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.