August 19: Back to School (20 B)


“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” John 6:51-58.

We have returned to Santa Catalina for the new academic year of 2018/2019.

At its outset, you have the task of welcoming new students and helping to establish a community eager for learning and service. This is an essential work for all of us as staff, faculty, and students.

Both in high schools and in colleges all over the country, new students are moving into dorm rooms and experiencing the first days of a new high school or college community.

So this is a valuable time to set the right tone and support for your fellow students. In effect, you are establishing the “rules of the road” and the “hospitality and wisdom” that is the Santa Catalina community.

So let’s take a brief look at the “rules of the road” and “hospitality and wisdom.”

First, let’s examine the “rules of the road.”

Interestingly, in the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul tells us:

“Observe how you live…making the most of the opportunity.” And again, “Do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand the will of the Lord.” And, “Do not get drunk on wine.”

It sounds like Saint Paul is giving a college or high school orientation talk!

Lastly, Paul recommends: “Give thanks for everything in the name of the Lord.” And yes, this is a time for thanks!

As I was packing up old files, recently, I discovered a “Student Handbook” from my high school Seton Hall Prep. South Orange, N.J.

This booklet of 29 pages complete with rules and regulations governs student life. Each student had to have this booklet with him at all times. I say “him” because my high school remains an all-boys secondary school.

This version of the handbook that I have with me dated from 1975 when I was a teacher there.

My own memory of high school is less about the rules about grooming, dress, demerits, and smoking, and there were plenty of those. Mostly I recall the “life lessons” and how we learned from one another and how we treated one another when experiencing the complications that often come with maturing and growing up.

There was daily Mass in the early morning, and mid-week, perhaps on Tuesday or Wednesday morning – a student club was known as the “Knights of Setonia” organized a student Mass. After the Mass, there was a breakfast with a menu of orange juice, donuts, and coffee or milk. Maybe for some, this was the reward for attending Mass.

This weekly service was celebrated in a small gothic revival brownstone chapel. The construction was begun in 1863, during the American Civil War, and, at the very time of the battle of Gettysburg, fought in nearby Pennsylvania.

On the walls of the chapel, there were placards or memorials with names of the alumni who comprised the war dead from the American Civil War and Gettysburg, to the World Wars & the Korean War.

As a high school student, I didn’t expect that my classmates’ names could find their way onto these memorial plaques; and yet only a few years later John Harrington, the president of our Senior Class, died in an airplane crash while he was training to serve in Viet Nam. I recall him as a young man and one of the very best students in our Senior Latin class, and the quarterback of the football team.

So too places such as this Rosary Chapel hold deep and cherished memories of a past, which you become part, a place where you and I can come back time and again, and see the faces and recall the words of cherished friends and teachers.

Each Wednesday, your student prayer service is especially important to me – and always gives meaning to your spiritual aspirations and a broad sense of how the Lord is moving you as a community of faith and learning.

It’s in this company of friends that we can provide the hospitality and welcome to a new class of young women, now coming from distant places and cultures and may require more attention and encouragement from us.

The first of our readings today comes from the Book of Proverbs and reveals a truth that you may encounter, especially during the opening week of school.

Namely, wisdom builds a house with an open table, and calls out: “Turn in here…Come, eat of my food and drink! Forsake foolishness that you may live, and advance in the way of understanding!”

So by inviting others to this “table of learning,” you will give your fellow students a head start on the school year.

Most of all, we come here to this chapel to celebrate the “bread of life” that gives food and spiritual nourishment. Jesus tells us, “whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

This sacramental life helps us to grow in wisdom, age, and grace to sustain us now and will accompany us wherever the journey of life takes us.

So, in the words of today’s psalm, let us “taste and see the goodness of the Lord” who has brought us, once again to Santa Catalina so that we may be glad and rejoice in new friends and learn afresh and celebrate with great spirit this new academic year.

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina High School, Monterey, CA.

Here’s an inspiring portrait about a Bay Area high school teacher from the PBS Newshour entitled “Flossy Lewis is still a spectacular teacher at 94.”


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