Catholic Schools Week 2023

Sixth graders gather at cathedral for Mass

On Feb. 3, Bishop Raica celebrated Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul, marking the 2023 celebration of Catholic Schools Week. Sixth graders from Catholic schools around the diocese attended the annual Mass. The complete text of the bishop’s homily follows herein.

My dear young people, faculty, parents, and guests, I’m delighted to welcome you to the Cathedral of St. Paul here in downtown Birmingham to highlight Catholic Schools Week. For many of you, this may be the first time you have come here. It takes an effort to come. The cathedral is like the diocesan parish church. It welcomes all who come to be part of the larger expression of Church here in central and northern Alabama. So, welcome one and all today – from the north, from the east, from the west, from Birmingham, and all points in between. Any time you are in downtown Birmingham, or come for a special occasion like an ordination, the Chrism Mass, or other event, the cathedral is the main church of welcome for all!

Now, what’s the difference between your parish church and the cathedral. Some things are very similar such as the pews, windows (some with stained glass and others clear), an organ (new this past year), an altar, a tabernacle where the presence of Jesus remains with us, candles, and statues reminding us of our extended family who are part of the communion of saints – our Blessed Mother, St. John Vianney, St. Paul our patron, St. Joseph, and others. But there is one item that’s very special here that is not in other churches. It is the chair where the bishop sits / or where I’m standing. It is called the “cathedra” or “chair,” and the name cathedral gets its name from this object. It is the cathedral that contains the chair of the bishop. It is where the chief pastor of the diocese sits, preaches, and teaches in his official capacity.

Thank you for taking time to come here to be part of a larger celebration of Catholic Schools Week where you see each other from our several schools. I thank you principals and teachers who have enabled us to gather together today. In a special way, I thank Margaret Dubose, our superintendent, who oversees the Catholic educational mission here in our diocese.

Another aspect of our celebration today is the great feast of St. Blaise. He is another bishop from a very early time in the Church who served in Armenia in Eastern Europe. He is credited with saving a young boy who was choking on a fish bone. So, for us Catholics, he is connected with cures of diseases of the throat. For that, and his belief as a Christian, he became a supreme witness and was martyred in year 316 AD. Because there are so many of you today, we will do it as a group gesture at the end of the Universal Prayers or Prayers of the Faithful.  

In a few years, you will be joining other parishioners to be confirmed. You will choose a saint that is important for you and who will accompany you in life.

Let me share with you something that happened to me 10 years ago. I was helping out with a retreat, and one young retreatant told me, “Msgr., I really want to become a saint!” You see, we are not born saints. At some point in our life, we will have to make a critical decision about the direction of our life and the purpose of our life. As such, we will say “yes” to some things and “no” to other things that don’t fulfill the aims of our life. We rely, of course, on the Lord Who calls us as Christians. So, we try to listen to a voice, to read about what will be most fulfilling and hopeful for ourselves. We will ask the Lord, “What do You want me to do for You, Lord?” In some instances, you will hear that call very clearly, and others will have to work at it a bit more. Eventually, everything will come into focus. Sometimes, we hear the Lord calling us, but we aren’t so sure because it may not be where we might want to go. It may not be the most popular decision. It may not line up with what some may view as worldly success. There will be objections. Every saint raised objections in their conversation with the Lord: “I’m too old … I’m too young … it is not what I was expecting.” I assure you, my friends, the Lord provides. For some it’s marriage. For others it’s being single. Still others feel a call to religious life as a priest, brother, or sister. Do not be afraid of God’s call. Young people like yourselves have been called – like Blessed Carlo Acutis who died not too long ago when he was about 14 years old. His life is an inspiration to young people. Just last week, I was at a meeting in New Mexico, and a young deaf boy, around 16 years old, came up to me and said, “Bishop, I want to be a priest!” 

I would hope that in your life journey, boys, and girls, that you will listen to the Lord in your formation through Catholic schools. You can read Sacred Scripture, you can pray before the Blessed Sacrament, you can listen to music – God chooses many different ways to reach out to tell you His unique and special plan for you. In the end, whatever is proposed, you will pray about it and say: “Yes! Lord, here I am., and I come to do Your will,” or “No, Lord, I’ll go my own way.”

Finally, we hear in the Gospel the special command of our Lord: “Go into the whole world!”  And you know what? They did. They didn’t have many resources, but they went. They witnessed about this man Jesus Who died and rose – someone they know personally Who changed their lives.

What are you looking for my dear young people? Together we are seekers and finders. The Lord will share with you His special dream for you. Ask Him to do so! 

My dear young people, during this Catholic Schools Week, we come together to motivate our faith, our excellence, and our service. As we grow in faith every day, we have the very special opportunity to become God’s dream in the world. I pray that you will hear the Lord speaking to you!

May your patron saints accompany you as well as St. Paul, St. John Vianney, the patrons of this diocese as well as our Blessed Mother. Blessings to all!