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Bishop's Homily for the Opening Mass of the School Year for Catholic School Educators

August 16, 2018

St. Ann Church, Kaneohe
[1 Corinthians 3:9c-11,16-17; Matthew 16:13-19]

 This evening at 6:00 p.m. there will be a Mass at the Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in downtown Honolulu, to which you are all invited.  We are celebrating the 175th anniversary of the dedication of the Cathedral, one of the oldest in the United States.  St. Damien was ordained a priest at our Cathedral and celebrated his First Mass there.  St. Marianne worshipped in our Cathedral when she and her Franciscan Sisters first arrived in Hawaii.  Our Cathedral houses the mortal remains of St. Marianne and a relic of St. Damien.  In addition, tonight we will be blessing some of the renovations to the sanctuary that have just been completed, and which are very beautiful.  One of the fortunate discoveries in the renovations was that the foundations of the church are strong and there was no need to work on reinforcing them. 

By contrast, our brothers and sisters in the Diocese of Oakland are about to mark the 10th anniversary of their Cathedral complex, which includes an architecturally unique cathedral, a mausoleum, a chancery office, bishop’s residence, social halls, and underground parking garage.  But the first floor of the parking garage is sagging, as is the second floor of the chancery.  There are cracks in the cathedral and many doors off kilter in the residence.  The Diocese of Oakland is currently employing many lawyers to figure out who is responsible for these foundational defects and what can be done about them. 

Once we put a building up, we take the foundation for granted.  We presume that it will hold the building up for decades, if not centuries.  Yet this contrast of the two cathedrals shows that we should never take foundations for granted.  St. Paul teaches us this as well, reminding us that there is only one solid foundation on which to build, namely Jesus Christ. 

I think it is extremely important that we gather as we do each year to celebrate the Eucharist at the beginning of the school year, so that we can check the foundation upon which our own Catholic schools are built. 

We are all concerned about robust enrollment in our schools, because we know that we need the money more students bring in to make the school run.  That is a simple reality of life that we face every day.  Yet does our need to increase enrollment lead us to shift our foundations, so that we shift from the self-giving love of Jesus Christ to the self-achieving trajectory of our culture?  Do we sometimes play to the market to fill up our seats and to make us more competitive to parents looking to make their children successful by the world’s standards?  Or do we deliberately focus on building on the foundation of Jesus Christ.  If we go by the current standards of our culture, we will soon find the very foundation of our culture disintegrating, because what culture can survive when everyone is his or her own god?  But if we build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, we may not be as appealing immediately, we may not find Jesus to be the best marketing tool, but we will definitely be building our culture on a firm foundation of love. 

It is tending to this holy foundation that will make not only our Church, but our whole society stronger. 

As you know, these past few weeks have seen some of the most scandalous news about our Catholic Church.  Some of those who rose to the highest ranks of success in our Church abused children, and some climbed the ladder of achievement by pushing things under the rug so that they would not be seen as having any problems under their watch.  And now we see that building on the foundation of personal achievement has caused tremendous pain not only to victims of abuse but to all people of our faith.  It is obvious that the foundation of Jesus Christ could not have been what supported these terrible crimes, and now we must recommit to rebuilding on the firm foundation of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep. 

Throughout my life I have seen people living in poverty.  Yet I have never seen so many people living on the streets as I have in the last ten years.  We have many programs to reach out to those who are in need, but I have searched in vain for anyone who is asking the question of why there are so many poor people in such a wealthy society.  We are not paying attention to the foundations of our economy, and as a consequence, it is falling apart.  If we build on the foundation of Jesus Christ, however, we will discover that all of us living more simply may be the way to restore the foundation so that all can live in dignity.  Our Catholic schools have a unique challenge not only to care for the poor, but to firm up our foundations so that poverty can effectively be eliminated. 

What is most alarming to me about the foundation on which our society is building itself is the deification of the self.  It is each individual who now decides what truth is, when life should begin or end.  There is a denial of any absolute truth -- other than the absolute truth that nothing is absolute.  This is a foundation that will surely collapse and cannot support any society.  And so is it any wonder that civility is a virtue we see violated more and more?  We have a countercultural, prophetic task as Catholic schools to help people see that there is one true and living God, and that if we worship Him alone, we will benefit not only eternally but here and now as well, though we may have to put up with pain and suffering for being different. 

Peter’s profession of faith in Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” moved Jesus to declare him the rock on which his Church would be built, and against which the gates of hell could not prevail.  It is that same faith in Jesus Christ, the crucified One, who overcame death by laying down his life in love, that we are called to build upon so that a temple of great beauty can bring peace and harmony to the world, and salvation and eternal love to all.