One of my favorite parts of the Easter season (pilfering jelly beans from my kids’ baskets aside) is the readings from the Acts of the Apostles we hear proclaimed at Mass. Acts tells us the story of the early Church “ how, after the Lord’s Ascension and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles “did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ” to the Jews and the Gentiles (5:42). We are told that “many of those who heard the word believed” (4:4) and the “more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (5:14).
We are also told of the great deeds done by these believers: miraculous healings (3:7; 5:16) and speaking in tongues (2:4-6), yes, but also providing for widows and the poor (4:32; 6:1ff) and proclaiming Christ even in the face of martyrdom (7:59-60; 12:2-3).
So what does the Book of Acts have to tell us about Catholic schools?
As our bishop, Thomas John Paprocki, stated so well in his homily at our recent Principals’ Leadership Conference, the purpose of Catholic schools is not to impart academic knowledge or focus on the “Three Rs.” If that was our purpose there would be no difference between Catholic schools and public schools. Similarly, the faith-based character of our schools is not simply an “add-on,” something tacked on to the public school model.
Rather, the imparting of the faith — the preaching of the Gospel in word and in deed — is at the very heart and purpose of our Catholic schools. Like the early disciples, our task is to preach Christ to our students and show them through our works what it means to take on the name “Christian.” We are charged with building up our students to be disciples for Christ. Everything else, no matter how valuable or important in the secular world, is secondary to that charge.
As you listen to the readings from the Acts of the Apostles over the next weeks, pay attention to how the early Church worked to spread the Gospel. It was hard work (and dangerous!) but they persevered with charity and joy. We are called to imitate these saints and martyrs by passing on this faith to those in our care — to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19) and build up the Body of Christ.