It is a very special day for the Atonement Academy, which is the parochial school here at Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church. Today the Archbishop of San Antonio will be coming for the official groundbreaking ceremony for the expansion of the school. This will give the school much needed room because, while many Catholic schools across the country are struggling to survive, this school continues to grow. As I often point out to visitors – we have so many students that we literally have to use large closets for classrooms. In fact, I am writing this piece from inside of one of those closets, which I call my office. (And although it may be selfish this is one reason I am very glad for the coming expansion – because I will get a real office at the time it is complete.)
But it is not the growth of the school or the standardized test scores of its students that makes this place what it is. Our society has a tendency to view the value of an organization, whether it be a school, business or non-profit organization, based on what it achieves by way of some measurement. For example a school is judged on its ability to get high scores on standardized tests, a business is judged on how much money it makes and non-profits are judged on how many people it serves. But I think this way of thinking is to emphasize the wrong aspect, at least for a parochial school.
When people come here for the first time they always (at least in my experience) remark on the beauty of the place (school and church). And oftentimes people have pointed out to me that the whole complex is styled like a castle. I have never discussed with Fr. Phillips (our Pastor who is also the founder of the parish and the school) why it is styled in such a manner but I have my own thoughts about the meaning behind its style, which also leads to my understanding of what this place is.
First, let us address this question: what is a castle for? Obviously, it is for protection from invading hordes who seek to destroy a society. But while awaiting the coming enemy, those within the walls must be trained for battle so that they will be ready – prepared for whatever may be coming. Because once the hordes have started to advance against that society, it cannot stay hiding within those walls or it will be conquered. At some point you must venture out through the gate in order to protect that which you are safeguarding. True, you may be harmed and take loses by so doing but it is the only way to win the victory and thereby protect that which the society within the castle truly values above all else.
And that is how I view the Atonement Academy, as well as Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church. Within these walls we are preparing for battle against the advancing horde: a secular and pluralistic society that wants to see the destruction of the Catholic Church (and not just this one parish but the entire Church). And we prepare for the coming battle through the teaching in the classroom and the catechesis that takes place in the Mass. But we do not lock ourselves within these walls, instead we go out and defend the Catholic Church to the best of our abilities because it is worth protecting – in fact, it is worth dying for if necessary. And with every graduation from the school and every dismissal from Mass that takes place we go forth to do battle with the hordes that await us at the gates.
But there is still one very important element that is necessary: within every fortified castle is one who leads so that the society might be victorious against the advancing horde. In a castle it would be the king and the success of the society within would depend upon the effectiveness of the one in charge. With the Catholic Church it is no different. Jesus Christ is the King that defends the Catholic Church against the advancing horde and it is He who has promised that the “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18b, KJV) But within the Kingdom of Christ on this earth, which is the Catholic Church, there are many outposts, many castles that are established to defend the faithful against the advancing horde. I am speaking of dioceses and within them the parishes and the ones who leads them – the pastor, whether it be Bishop within his diocese or a priest within a parish. And we must thank God for all good and faithful pastors that seek to follow the teachings of the King, which is the only way any diocese or parish can win its various battles against secular society.
Therefore, let me end with a personal note to Fr. Phillips: Congratulations on the official groundbreaking we will have today because with the expansion of the school we will be able to train more people to go out and do battle with the advancing hordes. And in addition let me say thank you for being a true and faithful pastor. May this place that is prospering through your hard work produce more pastors like you.