Editor’s note: This was written by Anchorage Archbishop Roger Schwietz based on a series of recent homilies given to Catholic school students across the archdiocese at the beginning of the academic year.
The beginning of a new school year brings many positives into the lives of students. There is the reconnecting with classmates and friends and the establishing of relationships with new teachers and other caring personnel. There is also the excitement of learning new things and, at least in our Catholic schools, the experiencing of a family away from home that is supportive of our individual dignity and our Christ-centered values.
Students have always faced some daunting challenges. In particular the classroom inevitably brings with it the culture and structure of evaluation. There are tests and grades, awards for success in competition of various sorts. How does this affect us? I think it can put us into a mindset of grading ourselves in comparison to others, whether through their gifts or their personalities or their appearances. If we are not careful, we can fall into the habit of thinking negatively of ourselves because of the gifts others have been given.
At these times, we need to consider the gift of faith that has been given us. Our Catholic faith tells us that God loves each one of us individually and far more deeply than we can ever imagine. Also, we know that God has given each person gifts that are unique to us.
The gifts of the Holy Spirit, which come through our Eucharistic celebrations at the beginning of the school year, remind us of the precious gifts God has given to each of us. It is healthier and more in keeping with our faith to focus on developing our own gifts for the good of ourselves and of others and in gratitude toward God.
Secondly, it is important to remember that your best friend is not someone in your school but it is Jesus Christ himself. Look to him as your companion. Look to the cross and his suffering to help you understand how deep is his love for you. Remember that that love is personal and individual for you and that Jesus is begging you to open your life to him so he can accompany and support you through your student years.
Remember that you are never alone in facing life’s challenges. Jesus wants to be part of your life bringing with him the gift of his Spirit. So rejoice and give thanks, setting aside fear and enjoying the life that God has given you.
The writer is archbishop of Anchorage.