Mass with Principals and Teachers of Religion
In the Second Reading from the 1 Corinthians St Paul reminds us that at our Baptism the Spirit of God gave us a variety of gifts. Some of us, like our principals, have gifts of service and administration. Still others, like our teachers, have gifts of teaching and counselling; others like the priests have gifts of prayer and healing. Others like our singers, musicians and organist and readers have gifts of singing and proclaiming God’s Word. And still others have gifts that they have not yet begun to explore. It is the diversity of those charisms that enriches the body and enables it to function.
The principals, religion teachers and students gathered here tonight carry on the ministry of Christ because you are the living body of Christ. When you live as the body of Christ, you make Christ present to the world. You take on the mission of Christ to heal and to teach. I thank the Principals for all they are already doing in leading and managing our Catholic schools and offer you every support and blessing as you continue to support families towards a better education of children. I thank the religion teachers for their work in the sometimes daunting task of educating young people today and helping young minds think through the abstract landscape of faith.
How do we make faith less abstract? When we study the Sacred Scriptures, we have to bring questions from our own time; otherwise we may never understand the relevance and impact they continue have on us. For example, The Book of Samuel is a book about politics with lots of insights into the nature of political power in general. The working of power in human relations can be traced in the stories of Saul and David, of Jonathon and Joab, of the intervention of Abagail, of Uriah’s murder and the rape of Tamar, the death of Amnon and the rebellion of Absalom. God’s project is furthered not only by perfect individuals (who are as rare as hen’s teeth), but also and above all by sinners. What is decisive for the history of God in the world is that there are people who listen, who allow themselves to be educated, who repent and in doing so serve God’s plan (cf. the story of King David). The Scriptures address us today; they are not stories to be read nostalgically. The question is: where does the text want to lead me and what does it want to say to me, gently and yet urgently.
Primacy of the Home in Catholic Education
The first thing that we should be clear about is that as a school you are not the primary educators of children and young people. The family remains for them the privileged place of encounter and growth – parents are the first teachers, the home is the first “school of humanity”. Many years ago Pope Saint John Paul II described this right and duty of parents to be the first educators, as “essential”, “original”, “irreplaceable” and “inalienable” (see Familiaris Consortio36).
A sense of familiarity and comfort with the church does not begin with religion classes or even the Mass. My deep-seated love for the church began with what surrounded me in my own home growing up: the pictures on the walls, the holy water font at the door, the nativity sets displayed at Christmas, the crucifix hanging in the kitchen, the picture of the Sacred Heart, and so on.
The faith is not simply learned and memorised. It is transmitted. It is experienced. It is witnessed and then loved and then lived. The domestic church is not constructed in a day – but built up over time, growing with the family through the witness of the parents, the things filling the house and the conversations encouraged and shared.
Pope Francis recently told a group of parents, “The important thing is to transmit the faith with your life of faith: that they see the love of the spouses, that they see the peace of the house, that they see that Jesus is there.”
What is the Role of the Catholic School?
Catholic schools can assist parents and families by helping young people find moral reference points, by offering a morals and values framework, or roadmap, to guide them.
The Catholic school ought therefore to be a community inspired by Gospel values and transmitting Gospel values, including: the sacredness of human life; the dignity of the person; integrity; peace; tolerance; justice; honesty and truth; holiness; gentleness and compassion; mercy and forgiveness; purity; respect.
Pope Francis makes an astute observation in Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love). In cautioning parents against being “obsessive” in wanting to control their children’s every experience and movement (AL261), he says: “The real question, then, is not where our children are physically, or whom they are with at any given time, but rather where they are existentially, where they stand in terms of their convictions, goals, desires and dreams”. Pope Francis continues: “The questions I would put to parents are these: ‘Do we seek to understand ‘where’ our children really are in their journey? Where is their soul, do we really know? And above all, do we want to know?”
We, in Catholic schools might ask ourselves similar questions. By supporting parents, leaders and boards of management in Catholic schools are saying with families – we do want to know. We want to understand where young people are on their journey. We care about where they are existentially; we are concerned about where is their soul; we want them to make responsible use of freedom, to have a sound morals and values framework and to develop healthy and life-giving relationships.
The Role of the State
Education is an activity of the family and of the wider community, not of the State. The State does not provide free education. The Constitutions says: the state shall ‘provide for’ the education of young people (Art 42.4). The notion that this can be carried out in a school which would consider religious faith of the pupil as irrelevant is absurd. If education means preparing a person for life, it cannot be carried out without some idea of the nature of the person and the purpose of life.
What is the greatest threat to Religious Education in Ireland Today?
I think today that a lack of parental involvement is the greatest threat to Catholic education. Many parents in Ireland today rarely have integrated faith lives that connect them to the church in general, or their parish in particular. Without those connections, their children are likewise disconnected.
What is the essence of Catholic education?
It does not mean in any way devaluating or diminishing the importance of the subjects of the school curriculum, nor does it interfere with their autonomy. Rather it means the whole community sharing vision of the human person and the purpose of human life with its members, particularly young people.
What is ‘ethos’ of a Catholic school?
Simply put, a Catholic school is a living part of a Catholic community. It is a Catholic community carrying out its educational responsibility. More fundamentally, it is the Catholic community in this place and in this generation carrying out the task received from the Apostles.
Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes (Dei Verbum8).
The task of this generation is to continue that task which has been carried out in various ways since the beginnings of the Church. Today, that is not an easy assignment. What is clear is that if the community of faith does not recognise the importance of sharing through education its understanding of humanity embraced by God’s love, we risk losing an immeasurably valuable heritage. If that happens, our whole society will be much the poorer. The loss of an educational tradition based on the Gospel vision of human worth and dignity will lead to a widespread obscuring of the true nature of education as a preparation for life.
To download Bishop Farrell’s Homily click here