One Sunday in late August, a few years back, I was in the sacristy of my parish with another priest who was preparing for the next Mass. One of the Mass servers walked into the sacristy, and we began to chat with him. I said to him, “Well, school is right around the corner.”
A sad look appeared on the face of the boy, and he said, “Yeah, this summer went by too fast.”
The other priest, in an effort to cheer him up, asked him, “What was the best part of your summer?”
Without hesitating, the boy replied, “The beginning of it.”
Once again, summer has flown by quickly, and our young people are busy preparing for a new school year. At this time of year, I focus my thoughts and prayers on the students, teachers, principals, staffs and parents, who work so hard to provide a good education for the young people. In a special way, I pray for our Catholic school teachers and the teachers in our religious education programs, who have such an important role in passing on our faith tradition to the children and youth.
We should never forget that Jesus himself was a teacher. His own pedagogy was one that offered people a new perspective on life and on faith, and challenged them to change their hearts and live their lives focused on the Kingdom of God. He engaged his listeners with parables, using examples from everyday life — farming, homemaking and fishing, among others in order to capture their imagination and allow them to ruminate on profound messages about God’s love, mercy and saving power.
Chapter 13 of the Gospel of Matthew includes a series of parables like the weeds among wheat, the mustard seed, the yeast in the bread dough, the treasure in the field, the pearl of great price, and the fishermen separating the good fish from the bad. Each of these parables points to a central message in the teaching of Jesus — “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”
The teaching of the weeds among the wheat reminds us that evil co-exists with good in this world. However, this parable emphasizes that the Divine Sower sowed good seed, and it grew to produce abundant grain, even in the midst of the weeds. God’s grace is always at work and good will triumph over evil.
The story of the mustard seed teaches us that the mystery of the Kingdom of God begins in small ways, but small things grow into great things. Think of raising a family. Raising children requires a sequence of little things — feeding them, reading to them, protecting them, loving them, consoling them — and all of these things, no matter how small, are greatly significant as children gradually grow up.
The parable of yeast making the dough rise speaks to us of how the Kingdom of God begins in ways that others might see as insignificant. A little understanding, an act of kindness, a few consoling words can change everything in our lives — so powerful is the yeast of God’s love working through us.
The teachings of the buried treasure in the field and the pearl of great price instruct us that those who are truly wise in the eyes of God are willing to risk everything to attain the Kingdom of God. We must be watchful for the ways in which God reveals his Kingdom to us in our day-to-day lives and be ready to seize the moment.
The parable of the dragnet, with the fishermen sorting the good fish from the inedible and unclean sea creatures, speaks to us in one sense of judgment. The fishermen, who are the angels at the end of time, do not throw the unclean creatures back into the sea, but rather dispose of them. However, more important than that is the focus on the good catch of fish. Those who allow the Kingdom of God to grow within them will be drawn into eternal happiness in the nets of God’s saving love.
After teaching the people in parables, Jesus, the teacher, asks them an important question: “Do you understand all these things?”
To begin to grasp the mysteries of the Kingdom requires an understanding heart. Our heart’s true desire is the precious treasure and the pearl of great price of which Jesus speaks. Our heart desires the Kingdom of God, the kingdom of love, forgiveness, mercy and peace, in which we are reconciled with God and one another. For Catholic educators, an essential goal is to help young people develop an understanding heart, and to encourage them to focus on what is truly essential for their lives as Christians and as human beings. I pray that our teachers may continue to help them understand what is truly of value in life, that their lives may be happy and fruitful, and that they follow the path that leads to everlasting life.