Immaculate Heart of Mary Sister John Sheila Galligan told Catholic educators that they must be proud of their faith and counter a culture that is indifferent to religion, particularly Christianity.
“We need Catholic education,” she said. “We need to know what we believe in and why we believe it.”
Sister John Sheila, a professor of theology at Immaculata University in Philadelphia, was the keynote speaker at the annual Community of Faith Gathering May 6 at the Radisson Hotel in Green Tree.
Sponsored by the Secretariat for Education, the gathering celebrates Total Catholic Education with pastors, presidents and principals, catechetical administrators, youth ministers, high school ministry teams and diocesan staff.
Sister John Sheila pointed out that schools and instructors must not be preoccupied with the general culture, but with the Catholic culture.
If we live it out fully, she noted, the general culture will be affected and transformed.
There is a tendency, she said, to “short-circuit” the power of the Gospel and offer judgment in the light of secular values. The result is a bland Christianity that is non-threatening.
“God is not nice,” she said. “God is good. And goodness is different than niceness.”
She spoke of the need to remove “nice” from our vocabulary.
Sister John Sheila said Catholics must be ready to give a reason for why they believe in what they do, and be ready to live the truth.
By living the truth, she noted, many others will see them as different. She pointed to author Flannery O’Connor, who said, “The truth will make you odd.”
She asked those at the gathering to ask themselves how they are different, how they judge and how they can wake up society.
If they are proud and trust in the faith, she said, they will know what they believe in and why they do. They will be able to respond to the Spirit and elicit enthusiasm to those they meet.
Father Kris Stubna, secretary for education, highlighted the importance of bringing many priests and parish catechetical leaders together.
“It is a real sign of how much our parishes value the importance of Catholic education and the many ways that we try to pass on the faith to our young people and adults in the church,” he said.
“Sister John Sheila was able to remind us of our fundamental call to hand on the truth of Jesus Christ, but do it with enthusiasm and joy, and a desire to lead those we teach to a living, transforming encounter with the person of Jesus.”
The gathering also included a Mass and dinner.
In his homily during the liturgy, Father Stubna reminded the gathering of the “noble and privileged” task of being able to hand on the faith.
He told them that they celebrate the real and lasting bond that comes from a life in Christ.
The strength of their work for Jesus Christ and the church, he noted, is measured in their willingness to carry on truth in unselfish love.
Father Stubna said the best description of Catholic education involves a total dying to self, and a call to sacrifice all one has in service to others.
He spoke of the challenges to the faith – the growing cultural hostility and moral relativism. Other issues such as the poor economy, he noted, can overwhelm us and diminish the presence of Christ in our lives and the world around us.
But the greatest dangers, he said, are often internal rather than external.
“Catholic educators are called to be courageous apostles of the truth,” he said.
If they are to be successful, Father Stubna noted, they must be firmly rooted in prayer and draw strength from the sacramental life of the church. They must show great joy and enthusiasm for what they preach.
While joy is ultimately contagious, he added, it can only come from an intimate relationship with Jesus.
“Do we share joy or diminish God’s presence by our lack of energy and spirit?” he asked.
He reminded the educators of the importance of creating a community of faith in parishes. It involves upholding the authority of the church and respecting the dignity of all people.
Their acts of faith, love, charity and kindness will hold them together, he said, and ultimately lead them to the heart of Christ.
By JOHN FRANKO, Staff Writer. This article appeared in the May 15, 2009, issue of the Pittsburgh Catholic.