If there is anything that the past year and a half has shown us, it’s that human beings desire to be present to one another. We are not made to live in isolation, or even virtually. Despite its many good uses, Zoom is no substitute for in-person education and certainly no substitute for encountering the Lord in the Holy Mass. God Himself thought as much when He came to meet us by sending His Son, Jesus. God could have chosen to redeem us “virtually,” but He didn’t. He came to meet us in person, face-to-face. This is one of the most unique and even radical aspects of our faith. Christianity is not an abstraction. It is not a philosophy. It is not even primarily an institution. Christianity is a face-to-face encounter with Jesus. This incarnational principle is the foundation of all we do as Catholics and at the heart of what makes Catholic education so distinctive. Catholic schools are places of authentic encounter and communion.
While every gathering of persons might be called a “community,” the incarnational principle of our faith is what elevates Catholic communities, and indeed Catholic schools, to places of real presence and communion. The notions of “presence” and “community” can only be abstracted so far (through virtual means, for example) before they lose their very meaning. We desire not only presence but real presence. We desire not only community in the abstract, but to be in authentic communion. The document, “The Catholic School on the Threshold of the Third Millennium,” from the Congregation for Catholic Education, points out that “this community dimension in the Catholic school is not a merely sociological category; it has a theological foundation as well.” The communal dimension of Catholic education is rooted in God Himself, in His very nature as a communion of self-giving Persons — Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Made in God’s image and likeness, we too are made for communion with one another and, ultimately, with God.
What brings us together and unites us is not only that many individuals of diverse gifts and backgrounds are gathered together (many institutions can claim as much), but that our Catholic schools have at their center the only true source of unity in diversity, Jesus Christ, Who is truly present in the Eucharist — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. It is such a sign of hope and joy for me when I see our Catholic school children attend Mass and spend time during the day in adoration of Christ present in the Blessed Sacrament. Real presence matters! This is why Our Lord promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20) and why He makes Himself present to us — really, truly, substantially — in the Holy Eucharist.
When our Catholic schools prioritized a return to in-person learning at the beginning of the pandemic, they were putting their incarnational mission as Catholic schools into action. The church recognizes that a “variety of pedagogical theories exist; the choice of the Catholic educator, based on a Christian concept of the human person, should be the practice of a pedagogy which gives special emphasis to direct and personal contact with the students.” (Congregation for Catholic Education, “Lay Catholics in Schools: Witnesses to Faith,” 21). As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week, we recognize the incarnational principle that is part of the good news of Catholic education. God is really present with us. He is not distant. He does not leave us orphans. He is Emmanuel, God-with-us! May God bless our families and educators and continue to make our Catholic schools places of true encounter and communion.
The above comes from a Jan. 27 statement by Archbishop Cordileone on the San Francisco archdiocesan website.