October 15, 2010

Seeking the Face of the Lord

New chapel at Cardinal Ritter is lasting reminder of school’s mission

The blessing of the new chapel at Cardinal Ritter Jr./Sr. High School a month ago gave me the opportunity to think about the Catholic identity of our mission of education.

The ritual blessing for a chapel speaks to important aspects of the uniqueness of a Catholic school. In my homily for the event, I suggested three points for reflection: 1) How Jesus is present in the chapel; 2) How the high school chapel is a call to holiness; 3) How the chapel signals the true nature of Cardinal Ritter High School.

The presence of Christ in the chapel is suggestive of his presence in any Catholic school. Christ said that where two or three gather in his name, he is there among them.

In addition, Jesus is present in the chapel in three distinct ways.

Obviously, we speak of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist celebrated there, and as he is reserved in the tabernacle. It is also true that the altar which we blessed is itself a symbol of Christ as the center of the chapel. And when a priest celebrates Mass, he does so in the person of Christ, in persona Christi. Indeed, the real celebrant of the Eucharist is Jesus himself.

In the eucharistic prayer, a priest says in the person of Christ, “This is My Body, this is My Blood.” He does not say this in reference to himself.

This noble chapel also stands as a striking symbol that everyone who enters the campus of Cardinal Ritter High School is called to holiness by virtue of their baptism. The simplest way to understand the call to holiness can be taken from the words of Pope Benedict XVI in his encyclical “God is Love.” He said the Church’s deepest nature is expressed in our task to proclaim the Word, to celebrate the sacraments and to participate in the ministry of charity. Our call to holiness is lived doing these three tasks according to our state in life. In a real sense, the mission of a Catholic school is to educate and form students to live their call.

The chapel at Ritter is an awesome and striking reminder about the integral nature of the mission of the high school. Academic excellence is important and fundamental. The personal human development of the students is fundamental. Development and encouragement of moral integrity and good character is fundamental.

But crowning these aspects of Ritter’s mission, like any of our Catholic schools, is the spiritual development of students, faculty and administration.

The spiritual formation of all who make up the Ritter family distinguishes this excellent high school from its secular counterparts. The prominently visible chapel stands as a lasting reminder of the integral nature of the special mission of Cardinal Ritter High School for all who are and who will become part of the Ritter family.

The chapel at Cardinal Ritter High School is an extraordinary gift. But whether or not a Catholic school has a chapel, the mission of the school reflects the same features of its Catholic identity. Intentional consciousness of Christ’s presence is a matter of our faith. Having this presence lifted up by the regular celebration of Mass is important. The presence of religious symbols, such as crucifixes and statues, remind teachers and students of Christ among them.

A fundamental purpose of a Catholic school is to remind our children and youth that their baptism inaugurated for them the call to holiness. The school not only reminds them of the call, but also helps them learn how to live this call in everyday life.

Catechesis in the Catholic faith is at the heart of the evangelizing mission of our schools as it is also the reason for our parish religious education programs. Not only is catechesis intended to provide information to our students, it also proposes gradually to lead children and our youth into a closer relationship with Jesus.

Of course, we are proud of our academic efforts as well. A review of the ISTEP scores of our elementary schools is truly encouraging. But that doesn’t tell the story of Catholic education in itself.

We sometimes speak of “value-added” features of our educational mission. We not only care about the intellectual development of our students; we help them in the development of their character and overall moral integrity. We care about their physical development and good health. We care about their social development.

The mission of Catholic education comes at a price. Our parishes work hard to make our schools and religious education programs available as widely as possible.

A lot of folks simply can’t afford school tuition. And so our parishes provide solid religious education and faith formation programs to enable our shared call to holiness. †

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