Commencement of School Year Homily – Part 1: Forming Virtuous Students

This article is the first part of the homily preached by His Eminence Archbishop William Cardinal Goh at the Mass for the Commencement of School Year, held on 29 January 2023.



All Catholic educators should know by now the Catholic understanding of education. For us as Catholics, education is more than helping our students to acquire skills and knowledge. More importantly, we are called to form them into people who are holistic, people who are able to contribute to the growth of others, people who are morally upright, people who can be of service to humanity.

Education is for life. Education is to help a person to achieve his or her potential to the fullest, to become the person that God has called him or her to be. In other words, education is to help a person to realise his purpose on this earth, to live his life in such a way that he can give his whole heart and soul to what he is doing, and so prepare him for eternal life in Heaven.

When education is reduced to merely acquiring knowledge and skills, strictly speaking, our young people would no longer need to go to school today. All the information can be found on the Internet. You can even use the Internet to make bombs, as terrorists do. Mr Google is the answer for all questions of life, it seems. What is the use of having teachers, then, since all of them would be able to find the knowledge that they are searching for?

That is why it is so important to ask ourselves: do we think that we have done great things and done justice for our students under our care, when at the end of the day, we have only just given them great skills and knowledge? They can be “A” students, they can be brilliant students, but what about their character? What about the values that they hold? Do you think they will be truly people who will serve society, people who will be able to help society to grow, to live harmoniously — or will they use their knowledge and skills for their own selfish purpose and become destructive of humanity?

Blessed Lives

Great intelligent people very often serve themselves instead of serving others. That’s the reason why, in today’s Scripture readings, we are told that the heart of formation is the heart, more than the mind. Of course, the mind is important. Today in the Gospel, we just read the Beatitudes. Now, the Beatitudes are of great importance. Beatitudes is a compound word, of the “Be Attitudes” – what are your attitudes in life? Your attitudes in life will determine how you respond to situations, how you look at life, and how you live your life positively, meaningfully.

There are many people today whose life is in a mess because they have the wrong attitudes – wrong attitudes towards God, towards self, towards others, towards their work. So it is a question therefore – the heart of formation is the formation of attitudes. These are critical, and today Jesus gives us a blueprint of what is required for an authentic person, how to live that blessed life. That’s why Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, the way to live that blessed life. A blessed life will of course be a happy life, a meaningful life. Isn’t that what we desire for our young people? For everyone, for that matter. We desire happiness. All that we achieve in life, all that we do, if they do not bring us real happiness, all our hard work is in vain.

So, let me ask you as educators, are you helping your students to attain real happiness in life? Not passing happiness, lasting happiness. That is the work of Catholic educators. And that is why you notice in today’s Scripture readings, whether it is Zephaniah, whether it is St Paul, whether it is our Lord, we are speaking about acquiring virtues, forming characters.



This article is the first part of the homily preached by His Eminence Archbishop William Cardinal Goh at the Mass for the Commencement of School Year, held on 29 January 2023.