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home : from the bishop : from the bishop February 21, 2019

Bishop O'Connell's homily from the Mass for Catholic elementary school educators' in-service

Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.

In his day, Jesus was a wonderment to the people who surrounded him.  There were his apostles, the twelve who followed him most closely.  He began collecting these disciples shortly after his baptism by John in the Jordan.  John was his cousin but we do not know the nature or depth of their relationship from the time he leapt in his mother Elizabeth's womb at her pregnant kinswoman Mary's visit.  St. Luke describes the incident early in his Gospel.  The meeting of the two women and, consequently, the proximity of the Baptist and the Messiah in their wombs generated a mysterious reaction by John.  It could have been a natural movement of Elizabeth's child in the womb--- St. Luke, however, implies something more significant.  The Old and the New Testaments somehow connected in the moment.  We don't hear anything further in the Gospels about any meeting of John and Jesus for about 30 years until John spots him on the Jordan riverbank and Jesus emerges from Jordan's baptismal waters.  St. Mark's Gospel states that the heavens opened, a dove appeared and voice from heaven is heard: "you are my son whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Mark 1: 9-11)."  That scene would have attracted any normal person's attention.

Elements of this story appear in all four Gospels. Put them side by side and the case can be made that there is something unique and special about this Jesus of Nazareth, something that has consequences, first for the 12 apostles called by Jesus and, then, for the crowds who begin to follow them.  The 12 apostles spent the new three years with Jesus, watching him, listening to him, praying with him, observing his miracles, learning who he is.  Traveling from town to town, the 12 apostles identify with him.  The leaders of the Jews wonder what all this meant.  The Old Testament prophecies seem to apply to Jesus but he adds his own unique twist --- something new and different --- that the religious establishment finds disturbing.  St. John's Gospel begins today telling us that they wanted to kill him.  The Book of Wisdom today provided a prediction that would come true hundreds of years later.

Who is this man, Jesus?  "Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ (John 7: 26)," the anointed Messiah?  St. John's Gospel presents Jesus' crying out in the temple area where he was teaching "You know who I am and also know where I am from.  Yet I did not come on my own but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true.  I know him because I am from him and he sent me (John 7: 28-29)."  Back to the Jordan River, "You are my son whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Mark 1: 11)."

From the Jordan to Jerusalem, Jesus spent three years revealing what that meant and who he is. And the apostles spread his word, preached his Gospel, baptized all nations, built his Church, revealed his continued presence, handed on the faith, shared his grace, continued to fulfil his mission.  Two thousand years later, here we are, still witnesses to Jesus Christ --- as teachers in Catholic Schools.  We and 1.2 billion baptized believers have the benefit of those two thousand years.  And the youngsters before us, sent to us, entrusted to us, come to us with the question: "who is Jesus?"  No matter what subject we teach in our Catholic schools, no matter what tasks we perform in our Catholic schools, it is our responsibility in our Catholic schools to help these youngsters, our students, answer that question.  How?  By our own faith, our own conviction, our own example and witness, our own words, our own actions.  Children not only live what they learn ... they learn what they live.  And it is our God given task and calling to do help them do both.

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