“Equipping Young People for Excellence, All the Way to Eternity”

Homily, Friday of the Second Week of Lent
Mass for High School Teachers’ Convocation
March 1, 2024, Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption


What is it that would move a young person to seek to live a deeply spiritual life?  To dedicate his or her life to Jesus Christ, even to the point of forsaking all else in order to pursue him, and him alone, in a life of service to God’s Church in Holy Orders or religious consecration?

The Cost of Following Christ

As irreligious and hyper-secularized as the culture of our society has become, the Church still witnesses young people who want to give their all, motivated by what we traditionally call the sequela Christi – following Christ to the exclusion of everything else.  Such young people have come to the realization early in life of a proper sense of priority; they already have their eyes fixed on eternity and they know that, in the end, all that matters is life in Jesus Christ.  Of course, though, there is a price to be paid for that.

It is not dissimilar to a young married couple setting out on their life together: they have not yet learned what it will cost for them to love each other to the end of their lives, even as they envision themselves being together to the very end.  For a young person seeking a religious vocation, our readings for Mass today make very clear what will be the cost of being like Christ in the world today.

First of all, we have the figure of Joseph in our first reading.  Joseph here is clearly a foreshadowing of Jesus Christ and all he would do and be for us: Joseph was betrayed by his brothers for 20 pieces of silver as Jesus was betrayed by his disciple Judas for 30 pieces of silver; Joseph was stripped of his long tunic as Jesus was stripped of his garments before being nailed to the Cross; Joseph was thrown into a cistern, Jesus went down into hell after his death on the Cross to free the righteous detained there.

And then we have the example of the parable in today’s gospel: the landlord’s son is taken out of the vineyard and killed, just as Jesus was killed on the Cross outside of the city gates.  The parable is directed against the leaders of the people – the chief priests and elders – who are entrusted with the care of the vineyard.  The vineyard is an ancient symbol of Israel, God’s people, and Jesus is alluding here to a long history of corrupt leaders who would not heed God’s messengers: the prophets were ignored and persecuted, and God’s very own Son crucified as an innocent victim.


To be identified to Christ means to suffer a similar fate in this world in some way or another.  That is the cost of fidelity to Christ.  And yes, how easy it is to settle into a comfortable life like the chief priests and elders of the people.  This is the result of a long series of little and eventually big compromises with the demands of one’s vocation in life.

No young person starting out in a vocation envisions life turning out like this.  But often the cost is not adequately calculated.  Can they withstand ridicule for standing for the truth of Christ?  Can they retain conviction while still being charitable, seeking to understand the other rather than retaliating with moral violence as is so common today?  Are they capable of suffering ostracization, living as outcasts from polite society and from the circles of those who hold the reins of cultural power?

The development of this kind of character requires a life of virtue, something acquired with ever greater perfection over time.  I think there can be no greater mission of our Catholic schools than to help our young people grow in this kind of virtue; in doing so, they will stand apart in the world, different from others but pointing to a better way to live, a way of living that leads eventually to life beyond this world.  And of course, as you know better than I, young people learn more by example than by words.  Thank you for your commitment to teaching our young people not only a body of very valuable knowledge, but above all, how to live well in this world by following the way of Jesus Christ.

In the Lives of Young People

There is, though, a temptation we need to avoid, a temptation, I think, that is common all throughout Church life these days: the temptation to rush to the end of the story.  We know it doesn’t end with suffering and death.  Joseph’s demise ended in a comeback: he rose to power and prestige in Pharaoh’s court later in Egypt.  That would not have happened if he hadn’t been sold into slavery by his brothers and taken to Egypt by the Ishmaelites.  Here, too, we see a prefiguration of our Lord: after the demise of his death on the Cross and descent into hell he rose gloriously triumphant over death.  That is the promise he holds out to all those who follow him through Good Friday: it will end on Easter Sunday.

We live in a culture that abhors suffering, that sees no value in it and only negativity, something to be avoided at all costs.  I find it curious, though, that many people understand that lesson of “no pain no gain” when it comes to pursuits that pay off in this life.  They understand, for example, how it works in making financial investments.  Think of a retirement account: people readily understand and are ready to make modest deposits every month over a long period of time in order to have a payoff at the end.  Same thing with physical conditioning: in the mania to get physically fit, people understand that one workout won’t do it.  They are willing to put in the effort every day over a long period of time in order to attain the health and physique for which they are striving.  For some reason, though, it seems too hard for many people to make the connection of how this principle applies to their moral and spiritual life as well.

The mission of a Catholic school is to help its students achieve excellence in all dimensions of life, but especially in the moral and spiritual dimensions.  This is the foundation of what our tradition calls “the good life”: morally sound, spiritually deep, with the capacity to give and receive love, love in the sense of agape.  As St. Paul

reminds us, without this all else is useless, meaningless – just a noisy gong or a clanging symbol.  Young people naturally aspire to excellence, and our schools must help them to get there, help them to develop the strong moral character and unshakeable faith necessary to be able to pay the price of what excellence costs, so that they do not settle for mediocrity and just blend in with the rest of the beige and boring cultural malaise in which our society finds itself.  Without such character, the virtue that makes one capable of agape love, whatever else our students accomplish in life will turn to dust.  Love, after all, is the only thing we can take with us beyond the grave.


As we continue to make our way through this holy season of Lent, let us renew ourselves in the classic Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving – these that are really the basic practices of all of the Christian life – so that, as we prayed in the opening prayer for Mass today, the sacred practice of penance may win for us God’s purifying grace leading us in sincerity of heart to attain the holy things to come.  And for us here today, may these practices also help us to be models and guides for our young people, leading them to follow in the way of Christ, all the way to eternal life.  Amen.