The work of our Catholic schools is about nothing less than seeing and living Jesus Christ in the midst of everything we do. Let us not apologise about that. We need our faith. Students deserve to receive their learning in a context of spiritual formation.
Catholic schools have earned a reputation for academic excellence, but that is not enough. We are here to do something much more. Our schools must be thoroughly and unashamedly Catholic. Day after day, every day, in a way that permeates all the teaching and learning that takes place, we are charged to proclaim a Pentecost message of Jesus Christ with enthusiasm, faithful perseverance and steady determination.
The essential goal of Catholic education is to lead students to Christ. We do it because we are convinced that he, Jesus Christ, is the one and only saviour of the world. We obviously cannot be squeamish about saying his name lovingly.
Our students cannot, must not leave before they meet him, hear him, know that he loves them and acknowledge his law in their lives.
Proclaiming the total love of Christ is not always a "feel-good" message. Love in Christ is the love of the cross. It is the love of complete self-giving. This love is honesty. It is chastity. It is sobriety. It is commitment. Love in Christ is realising that I am loved and redeemed by a divine and infinite mercy that calls me to a continuing conversion.
No one must leave our Catholic schools without knowing this through and through. It must be learned in religion class, but also in maths and on the sports field. This requires extraordinary commitment from teachers and principals.
Students must first be taught the basics of the Catholic faith. Like science or history or mathematics well taught, they first need to know all the basics through and through, forward and backward.
So we teach all the Catholic prayers. We must present carefully all the propositions of the Creed, all that has been handed on to us about the Holy Trinity - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - about our Blessed Mother, the meaning of the Church and her hierarchy.
We have to be willing to teach what the Church teaches about death, judgment, heaven, and yes, even hell. These are our holy traditions. These our like our precious family customs.
But it is not enough to learn the prayers. Students must learn to pray, and they must pray. This supernatural faith which our Lord taught could move mountains, will be their standard equipment, their weapon of choice for getting through life.
There will come a time when scientific knowledge and clever words will not cut it. There will come a time when no amount of money or worldly success will relieve our students' agonies. The paper diploma alone, which they can receive from any school, will not be sufficient preparation for life.
A deep appreciation for the sacrifice of the Mass and for the Sacrament of Reconciliation needs to be instilled in students.
There has to be trust in the inherent power of the sacred liturgy as the Church prescribes it. What we are entering into, after all, is nothing less than the dying and rising of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Teachers and principals must help students make frequent confession a habit that they can carry into their adult lives. It is difficult to teach this value if we are not, ourselves, using the sacrament frequently.
The goal of Catholic schools is to make saints out of their students. That is what salvation in Jesus Christ means.
We must be involved in the work of teaching our students moral truths, right and wrong, to avoid evil but also to do good, to cultivate the life of virtues and to construct, in the very midst of a culture of death, a civilisation of life.
We live in an age of relativism where respect for life, the true meaning of marriage, and the evils of materialism and sexual gratification are twisted and glorified, not only in the media but even among so-called professed believers.
There are objective truths. There is right and wrong. Holy Mother Church is our mother who loves us and she knows best. Catholic schools must be places where these moral truths are taught without variation and without ambiguity for the sake of souls and salvation.
Schools are obliged to do this because parents are obliged to do this for their children. Parents and teachers must be collaborators in the work of making our children saints. Neither side can afford to let the other down.
This is the edited text of a homily given by Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City- St Joseph, Missouri, to a gathering of diocesan teachers and principals at a Mass prior to the start of the 2005-2006 school year. It was first published in the diocesan weekly, 'The Catholic Key'.