Last week, we went on a parish pilgrimage to Pilsen, KS. While we were there, we heard a talk on Fr. Kapaun’s life growing up, we learned about the miracles associated with him, and I was able to celebrate Mass on the High Altar that Fr. Kapaun would have used. It was a great day!
During the talk about Fr. Kapaun’s life, we heard that he would walk three miles to school and three miles back every day, and this was after doing all sorts of chores on the farm. At school, the teachers recognized that he was a sharp student. He was diligent in his studies, and it showed. Even when he went to school, the faith that his parents had taught them was very important to him. If the teachers ever lost track of him at recess, they would just go check the church and find him there.
As school is starting, all sorts of thoughts are swirling around in my mind, and they are all coming to the same conclusion: education, to truly be education, must lead us to God. When I was preparing for my talk at the Open House, I was playing around with the Latin word “duc”. Most of the time, the word “duc” means “lead.” It’s the root of many words, the most obvious being, perhaps, “duke.” Much more interesting to me, though, is that the word “educate” is a descendant of the word “duc.” The Latin components of the words literally translate as “to lead out.”
To lead out of what? When we educate, where are we leading one another?
When we look at the example of Fr. Kapaun, we can see where education must lead us: to God. God is the one who created us, who gave us the gift of reason, who gave us curiosity, who gave us the ability to wonder. He did not give us these gifts so that we would hide them. The true situation is quite the opposite, in fact. God wants us to look up at the stars and experience wonder at the cosmos. God wants us to be curious and ask, “how does that happen?” God wants us to think through a problem, even if we already know the answer, so that we can understand why. God wants us to recognize that he created us out of love and wants us to be happy with him, in heaven, forever.
Education leads us out of ourselves so that we might experience the universe God created in all its beauty, so that we can answer some of those questions we ponder every day, so that we can recognize that my true fulfillment comes not from myself, but from another. Education leads us out of ourselves, through wonder and curiosity, into knowledge. Not just book knowledge. Knowledge of reading and writing, history and science, mathematics and religion, all are important, but beyond that, we must have knowledge of life. We can learn in so many ways. We can learn through prayer about God and our relationship with him. We can learn through practice how to play a piano or to tie a knot. We can learn about the beauty of the stars by looking up at the night sky. We must learn in these many ways, because it is through all of ourselves and all of our knowledge—practical and theoretical—that we learn to experience God in all his glory.
One of the ways Fr. Kapaun learned was by looking at the statues of saints and the windows in his parish church St. John Nepomucene. He is the most prominent saint in the whole church, placed at the top of the high altar. Looking at that statue every day, then-little Emil Kapaun learned that a priest would rather die than violate the seal of the confessional, because that is why St. John Nepomucene gave his life. Rather than betray the seal of confession as the king demanded him, he accepted torture and death by drowning instead. When we look around our church here at Blessed Sacrament, we can learn about the Gospels in the windows, we can learn about Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, and the Divine Mercy of Christ.
None of us can afford to stop learning. There is so much in this universe that is interesting and fascinating if we open our eyes and look for it. For example, even if we already know the stories in our church windows, we can always ponder their meaning and how they can teach me in my life right now. We must always keep learning: Learning helps us grow closer to God. We must help those around us learn, because Christ taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Every day we are given the opportunity to wonder at the beauty of God. Let us take inspiration from Fr. Kapaun, and when we get a chance, let’s not be afraid to steal away marvel at God.