I am proud to be a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which you may have seen, in the news, has just begun a restructuring of our vaunted school system intended to sustain and reinvigorate Catholic education in our territory. The hope and difficulties associated with this news led me to an interesting meditation this weekend.
The Epiphany, which the Church celebrates either on January 6th or on the nearest Sunday, is the arrival of the Magi at the scene of the nativity. These three men go by many names: Magi; kings; wise men; Gaspar, Melchior, & Balthazar. At their root, of course, they were historically not kings, but very learned men from the East. In fact, they were among the leading scientists of ancient times. Their knowledge of the stars and constellations far surpassed the knowledge of their contemporaries in the West. These were men of learning, men of education, men of science.
And yet, if that had been all, they would have been forgotten in the record books of history. What has made their memory endure—what has caused us to celebrate this solemnity since before we even celebrated Christmas—is the fact that they were not only men of science, but men of science who allowed themselves to be led by the light of a star to Bethlehem. These men, who had devoted their lives to studying the stars and the heavens came to Bethlehem in humility to see the Star and heaven, itself, in a lowly manger.
The three wise men knew something that has been challenged a thousand times in our own day. They knew that faith and reason are not opposed, nor are they inconsistent. Rather, faith and reason are inseparable. Indeed, faith is reasonable.
This is the great gift of Catholic education! Our schools offer not only top-notch academic training, but also formation in Christian living and the ways of faith. Faith & reason thrive together in our schools and in our religious education programs. You likely know people in your own life who are highly education, but who, in fact, have become so “educated,” that their faith has fallen to the wayside. That type of “education”—the type that leads one away from faith—is false. It is not true education. True education always leads to truth—academic truths, and the ultimate Truth, Who is Jesus Christ, Himself.
The Catholic Church has an incredible history of providing education.
• The preservation of ancient manuscripts is the gift of Catholic monks.
• The creation of the scientific method is the gift of Catholic educators.
• The beginning of the science of genetics is the gift of a man named Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian, Catholic priest.
• The education of the poor and of foreigners and of those with disabilities is the gift of Catholic nuns (like St. Katharine Drexel) and missionaries.
• Even the academic gowns worn at graduations owe their origin to the clerical garb worn by Catholic clergy centuries ago.
That history, of course, is meaningless if we do not continue the work in the present. The word “education,” itself, comes from Latin words meaning “to lead out.” As Catholics, we understand that to mean being led out of the shadows of darkness & doubt and being led into the light of truth & faith. As the Magi knew, life is not just about being led to facts; it is about being led to the Person of Jesus.
I personally owe a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid for 21 years of Catholic education that have led me to the Star of Bethlehem—the very Star the Magi came to adore. I’ve long been inspired by a sign that hangs in most Catholic schools and that I think captures the meaning of Catholic education. It says this:
“Let it be known to all who enter here that Christ is the reason for this school: the unseen, but ever-present Teacher in its classes, the model of its faculty, the inspiration of its students.”
With the Magi as our model, may we all be loyal students of this great Teacher!