Looking out across a congregation filled with Catholic school students, Anchorage Archbishop Paul Etienne told the youth that the primary purpose for attending a Catholic school is to be formed as a person of deep faith.
“That all of your days, you would live with the heart and the mind of Jesus in whatever path of life God chooses for you and do your best, day to day, to live as Jesus where you are in the world,” he said. “Guess when that process begins? Right now.”
Archbishop Etienne delivered this challenge while presiding at a Mass for students of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School on Sept. 12. It was one of several Masses he celebrated at various Catholic schools last month to launch the new academic year.
Around 200 people attended the Mass at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, including pre-kindergarten through sixth grade students, teachers, staff, parents and parishioners.
The archbishop’s homily resonated with parent Dina Wilson, whose son attends St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.
“I want my son to be able to experience his faith,” she said. “In Catholic school, he interacts with his faith every day, and learns about his faith with his peers, in a Catholic environment.”
Fellow parent Denise Jacko agreed.
“I was happy we found this school,” she said. “I want my daughter to be able to hear the faith from other people, and learn how to live it.”
“So how are we doing in coming to know Jesus?” Archbishop Etienne asked in his homily. “It’s the way we begin each day with a simple prayer: “Jesus, I want to follow you closely today. Jesus, I want to live as you live. I want to love as you love. I want to be like you in every part of my life, in every part of my day. That’s the basic purpose of the Catholic school: to form children to be followers of Jesus, to form them in the very heart and mind and way of Jesus.”
Reflecting on the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew which reads: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who are hungry, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who now weep, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day, because your reward will be great in heaven.”
“That doesn’t sound like how most of us want to live our day-to-day lives, does it?” Archbishop Etienne asked the students. “But it really is how Jesus lived. He lived very simply, very humbly, to fulfill the will of his Father.”
He added, “He didn’t find his pleasure in what the world had to offer. He found his pleasure in knowing the will of God the Father, in doing the will of God the Father, and in being compassionate and welcoming to those around them. That’s the heart and mind and way of Jesus. That’s the way our Catholic education wants to form all of you. It’s a very different way of living in the world than many people live in the world today.”
The archbishop then turned to the Beatitudes as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, which warn against living a worldly life and neglecting the Kingdom of God.
“Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your consolation,” he read from Luke’s Gospel. “Woe to you who are filled now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will grieve and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for they treated the prophets and the ancestors in the same way.”
Archbishop Etienne urged the youth to live for God rather than being swept up consuming the “things of this world.”
“As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we believe that we follow him not just in this world, but through death into the world that is yet to come in all of its fullness, in the kingdom of God,” he emphasized. “That’s where our true reward awaits us.”
In the meantime, believers can participate in the life of God while living on earth, Archbishop Etienne noted.
“But we must not be content with wanting the things of this life. We must want Jesus, to love as he loved, to think as he thought, to treat others as he treated us, to be compassionate and merciful,” he said. “That’s exactly what the Eucharist offers us every time we gather to celebrate: Jesus shares himself with us once again through his Word, and in his Body and Blood — that is the Eucharist. He takes up his dwelling within us.”
Archbishop Etienne concluded by urging the students to follow Christ and become like him that they might bring his life to the world.