Life on the Chrism Trail

Introduction of Governor Greg Abbott

April 19, 2023
Nolan Catholic High School
Fort Worth, Texas

Governor Abbott, it is my privilege and joy as the Bishop of Fort Worth to welcome you as the Governor of Texas to Nolan Catholic High School for you to address the faculty, students, and parents of Nolan, and of our other Catholic schools here present.

Every Catholic school in the Diocese of Fort Worth is represented here today at Nolan Catholic High School: including Cassata Catholic High School, Cristo Rey Fort Worth Catholic High School, All Saints Catholic School in Fort Worth, Holy Family Catholic School in Fort Worth, Immaculate Conception Catholic School in Denton, Sacred Heart Catholic School in Muenster, St. Andrew Catholic School in Fort Worth, St. George Catholic School in Fort Worth, Holy Trinity Catholic School in Grapevine, St. John the Apostle Catholic School in North Richland Hills, St. Joseph Catholic School in Arlington, St. Maria Goretti Catholic School in Arlington, St. Martin de Porres Catholic School in Prosper, St. Mary’s Catholic School in Gainesville, St. Peter the Apostle Catholic School in Fort Worth, and St. Rita Catholic School in Fort Worth, along with representatives of the Catholic community in Wichita Falls.

Thank you, Governor Abbott, for your recognition of our God-given right as human beings to exercise our religious liberty as Catholics and as Texans to come together to pray and to celebrate Mass and the other sacraments safely in our parishes as well as to provide in person classes at school during the COVID-19 pandemic. I would be remiss if I did not express gratitude for your leadership and recognition of this basic truth of human nature that did not bring the responsibilities of the state into conflict with the religious liberty exercised by members of the Church. In fact, it fostered an atmosphere of respectful, yet separate collaboration in caring for the people whom we respectively serve as constituents and as baptized believers. Because of this cooperation and dialogue, we were spared from painful and unnecessary adversity that people in other states suffered during that trying time of the pandemic.

It is in that spirit that I would also like to thank you for your leadership in changing the current conversation about access to education from one of “school choice” to one of “parental rights.” This change is more than simply a matter of semantics. This change places our proper focus on the primary rights and responsibilities of fathers and mothers to educate their children and to have access to legitimate choices among schools as one means for the education and formation of their children. As Pope Saint Paul VI taught, “Parents who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.”

There are too many fathers and mothers who do not currently enjoy real access to making the informed choice of safe and effective schools befitting their child’s unique needs for education because of poverty or financial duress placed upon the family. In some ways, this is because the personal and social good of education has been reduced in our contemporary mindset either to being a commodity to be sold in the marketplace to those with financial means or to be imposed collectively by the state upon individuals who do not have adequate financial means.

The Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fort Worth strive to teach as Jesus taught. In fidelity to His mission, we do not establish our identity by comparing ourselves to other schools, either public or private. Our identity can only be measured by fidelity to His command to teach all nations, in fidelity to the truth. We strive to continue here in North Texas in carrying out this mission according to the two-thousand-year-old Catholic intellectual tradition of faith and reason. It is an intellectual tradition that has effectively educated many people including Catholics and others who teach, attend, and serve admirably in public schools amidst the same challenges that our Catholic schools face.

Education is a social good that begins with the responsibilities of parents within family life. It is imperative that we call to mind that it is the family that is the fundamental unit of society and not the individual. It is in family life that people come to the initial understanding of basic principles. Such first principles support the respect for basic human rights and the acceptance of legitimate obligations we owe to God and to other human beings. These principles are indispensable and essential for a fruitful and peaceful society. Parental rights require the exercise of parental duties that are to be exercised by fathers and mothers on behalf of their children with the legitimate authority of their fathers and mothers, not as their children’s peers.

As Pope Saint John Paul II stated in 1998, “Not only are the attitudes of teachers crucial for the success of Catholic education but also the attitudes of Catholic parents. Parents must set themselves very definite priorities, such as the determination to have schools in which their children’s faith will be respected, fostered, and enriched; schools in which their children learn the value and beauty of the Church’s teaching. They must also see to it that their own homes are places in which these values are first fostered and lived. Parents’ own practice of the faith, their own love for Christ, is of course fundamental.”

It is in family life that we first come to learn about God and how to pray to God. It is in family life where we come to respect legitimate authority and the right order that is reasonably structured by the ordinance of law. It is in family life that we first learn that human life is sacred and requires care and delicate attention. It is in family life that we first learn to act in a way where the stronger are obliged to care for the more vulnerable. It is in family life where we first come to the understanding of the natural differences between men and women that are manifest in our shared human nature, differences that require respect.

It is in family life where we come to understand respect for personal property with a moral obligation to share what we have been given by God. It is in family life where we come to embrace the responsibility and dignity of human labor. It is in family life where we first come to practice the virtue of patriotism through service. It is in family life where we first come to resolve disagreements justly and peacefully, seeking forgiveness and granting forgiveness. Schools are to function as the means whereby children and their families are introduced to their same responsibilities to the broader society that contribute to the common good of human beings in all their diversity and sameness as created by God. These principles hold true even if families suffer from such maladies as poverty, addictions, physical and mental illness, or even marital discord.

Our challenge today is that too many of us falsely and unwittingly presume that the primary unit of society is the individual and that the responsibility to educate children belongs to the state and not parents. While the common good is supported by legitimate state interests in the protection and education of children, these interests do not supersede the rights and responsibilities of mothers and fathers to form and to educate children as members of the larger society, contributing to the common good.

Without the acknowledgement that the family is the fundamental unit of society and not the individual, we will continuously frustrate the common good. Without a clear and intentional acknowledgement of the primary rights and correlative responsibilities of fathers and mothers to educate their children as members of society through the intermediate means of schools, we soon find ourselves in the predicament where parents become mistreated by the state as adversarial peers and rivals of their children’s unbridled freedom and heedless desires. Without a clear and intentional acknowledgement of the God-given rights of religious liberty that extends beyond simply an individual freedom of worship, we will soon find ourselves in the predicament of persecution as a sect by a religion passively established by the state to a god of secular relativism.

 We must remember that it is God, the one God who has created all people of every race, color, nation, and creed, who has given us our rights and responsibilities, not the state. Not only does our religious liberty depend upon this clear and intentional acknowledgement, so does our peace and flourishing as a society, as a nation, and as a civilization.

We currently have before us an opportunity to assist parents in our society with concrete legislation that would recognize their fundamental responsibility as the primary educators of their children. We must do our part in contributing to the common good, not as members of political parties, but as Catholics, as Texans, and as Americans. Without further delay, I am very happy and proud to introduce to you the Honorable Greg Abbott, Governor of the State of Texas.

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