Sunday, September 19, 2010

Regina Catholic Schools Opening Mass for the School Year

At the end of August, close to 1,000 teachers gathered at the Cathedral to begin the School Year with the Celebration of the Eucharist, offering to God the year to come in our schools and class rooms, placing into God's hands the children and youth who will come to us seeking formation for life, and also placing into God's care and guidance all of those who will teach them and provide the safe, clean and healthy environment in which all this will happen

Some smiling superannuate teachers
Here are some of the thoughts that I shared with the teachers on the meaning of Catholic Education at that Mass:

Some of the Trustees

During his visit to Great Britain, Pope Benedict will celebrate the beatification of John Henry Newman. I mention this because one of Newman’s great contributions to the Church was his thought on Catholic Education.

Throughout the province Catholic school divisions begin another year of Catholic Education. We might well ask: What is Catholic Education anyway? Why do we promote, defend, and sometimes fight for what we call Catholic Education? Is there something special, something different from other forms of education to be found in Catholic education?

Opening Procession

Cardinal Newman’s reflections can be illuminating in finding answers to these questions. And they are important questions. For those who are teachers in Catholic Schools these questions are especially important for they deal with what teachers do for their livelihood, and how they do it and even who they are as educators in a Catholic School system. When I walk into a Catholic School I often comment that there is a noticeable difference from other schools. Is it a difference simply of feeling or atmosphere; is it a difference of a particular respect and care for people? Is it some other difference? It is worth asking the question because I believe that the difference is there and it is real.

Roderick Strange, in an article “Newman Teaching Teachers,” found in the British Jesuits Web On Line Journal “Thinking Faith 2010,” recalled that, at one point in his life, Newman had set out to establish the Oratory School, a school that offered the kind of high quality academic education that was available to those who went to the famous public schools like Eton, Winchester, and Harrow. Newman felt that, however high the quality of education was, those famous schools fell short. This was because they lacked a spiritual and pastoral view. In his school Newman sought to combine academic excellence with precisely that spiritual and pastoral care that was lacking in those renowned schools.

Members of the Staff Choir

Msgr. Strange states that it was spiritual and pastoral care that made the difference in excellent education. Newman believed that Education needs not only to touch minds but it must also touch hearts. He said: ‘An academical system without the personal influence of teachers upon pupils, is an arctic system; it will create an ice-bound, petrified, cast-iron (school), and nothing else’ (Historical Sketches iii. p.74). For John Henry Newman, it was always the same message: education is never merely a matter of learning; it involves a care for the person as well.

And so it is with our Catholic Schools, what makes the difference is that we not only move the mind, but that we also touch the heart and that we touch the heart with the love of God, and that we touch the heart with the love of God that we show by our own witness and by the commitment to the spiritual and pastoral care of every student who comes to us. And we do that because we follow Jesus in our lives and we believe in the value of our Catholic Faith and see it as a treasure that God has given to us in the life and words of Jesus Christ.

Many of the Pastors of the City joined in Concelebrating the Mass

At the beginning of Jesus ministry in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus lays out for all who would listen those things that would define his ministry in the world. It was not an intellectual or theological dissertation. It was a didactic statement of spiritual and pastoral care: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

In his earthly ministry, Jesus was the Word of God, Jesus was the Revelation of God, the Bread of Life come down from heaven so that whoever would believe in him would have eternal life. (Jn 6) Jesus was the Teacher, but Jesus taught with spiritual and pastoral care. Jesus touched hearts as he brought good news to people who found life meaningless and hopeless. He set people free from the mental and physical illness, the prejudice, the rejection, the marginalization that robbed them of their dignity and their freedom. Jesus even set them free from death, the ultimate thief. Jesus revealed the truth about God and ourselves, but as he did that, he touched and transformed people’s lives.

The children also joined the celebration
All of this revealed who Jesus was and who the Father was. All of this was Revelation and it came as a gift from God. And John Henry Newman proposed that this revelation was the context for Catholic Education. Msgr. Strange pointed out that Newman believed that what has been revealed and received and articulated, must be communicated. It needs to be passed on. He also referred to Newman’s understanding that all of this revelation is a gift to us. “It is not of our making. What we believe is not something we have somehow managed to construct for ourselves.” We do not make it up. It is a gift from God.

Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” And there it is, the gift!

Director of Education Rob Currie with his family.

Jesus, the Son of God, has chosen to reveal these things to us. As the Church we have received and articulated what has been revealed, and as teachers we communicate this revelation to the young people in our care. We do this certainly by what we say but we do it especially and, perhaps even more importantly, by the witness of our lives.

