Young men and women in pressed slacks or skirts, button-down shirts and ties filed into St. Benedict Church in Anchorage on the morning of Aug. 21. Parents, faculty, staff and others joined the young people and Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne to begin the first day of the 2017-2018 school year at Lumen Christi High School with Mass.
Archbishop Etienne reflected on how the Gospel reading for the day was fitting to the occasion. It was the story of the young man who asks Jesus how to inherit eternal life.
“We want to follow the example of the young man in that wisdom of coming to Jesus and asking Jesus the questions we have about this life, trusting that he will give us the answers that we seek,” Archbishop Etienne said. “As we begin a new academic year, particularly in this Catholic school, we realize what the real end goal is — eternal life. Life with God, for eternity.”
“The other wisdom this young person shows is going to Jesus for the answer,” Archbishop Etienne added. “That’s another great focus as a new academic year begins — realize the opportunity that we have at Catholic schools to go to Jesus for the answers to life. A good education is important, a good education is one solid step for a good future, but it’s not the main priority of a Catholic school. The main priority is to lead you to Jesus: to lead you and your comfortability to having conversation with Jesus on things that are important in your life, in this life, and in the next. That’s real wisdom.”
Archbishop Etienne then explored the Gospel with students.
“Jesus says to the young man, ‘If you wish to enter into eternal life, keep the commandments.’ And then we get what I might guess is a typical response from a young person: ‘Well, which commandments? Maybe I don’t have to keep all of them. How few can I get by with?’”
Archbishop Etienne noted that modern society is also like that.
“Society says, I want to gain eternal life, but I don’t want to be a member of the church,” he said. “I don’t want to follow all the commandments. I think it’s enough to just be a good person. Ever heard that one?”
A few heads nodded from the pews.
“What do you think?” Archbishop Etienne asked. “Is being a good person alone going to get us into heaven? I think that’s a risky roll of the dice. It’s not good enough for us to simply seek to be a good person. Jesus wants us to be holy.”
That call to holiness is fulfilled through loving God and others, Archbishop Etienne noted.
“How does Jesus end the Gospel passage today? After you give to the poor, come follow me,” he said. “Come follow me and remain in relationship with me, and I will help you in your relationships with everybody else.”
At the end of his homily, Archbishop Etienne called the young people to look beyond themselves to Jesus for happiness.
“And if our life is a little miserable at times, it’s probably because we’re too focused on ourselves,” he said. “We’ve got to get out of ourselves and pay attention to Jesus, who will lead us to a deeper awareness of the needs around us, and he will strengthen our hearts with the love we give others.”
Archbishop Etienne emphasized the need to pursue Christ.
“Jesus wants and hopes for an encounter with us,” he said. “That’s what he means by ‘come, follow me.’ He wishes to share his heart with you and invites you to share yours with him.”