Catholic Schools and the 'Return to Galilee'

Pope Francis raises the Book of the Gospels as he celebrates the Easter Vigil in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican April 19. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Over the last few weeks I've been contemplating what Easter might mean for my students and for the work of a Catholic educator and Catholic school. My mind has wandered in and out of many potential responses, but I've found that Pope Francis's homily at the Easter vigil has provided a really helpful line of reflection.

The Gospel reading that the Holy Father reflected upon was Matthew's account of the resurrection. In that account, the Marys meet an angel at the empty tomb who instructs them to head to Galilee. On the way, they meet Jesus, and he echoes the angel: "Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me." 

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Speaking of this emphasis on Galilee, Pope Francis said:

Galilee is the place where they were first called, where everything began!  To return there, to return to the place where they were originally called. Jesus had walked along the shores of the lake as the fishermen were casting their nets.  He had called them, and they left everything and followed him (cf. Mt 4:18-22). 

To return to Galilee means to re-read everything on the basis of the cross and its victory.  To re-read everything – Jesus’ preaching, his miracles, the new community, the excitement and the defections, even the betrayal – to re-read everything starting from the end, which is a new beginning, from this supreme act of love.

For each of us, too, there is a “Galilee” at the origin of our journey with Jesus.  “To go to Galilee” means something beautiful, it means rediscovering our baptism as a living fountainhead, drawing new energy from the sources of our faith and our Christian experience.  To return to Galilee means above all to return to that blazing light with which God’s grace touched me at the start of the journey.  From that flame I can light a fire for today and every day, and bring heat and light to my brothers and sisters.  That flame ignites a humble joy, a joy which sorrow and distress cannot dismay, a good, gentle joy.

When I read of the Pope's description of what it means to return to Galilee, my mind turns to the work of Catholic schools. For many students, Catholic education is their invitation to Galilee, their first "Galilee experience." It's in Catholic schools where many -- even many Catholic students -- receive their first summons to a life of faith; where they first begin to sense the urgency of Jesus' words; where they first begin to consider their own futures not as a perpetual climb toward increased material comfort but as a response to a call, as an invitation into the mystery of the divine. Catholic schools are often the first places (and often the only places) where young men and women visit the poor and the marginalized, and through these experiences reconfigure their own perceptions about themselves, God, wealth and society. 

To borrow from the Pope, Catholic schools invite students to a prolonged "re-reading" of their context through post-Easter eyes. More than once, students have returned from an immersion trip or a retreat with a new interpretive key for their own lives. Something has changed; they cannot go on as normal. This doesn't mean students become devout Christians; this doesn't mean that Catholic schools always affect a change akin to what the disciples experience on the road to Emmaus. Nevertheless, Catholic schools and the experiences they provide are often the place where the flame of faith begins to burn, where the extraordinary nature of the call of Christ begins to take shape, where students, in effect, engage a new path as spiritual citizens, a role with new challenges, new horizons and a radically new purpose. 

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