You remember the story of how Jesus had healed the man from Gerasene, who had been possessed by a legion of demons. St Mark tells us: “He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones.” His life was a horror.

Chair of the Board, Vicky Bonnell

Jesus drove out the demons and restored peace and freedom to the man’s life. And when the man asked if he could go with him, Jesus said no, rather he told the man to go home to his family and his friends and he said: You tell them “how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.”

Is this not what it means to be a witness to Christ, to be a teacher who passes on the gift that was given to him or to her? We are called show to the children in our care as well as speak to them “how much the Lord has done for us, and what mercy he has shown us.” And so we not only move their minds, but we touch their hearts with the love and care of God so that they will know the love and care that God has for them. That is Catholic education.

Twenty year Award Recipients
Pope John Paul II said this to American Catholic Educators in Louisiana: “By enriching your student’s lives with the fullness of Christ’s message and by inviting them to accept with all their hearts Christ’s work, which is the Church, you promote most effectively their integral human development and you help them to build a community of faith, hope and love."

Twenty five year Award Recipients
If we are to be able to do this effectively, surely we need to reflect on what God has done for us in our own lives. We need to recognize the ways in which God has touched us, helped us, strengthened us in difficult times, and the way God has guided us in our lives. Perhaps above all, we need to remember that God has brought us out of darkness into his own wonderful light, that God has delivered us from death’s sting and give us eternal life, and above all that God loves us and cares for us.

Hope for the future: New Staff Members
Knowing this, we, as Catholic Teachers, can move the minds of our children and youth and touch their hearts. We can promote most effectively their integral human development, as Newman said. We can give them a Catholic Education, building a community of faith, hope and love in which they can learn ways whereby they can live successful and happy lives.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pligrimage to Rome for the Closing of the Year For Priests

The Holy Father invited the priests of the world to come to Rome on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to solemnly bring to a close the Year for Priests. I felt that this would be an excellent experience for any of our priests who would like to take part in this very special event. My experience of such events is that one experiences the vastness of the Universal Church and also one is encouraged by the realization that we are not alone in our faith nor in facing its challenges in our contemporary world. So I accompanied seven priests from the Archdiocese of Regina on this pilgrimage and Bishop Don accompanied five of the clergy from the Diocese of Saskatoon. Some of us looked pretty cheery as we arrived at the Airport in Rome after a long flight from Regina via Toronto.

Before the sessions for the Year for Priests began, thanks to Bishop Don's arrangements, we had the opportunity to celebrate the Eucharist together in two very special locations. The first was in the Grotto of St. Peter's at the Tomb of St. Peter, which is just behind us here in this picture.

The second place was at the Altar of Blessed John XXIII in the floor of St. Peter's Basilica. The remains of Blessed John were moved here after his Beatification in the year 2000 to give the faithful access to his tomb in order that they may more easily spend time in prayer. Pope John brought the gift of the Second Vatican Council to the Church

Bishop Don presided over the Mass. Our Deacon and myself were in the small space at the altar and the other priests were concelebrating from just in front of the railing.
In addition to the sessions at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, where the body of St. Paul is buried not far from the place of his martyrdom, there were two times of prayer with the Holy Father. The first was on Thursday evening, a vigil of prayer and reflection held in St. Peter's Square.

The Holy Father was energetic and, I am sure, delighted with the number of priests who came from around the world to join with him in prayer and celebration. There were over 11,000 priests in attendance, much more than the organizers had expected. I thought that this was a wonderful witness to the unity of the priesthood and the support that the Holy Father has from his priests around the globe.

The picture of St. Jean Marie Vianney, the Curé of Ars, patron saint of Parish Priests was prominent on the facade of St. Peter's that evening. It was on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of his death that Pope Benedict dedicated this past year as the Year for Priests.

The Vigil of Prayer concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament following a time of silent prayer and adoration presided over by the Holy Father.

On Friday the Holy Father invited all the priests present to Concelebrate the Eucharish with him in St. Peter's Square. Someone mentioned that it was the largest Papal concelebration in the history of the Church. There was certainly three to four hundred bishops as well who formed their part of the procession inside St. Peter's Basilica.

Here was our group in the Square after the Mass. Bishop Don was brave and wore his cassock. The temperature was well into the 30's that day and no respite from the Roman Sun during the two hours or so of the Mass. It was nonetheless very beautiful and moving to see that great number of priests concelebrating this special Mass.

Fr. Vitalis was the one who took the large group picture, so here are the Regina priests, including Fr. Vitalis. The yellow hats (papal colours) were part of the kit given to all the priests who attended to assure that they had some protection from the sun.

