When applying for a graduate teaching program after college, one of the interview questions centered on my favorite Gospel story that relates to teaching. Relying on my years in Catholic elementary and high school, I suggested Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed. As educators, we plant small seeds and nurture them to grow into marvelous things!
Before staying home with our two sons, my wife was also a Catholic school teacher and principal. In her office was a quote by William Butler Yeats that read, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” We light small sparks that will grow and bring light and warmth to those who surround it.
I share these anecdotes this week as we begin the celebration of National Catholic Schools’ Week – an opportunity to recognize the tremendous achievements of the 6,352 Catholic schools across the United States. Catholic schools are where students are able to learn, serve, lead, and ultimately succeed. Seeds are planted and sparks are lit every single day in our Catholic schools.
I feel so tremendously blessed to be principal at our very own Catholic school at St. Mary Magdalen here in Camarillo. It is a privilege to work with a dedicated and enthusiastic faculty and a tremendous honor to partner with amazing parents in the education of their children. It is with these teachers and parents that seeds are planted and small sparks are nurtured.
I am certainly proud of the academic achievements of our students that see them typically score above the national average on standardized tests and advance to the top high schools in our area. I’m also proud of the wide range of opportunities we are able to offer our students during the school day such as Spanish and music as well as after school activities including a wide variety of clubs and sports.
We help our students to grow and flourish in so many ways, but I truly believe the most important seeds we plant and flames we fan are that of our students’ faith. To be able to start every day in prayer, celebrate Mass together once a week as a school community, and openly talk with students about our shared Catholic faith is something I most enjoy about my job and something that sets our school apart from others. We prepare students to not only be productive citizens of this world, but also develop them to one day be citizens of heaven.
The work that we do is something that cannot be done without your prayers and support and to my fellow Padre Serra parishioners, I offer humble words of deep gratitude. Your generosity over the years allows us to continue to grow and thrive. This is your school community and you are such an important part of the educational journey and faith development of all our children.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines an Epiphany as (1): a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something. (2): an intuitive grasp of reality through something (such as an event) usually simple and striking. (3): an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.
The Epiphany of the Lord that we celebrated two weeks ago certainly meets these criteria. Foreign Magi, following a very unusual and striking star, encounter the baby Jesus, and understand that he is the savior not only of the Jews, but of the Gentiles as well. Their reverence for the child may have caused an epiphany for the Jews surrounding him at the time, including Mary and Joseph.
Our Eastern Christian brothers and sisters celebrate three such manifestations or epiphanies. The first is the arrival of the Magi with their gifts, the revelation of Jesus as savior for all. We heard about the second in last week’s gospel. The now grown Jesus, about to embark on his public ministry, first seeks out his cousin John and requests baptism. John, knowing who Jesus is, questions this, saying that it is Jesus who should be baptizing him. But he obeys, and when Jesus comes up out of the water, many see a dove descending on him, and hear God’s voice from heaven saying to Jesus “you are my beloved Son. In you I am well pleased.” In this way, Jesus’ special relationship to the divine is revealed or manifested to those present (and to those who will hear their testimony later).
In this week’s reading from John’s gospel we hear of the third of these epiphanies. Jesus (with a little prompting from his mother) changes water into wine at a wedding feast at Cana. Much has been written about Jesus’ choice of venues and circumstances for his first miracle. Some say that a wedding feast where he provides the lacking wine is a metaphor for the kingdom of God. Others see Jesus’ generosity filling six stone water jars, each with a 20 to 30 gallon capacity, with wine of a superior quality as a sign of the abundant life that God calls us to. Still others point to the joyous occasion that Jesus obviously intended to enjoy as pointing to his humanity. But I think all can agree that Jesus’ divinity was also manifested here.
There is another aspect to see here as well. As is the case in so many of Jesus’ miracles, the beneficiaries were active participants. The wedding couple and their family provided the stone jars and the water, not to mention the event and the invitation that brought Jesus and his mother there. And Jesus’ mother Mary provided a little encouragement.
How can we manifest Jesus to others? How can we create epiphanies in our lives?
Dear Parish Family,
On this, the last day of the Christmas season, we experience once again a Great Epiphany. Today we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. There are many levels to this Great Epiphany.
In our first epiphany, God gives us salvation, by sending his only son, who humbled himself and became human. He becomes the bridge for humanity to reach God. His Salvation is for all nations, especially those on the margins, the forgotten.
In this our second epiphany, the Holy Trinity is revealed to us, the Holy Spirit descending in the bodily form of a dove and God's voice speaking, revealing Jesus as his son, both human and divine. The one true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, shows Himself in Christ, through Him, with Him and in Him.
At his Baptism, Jesus being divine and free of any sin, humbled himself and had John baptized him. Just as the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus then, every time someone is baptized, the Holy Spirit continues to descend over us, filling us with his Grace and making us new creations, free of sin. At Baptism we too are declared children of God, therefore making us all brothers and sisters.
In the Rite of Baptism, we are anointed with the Chrism oil, as priest, prophet and king. This should be a reminder of our mission, just like Jesus, after he was baptized he began his ministry, we too are given the power through the Holy Spirit to go out into the world and begin our ministry. With every sacrament, we continue to receive his Grace and strength to follow in Jesus path.
In Celebration of Jesus baptism and our own, look for your Baptismal keepsakes and share them with your family. Let us celebrate that we are God's Beloved.
Faith Formation Minister
Dear Faith Family,
I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas season. With this today being Epiphany Sunday, I also hope that your celebration has continued up to this point.
I had a wonderful Christmas! There is nothing like spending time with family and celebrating the peace that comes with our beautiful faith. My family and I spent a lot of time baking cookies, wrapping presents and just being in each other’s company. It’s a blessing to have this time of year to put your loved ones in perspective.
This year, my wife and I tried something a little different with our daughter Reggie. We decided to watch a Christmas movie on Christmas Eve. Usually, I’m not a big fan of Christmas movies but in the spirit of Christmas, I decided to be a team player. We logged into Netflix and we started a movie named “The Star.”
When the movie started, I almost completely tuned out. The Star is an animated film about animals, so I thought I was a little too old for it. Again, I exercised patience and focused my attention. To my surprise, I really enjoyed the film! In fact, there was a lot that I learned from it.
The animals in the film were helping Mary and Joseph to find a birthplace for baby Jesus. In the film though, there was a very different portrayal of Mary and Joseph that I found appealing; they were real people.
I know it sounds crazy that through a film for children that I found myself drawn to the holy lives of our Holy Mother, her husband and her Son, but there is something about a human portrayal of the Saints that we admire to help us understand that grace is real and available for anybody. I can honestly say that the movie was not a masterpiece, but its attempt to show Christ was effective to me.
Please understand that this letter is not intended to be a promotion of a film. In fact, I would say the film wasn’t even that good. In the film, there wasn’t a giant theological disposition and there wasn’t the most accurate movie when it comes to telling the story of the Nativity, but somehow it spoke to me. A simple, imperfect portrayal of the Greatest Story Ever Told somehow helped me to understand the holiness that Mary and Joseph had.
Sometimes we think that we aren’t smart, charismatic or holy enough to bring people closer to God. But when I watched this film it helped me to understand that we just need to tell our story. It may be imperfect, it may be strange and it may not be the most refined, but our own story can bring people closer to God, no matter how boring you may think it is.
Though this Christmas season is coming to an end, I invite all of you to be the star that leads people to Christ. I invite you to tell your story, as a Church, we need your story to be told. Even if you think it’s a waste of time, I guarantee it isn’t.
Youth and Young Adult Minister