Pope Francis’ Big Mistake
By Rev. John Belmonte, S.J., Ph.D., Superintendent of Catholic Schools, Diocese of Joliet
This summer Pope Francis revealed in an interview his top ten secrets to happiness. Perhaps you saw the interview. As you might expect, the list is filled with the practical wisdom we have come to expect from the Holy Father. His ten secrets to happiness include things like: Live and Let Live. Stop being negative. Be generous. Sundays are for the family. Unfortunately, Pope Francis made a terrible mistake. (As a Jesuit priest, I think I can point out this one.) He forgot one of the secrets. He left out the eleventh secret. The eleventh secret to happiness is: go to Catholic School. In our diocese we have many. Pick one. They are excellent schools. At our Catholic schools our students learn all ten of the secrets to happiness that the Holy Father shared. Our students learn to be generous. Our students learn to stop being negative. Our students learn that Sunday is for the family. Since Pope Francis went to Catholic schools himself, I would bet that he would agree that he learned all of his ten secrets to happiness at his Catholic school. He just left out the eleventh secret for happiness: go to Catholic school.
As we celebrate Catholic Schools Week next week, let me emphasize something else. The eleventh secret cannot remain a secret. You actually have to tell people that secret. Tell everyone, in fact. Tell your family members. Tell your neighbors. Tell your friends and community leaders. Tell everyone about the great teachers and pastors and principals we have. They answered our blessed Lord’s call to serve Him. They teach and lead with great skill and dedication every day. Tell everyone about how we learn more at our Catholic schools: more about science, math and poetry. Our students also learn more about other important subjects like prayer, scripture, and morality. Tell everyone about how our students are treated with respect. How they are treated as individuals. How our teachers know our students for more than nine years during the most formative time of their lives. Tell everyone about how our students achieve ahead of their peers. We have students who have perfect ACT scores and test scores above the national average in every category. Our high school students were awarded over $100 million in college scholarships. Everyone should know how generous our parishioners are. They invested more than $14 million in Catholic education in our diocese last year. Tell everyone that we gave $1.8 million in scholarships to needy students. They should know that we are raising more money as well. Everyone has to hear that our graduates change the world. They are leaders in every field. Our graduates are pastors of our parishes, the mayors of our cities, the leaders of our businesses. They are teachers, lawyers, doctors, police officers, and scientists. Tell everyone how we collaborate with our families at our Catholic schools. We are always looking ahead with technology in classroom instruction. Our students use tablets and laptops. We help our students discover their talents in fields like art, music, foreign languages, and athletics.
Most important of all, tell everyone about how, at our Catholic schools, we encounter Jesus Christ in His Church. We meet him every day. Our students become lifelong friends with Jesus Christ, the Son of God. When we celebrate the over 2000 masses we celebrate in our schools, we meet Christ. We meet him when we pray in class together and when we learn the catechism. Our schools offer more than 400,000 hours of religious instruction every year. We meet our Lord when we serve the poor and the community in the 175,000 hours of service we offer through our schools. We also meet the mother of our Lord, Mary, most holy. We meet the saints who intercede for us. St. Joseph. St. Francis. St. Therese. St. John Paul II.
So this Catholic Schools Week, do not forget the eleventh secret to happiness. Go to Catholic school. But let’s not keep it a secret. Tell everyone. Tell everyone that we belong to Christ. We belong to his church. That’s the secret to happiness. Visit one of our Catholic schools. You will find in the smiling faces of our students and caring presence of our teachers that the eleventh secret is no secret at all.