Some of our group left us at the end of the celebrations in Rome while some remained for a couple of days to see a bit more of the Eternal City. We visited the Catacombs of St. Priscilla. The early Christians strongly disapproved of the Roman practice of cremation, largely because the process of burning a loved one on top of old household furniture seemed disrespectful and there was not a great regard for gathering up the ashes.

Christians preferred to bury the whole body as did the Jewish community in Rome. The Romans did not allow the burial of bodies or ashes within the walls of the city, so Christians and Jews began the practice of using underground vaults or tufa stone caves on property outside the city walls to bury their dead. These were often situated on property donated by the wealthier members of their communities, and continue to bear their names. This is the case for the Catacombs of St. Priscilla.

This particular catacomb is of special interest for its wall paintings, which give us, among other things, the first known painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary with the child Jesus on her lap. We concluded our visit by celebrating the Eucharist in the Catacombs as the Christian people of Rome did 1,700 years ago.

Another interesting and prayerful occasion happened when we joined the Community of Saint'Edidio for evening prayer in the church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. There is this wonderful mosaic of Christ with Mary over the altar. Thomas Cahil in his book on the Middle Ages speaks of the progress during which the people of Italy ceased to be Romans and became Italians. He used this mosaic as an illustration. Most often, in the ancient mosaics of Christ, Jesus is presented as the "Creator of All" and is usually portrayed as being very serious, majestic and almost severe. Here Jesus is "Italian" - open faced, handsome and his arm around his mother's shoulder. We often hear stories of how Italian men are devoted to their mothers. Here Jesus has his arm around his beloved "mama" and she is sitting there very proud of her Son.

On the Wednesday, Bishop Don and myself played hookey from the moring lecture and went to the Pope's audience in St. Peter's Square. There is usually an opportunity for bishops to sit up with the Holy Father and briefly say hello to him afterwards. These times have been particularly difficult because of personal attacks on his leadership in dealing with sexual abuse cases. So, I felt that it was important for me to let him know that the Catholic people of Regina give him their love and support as he deals with these very difficult issues. I had the chance to do that after the audience.

I will share with you a few pictures taken in the Sacristy of St. Peter's Basilica while we were preparing for the Masses we were to celebrate there. It was interesting to see that the Sacristy is bigger than many of our churches here in Saskatchewan

Bishop Don and myself were "properly" attired for our visit to celebrate the Eucharist at the Tomb of St. Peter. Every Bishop needs a good Deacon, and here we were blessed with Deacon Geoff Young from Saskatoon.

Our group was in one corner waiting to be taken to the place where we would celebrate the Mass. Those who care for the Sacristy are very gracious and helpful and often under great stress as they handle great numbers of priests and bishops who come to celebrate the Eucharist in the Basilica.

Fr Danilo and Fr Thang at the base of one of the pillars.

Fr Brian Meredith, Rector of Holy Rosary Cathedral here in Regina with Deacon Geoff. As we proceed with renovations to our cathedral, I hope that he wasn't taking any ideas from St. Peter's!

Here is a view of the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, looking out from behind the main altar. It was here that the conferences and times of prayer were held for the priests. The body of St. Paul is buried below the altar. It was originally planned to have all the priests come to St. Paul's for the events, however so many more priests than planned had come that it was necessary to divide the group in two with the other language groups gathering in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Cathedral church of Rome.

Mass that day was presided over by Cardinal Tarcissio Bertone, the Pope's Secretary of State, seen standing in the background at the Chair. In front are some of the Cardinals present at the Mass, including, second from the right, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who gave the reflection that morning on the challenges that the church faces from without and within, "

We pray together for the unity of the Church and for the sanctification of priests, these heralds of the good news of salvation," he said.

And here are a few of our group standing outside the Basilica of St. Paul after the morning session.

There was a special occasion on Sunday when we joined Bishop Don at Mass with the Caravita Community, an International Catholic Community in Rome. This was Bishop Don's "home parish" as it were when he was working in Rome for the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity. It was nice to see how delighted they were in welcoming him back and their happiness that he had been ordained a Bishop. With us in this picture is Archbishop Emilius Goulet, Archbishop Emeritus of St. Boniface in Manitoba.

After the Mass everyone made their way to the Church of St. Georgio in the shadow of the Capitoline Hill for a very pleasant "pot luck" lunch. Seen here on the left is Bishop Brian Farrell who is the Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and was one of the principal co-consecrators at Bishop Don's ordination to the Episcopate in March.

So our pilgrimage to the Tomb of Peter, I believe, was a success. It was a time of prayer at very holy places. We experienced our connection with the Church throughout the world as well as the Church throughout the ages. A fitting way to conclude the Year for Priests.