I want you to know, brothers and sisters,
that the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin.
For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it,
but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
As I attended the ordinations for Fr. David Wilkens in Great Falls Tuesday evening, and of Fr. Garrett Nelson in Billings on Thursday evening, I heard the bishop in both homilies reminding those to be ordained that it was not about them, but about Jesus Christ. I think that applies to each and every one of us gathered here. We need to remember that our calling in life is not about us, but about Jesus Christ. It is a realization that the Gospel that is preached is not of human origin, but that is from Jesus Christ. Our baptismal call directs us to greater things.
Saints Peter and Paul showed by their lives, and their deaths, that they were preaching the gospel and spreading the good news, not for some sort of earthly honor, but for Jesus Christ, their savior. In the gospel reading of the Mass of the Day, we hear Jesus telling St. Peter,
“And so I say to you, you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build my Church,
and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven;
and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
St. Peter was entrusted with a great responsibility which is still carried out in the magisterium of the Church today. Peter is the rock upon which our Church is built. The building of the Church did not end with St. Peter. It continues today in a variety of ways and through the official teachings handed on to us by the magisterium (the teaching authority of the Church).
Pope Benedict, while onboard a flight to the United Kingdom on September 16, 2010, stated in an interview:
“One might say that a church which seeks above all to be attractive would already be on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for itself, does not work to increase its numbers so as to have more power. The Church is at the service of Another; it does not serve itself, seeking to be a strong body, but it strives to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths, the great powers of love and of reconciliation that appeared in this figure and that come always from the presence of Jesus Christ.”
This brings us back to what Bishop Warfel shared in his ordination homilies: it is not about self, but about Jesus Christ.
The call to being a disciple, calls us to work to build up the “Kingdom of God”. It is not about what might bring us glory, but about what glorifies our creator.
In the life of the faithful, there are various ways that this should be happening. I would like to focus on one aspect of this expectation, Catholic Schools. We are celebrating the 100th year of St. Mary’s School here in Livingston. Our school has impacted the lives of many over the years, including several who are attending Mass here today.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a document entitled, Renewing our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium. They begin that document by reminding all of us,
Young people are a valued treasure and the future leaders of our Church. It is the responsibility of the entire Catholic community—bishops, priests, deacons, religious, and laity—to continue to strive towards the goal of making our Catholic elementary and secondary schools available, accessible, and affordable to all Catholic parents and their children, including those who are poor and middle class. All Catholics must join together in efforts to ensure that Catholic schools have administrators and teachers who are prepared to provide an exceptional educational experience for young people—one that is both truly Catholic and of the highest academic quality.
In the past, St. Mary’s has tried to fulfill this mandate at the expense of our teachers. However, in the same document, the bishops stated:
We unequivocally committed ourselves and the whole Catholic community to the following set of goals:
• Catholic schools will continue to provide a Gospel-based education of the highest quality.
• Catholic schools will be available, accessible, and affordable.
• The bishops will launch initiatives in both the private and public sectors to secure financial assistance for parents, the primary educators of their children, so that they can better exercise their right to choose the best schools for their children.
• Catholic schools will be staffed by highly qualified administrators and teachers who would receive just wages and benefits, as we expressed in our pastoral letter Economic Justice for All.
This last commitment has not been an easy one to fulfil. For years, the teachers at St. Mary’s were not provided many of the benefits offered to other teachers. Two years ago, we started offering our teachers a full benefit package to include health insurance and retirement. When we look at the salary scale for St. Mary’s, which was developed in 2007, we see that, today, our teachers only being paid about 60% of what their counterparts are making in the public schools. The lack of benefits over the years, and the low salaries, have led many wonderful teachers to seek employment elsewhere. Some highly qualified teachers have chosen to stay at St. Mary’s out of a sense of ministry and because of second incomes within their families that have allowed them to continue despite the sacrifices required of them while earning next to nothing. The turnover of a majority of our teachers over the years because of these sacrifices has hampered our ability to grow our enrollment.
The efforts to rectify these issue benefits has not been without a cost. As a parish, we’ve been trying to find creative ways to increase our contribution to the school, or assume a greater portion of some of the expenses of which we already pay a share. We've also increased the tuition that is paid by our students while using scholarships and other means to keep our tuition affordable to those in need. Yet, what is still not being addressed is a fair and just wage for our teachers.
The bishops continued in their document to state:
We call on the entire Catholic community—clergy, religious, and laity—to assist in addressing the critical financial questions that continue to face our Catholic schools. This will require the Catholic community to make both personal and financial sacrifices to overcome these financial challenges. The burden of supporting our Catholic schools can no longer be placed exclusively on the individual parishes that have schools and on parents who pay tuition. This will require all Catholics, including those in parishes without schools, to focus on the spirituality of stewardship. The future of Catholic school education depends on the entire Catholic community embracing wholeheartedly the concept of stewardship of time, talent, and treasure, and translating stewardship into concrete action. . . . Our total Catholic community must increase efforts to address the financial needs of our Catholic school administrators, teachers, and staff. Many of our employees make great sacrifices to work in Catholic schools. The Catholic community must not ignore the reality of inadequate salaries, which often require these individuals to seek supplemental employment (Lay Catholics, no. 27) to meet living expenses and expenses due to limited or non-existent health care and retirement benefits.
I want to continue to improve the salaries that we are offering to our teachers. It is not going to be an easy task, but as we heard, it is incumbent upon all of us to keep our Catholic schools open.
I have heard some concerns about the “Catholic” portion of the education offered at St. Mary’s school. I am also working on addressing those concerns. Changing the financial and spiritual life of the school will take some time, but now is the time to start the changes. We can not wait to begin what must happen to ensure the sustainability of our parish school.
In March of 1977, the Congregation for Catholic Education at the Vatican issued a document entitled, “The Catholic School”. In paragraph 9 of that document the Congregation stated, “The Catholic school forms part of the saving mission of the Church, especially for education in the faith.” This document will be a guiding principle as we move forward as a school.
Let’s tie this back into today’s feast. We celebrate Saints Peter and Paul and the work they did to build the kingdom of God. They preached a Gospel handed on to them by Christ. We, too, have the same Gospel. We need to hand it on. The success of St. Mary’s School, and our parish for that matter, depends upon us realizing that it is not about us, but about Jesus Christ. Praised be Jesus Christ, both now and forever. Amen.