But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24)
For some reason, as I listened to today’s reading from Hebrews, the description felt familiar. St. Paul seems to be drawing on an experience very familiar to Jews of his time – the culmination of what might be a once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to the holy city to celebrate the Passover. After all the miles, the hardships of the journey, to finally arrive! They must have felt such joy, like they had made it to their true home, as they joined the celebrations erupting throughout the city.
“Why did this feel so familiar to me?” I wondered. “When have I experienced joy like this?” Then I remembered. It was the beginning of last week, when college’s President culminated our convocation ceremonies with the words he uses each year: “I declare Thomas Aquinas College in session, in this Year of Our Lord 2016.” The student body erupted with applause and shouts and laughter, as they do every year. Every year. And every year, the sound gives my heart a lift.
I count it a great blessing to be a part of a school community devoted to learning truth under the light of the Catholic faith. Our central commitment grounds our life together and makes our school a magnet for families and youth who treasure the traditions of Catholic wisdom. The joy that we find in coming back together after our summers scattered around the country and the world gives us a taste of what the Jews must have felt, and a real foretaste of our promised entrance into the heavenly Jerusalem.
As I travel the country working with Catholic classical schools, I am thrilled to find that they share a similar sense of joy in their life together. Yet I am also filled with great sadness, when I think of how rare it still remains. May the Holy Spirit ground more and more Catholic schools and colleges in the love of the Truth that they might become centers of joy and foretastes of Heaven.