‘A journey of discovery, growth, and blessings’

Bishop Raica speaks to students at the beginning of school year

On Sept. 7, Bishop Raica celebrated Mass at John Carroll Catholic High School in Birmingham. The complete text of his homily follows herein.

My sisters and brothers here at John Carroll Catholic High School, it is my joy to be with all of you today for this Mass of the Holy Spirit, inaugurating the academic year. In a particular way, I wish to greet my brother priests who are present today along with Principal Ron Steele, the faculty, staff, and benefactors who are here today. Whenever we begin a new academic year, it is like opening up a new chapter in life. The chapter has yet to be written, the pages are blank. Your lives, your participation will be the ink used to write a new chapter that will be different from every other year. There will be new stories, new memories, and new opportunities to expand horizons and go beyond our self-imposed limitations. Of course, there are new classes, new teachers, new friends, new routines, and new experiences. It is balanced by new challenges as you are coached to go beyond, and often beyond your comfort zone, so that your academic and personal growth will exceed your expectations by every measure.

Our Gospel today sure hits a similar note. The crowds are pressing in on Jesus and listening to His every word near the Lake of Gennesaret. He leverages the scene to make an important point. It is a story about boats and fishermen: fishing all night, like pulling an all-nighter, Simon and his fishing companions had nothing to show for it. Just nothing. These master fishermen seemed to be failures for all their efforts. The fishing company of Simon would be in great difficulty if this continued for long.  

Then Our Lord approached them, and after Jesus finished speaking to the crowd, He turns to Simon – who was dejectedly washing his nets – and said, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” These words carry a profound meaning for each of us during this new academic year.

Navigating the waters can be a joy when you’re surfing or scary if you don’t know how to swim. Deep waters represent the unknown, the uncertain, and sometimes the intimidating aspects of our academic and personal lives. Yet, Jesus’ message is clear: venture into the depths, don’t be afraid, embrace your challenges, seek opportunities for personal growth to widen our horizons about the very aspects of life itself. 

As the fishermen realized that their nets were suddenly and miraculously full, they sought the help of others – not to lose what they caught. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness but of maturity, knowing there are many things we cannot do alone. Even in our personal lives, we face unique challenges every day. The help of a priest, teacher, a counselor, a friend, or family can aid us on our journey to success and well-being.

The fishermen could have given up, but instead they pressed on with the assuring voice of Jesus in the background: “Do not be afraid!” During these moments, we deepen our understanding and grow stronger in our faith, sure of the certainties that are ahead. It is the reasonable thing to do. Indeed, every challenge is a stepping-stone toward greater wisdom and resilience. 

Facing the uncertainties, the Gospel tells us, turn to Christ, hear His voice, keep your hearts and minds open: “Where should I put my net out into the deep?” It is a moment when we recognize that behind everything, behind creation, there is the One Who created it, shouting to us, “I am here. You are not alone. I am with you!

This year, I urge you to invoke the Holy Spirit as you embrace the challenges that come your way, seek help when needed, push through adversity, and keep your eyes fixed on Christ as your guiding light. In doing so, you will not only grow academically but also in your faith and as individuals. May this new school year be a journey of discovery, growth, and blessings for each one of you. May God bless you all!