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For Our Parishes

Each day during Catholic Schools Week, we will post a reflection on the focus of the day centered around this year’s theme: Faith. Academics. Service. The following reflection from Fr. Paul Ybarra, CSC looks at how the combination of these three values are important to Catholic parishes and the people within them.

Shortly before becoming a Catholic school teacher, I was told a story about an elderly nun who would record the children’s choir at her school. She loved to hear the children sing, not because she was the choir director or some music expert (she taught other subjects in the elementary school) but because something was spiritually refreshing in hearing these young voices praise God. I can’t say exactly what touched that dear woman’s heart. I do however share her affinity; in the voices of the youth I have found a divine truth.

As a middle school English teacher at St. John Vianney Catholic School, my time at Mass with my students became a safe harbor in a sea of responsibility and supervision. Sharing in the sacraments created a role reversal of sorts. These youth weren’t just the young writers in my class, people that I evaluated and encouraged, people that I served. They were lectors, altar servers, and choir members; they were ministers. These students at Mass were ministering to me. The words of the ancients, scripture that was thousands of years old, were at times proclaimed by the lips of mere eight year olds, youths who had only learned to read some three years earlier. My own students, these tweens, awkward and unsure of their place in the world, were now so noble, assisting at a ritual that proclaims the presence of God in flesh and blood, divinity come down and truly present, communion of heaven and earth. And the faith and joy present in their faces as they received our Lord in hand and cup, as they sang with heart-felt passion, they humbled me. I began to understand what Jesus preached: “Unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven”(Matthew 18:3).

I believe in the power of Catholic education - and I'm blessed to watch the impact it has on the children at St. John Vianney Catholic School, where I now serve as Associate Pastor. This power doesn’t just teach children to read, calculate, and observe the world they inhabit, but also instills in them the humility necessary to be of service to others, to bring about the salvation present in Christ. Catholic education does well by these children; our graduates have been successfully serving their families, communities, and countries for decades. But more importantly, Catholic education continues Christ’s ministry, nurturing that eternal salvation present in these youth, the Church beyond us, the Church they will inhabit.

I love my God dearly, my faith, and my Church. My service as an ACE teacher was an extension of that love, and now, as a parish priest, it gives me great hope to hear the voices of children sing God’s praises, to see them proclaim His words, to see them serve at His altar. I imagine that long after I am gone, their voices, their songs, their service will remain, that the words of the prophet Isaiah are fulfilled: “And a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

Fr. Paul Ybarra, CSC, is a Holy Cross priest and associate pastor at St. Ignatius Martyr Parish in Austin, TX.  Paul earned an M.Ed. through the ACE Teaching Fellows Program.