted from the Church, and now are considering coming back to the Church which Jesus founded. Religious education teachers deal with the most profound questions about the source and meaning of life. May I suggest, don't underestimate the students in front of you. I can remember as a 2nd grader in Sunday School trying to understand and grasp "three persons in one God." I can remember as a 4th grader in Catholic school pondering a question posed in the pastor's homily, "Are you seeking the consolations of God, or the God of consolations?" May I suggest to you: study diligently, pray humbly and openly. And always, "Speak the truth with love." Again, from and on behalf of the whole parish, "thank you."

For all of us, notice in the Scriptures that God constantly teaches the patriarchs, prophets, and priests. And in response, constantly the psalmist is praying, "teach me your paths, your statutes, your ways. Teach me to do your will." (Ps. 25.4; 119.26; 86.11; 143.10) We approach all teaching with great humility; humility is based in the truth of our limitations vis-B-vis God's limitlessness. God instructs us in today's first reading: "my thoughts are not your thoughts; my ways are not your ways. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts." And today's gospel parable about the generous landowner challenges the sense of justice in all of us. God's justice is not like our justice. All of us wish to learn more about God, and to relate more deeply, intimately with God. Reading, thinking, pondering are important steps in praying. I offer a checklist:

  1. Parents, do you bring your children to church every Sunday? Liturgy is the source and summit of the Christian life. We learn our most important lessons right here, Sunday after Sunday.
  2. Actions speak louder than words. What virtues characterize the family's actions at home?
  3. All of us, what Catholic literature do we have at home? Do we subscribe to some Catholic newspaper, magazine, internet site? Do we have some constant on-going systematic education in our faith?
  4. All of us, what prayers do we say in public and in private at home? Grace before meals? Morning prayer? Evening prayer? The rosary in May and October? Did your family volunteer to receive the Vocation Prayer Cross?
  5. What quiet time do we encourage for reading, thinking, pondering, praying? Clearly, God's ways are not our ways, and his thoughts are not like our thoughts. Let's stop, listen, and learn by reading, studying, pondering, and praying. Today, we pray especially for parents, school teachers, and religious education teachers as our children start a new school year.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley