Homily of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at Mass for members of the European Committee for Catholic Education, Newman University Church, Dublin
“Catholic education is about the place of faith in our lives”
“There are two fortuitous facts which make our celebration this evening special.
The first is the location of our Mass, this University Church which was inspired by Blessed John Henry Newman. The second is that today is the fifty-first anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Both together give us a context within which we can reflect on the significance of Catholic education in Europe today. I greet each of you and the organisations and the institutions which you represent and I welcome you to Dublin.
This is quite a unique Church. It was to be a vital dimension of the Catholic University of Ireland which Newman, at the request of the Bishops of Ireland, came to establish here in Dublin. This Church building was not to be just a place where the students could attend Mass. It was to be at the very centre of Newman’s project. It was to be the place where conferences and debates would take place. It was to be a space where a lively encounter and dialogue between faith and the scientific disciplines of the University would take place.
Newman’s project of the Catholic University took shape at a moment when both educational policy and the place of Catholics in higher education in Ireland were high up on the order of the day. In today’s very different Ireland we are going through a period of ferment in Irish education policy. Ferment is good and I believe that this is a great moment in history to be an educator in Ireland. There is in motion a movement which is looking at grassroots renewal of education, in a manner which reflects our changing culture, but which aims at reaching an ever greater excellence in Irish education, even within the very tough constraints of economic austerity.
This ferment challenges Catholic education. The question of Catholic or denominational or religious education is one of the key questions in reflection on a changing and more pluralist Ireland. This is not a reason for fear and anxiety, if those of us who are really convinced of the value of Catholic education can present that value in a manner which convinces and elicits support within Irish society. That may not always be easy, but it is the challenge that we face and we must face it with realism but also with consistency.
Catholic education is not about elitism or about sectarianism. Catholic education must never become an educational excellence which is accessible only to those with plentiful financial means. It is not about a good general education with a religious veneer. We have to more clearly define and focus on what is essential about Catholic education and what it aims to achieve.
Catholic education is about the place of faith in our lives and the role of faith in a society where many no longer belief, but where a varied degree of fascination about the teaching and the person of Jesus remains. It is about the type of stimulating but robust dialogue between faith and culture which was to be the original purpose of this Church.
Strangely I have always looked on this Church as an icon of what faith is about. Perhaps coming here this evening you were a little surprised at the modesty of the entrance to the Church. Just imagine how many people, on foot or in their cars, rushing to and from work each day, who pass by that modest door and keep going. So many Dubliners have never been inside this Church.
Faith begins with taking the time stop and to look for the simple and modest and surprising signs through which God reveals his presence in our lives. The journey of faith begins with taking the time to stop and, as with the Church, ask: what is this about? What is in there?
From the busy Dublin streets you enter into a nondescript corridor, with very few indicators of what exactly is coming and where it is leading. In earlier years, before the recent renovation, the corridor was even darker and more puzzling. Faith begins then as a journey into an unknown but if we maintain our curiosity and our determination God attracts us to move forward and open the door which reveals this splendid Church, quite different to what we might have thought, something which we never knew really existed but which opens our minds to wonder, to question, to appreciate and to meditate. Once we have entered this space we return to our daily life with a new insight into life which remains with us and which invites us to return and reflect and pray.
Catholic education then is a process which has to encounter people where they on the public streets of life; it involves helping them to pause and question and the see small signs of the presence of God; it must lead them then through a passage of time and of doubt and of reflection which however still leads them beyond the thinking patterns of the hustle and bustle of city life; and finally open the door to an encounter the beauty and the mystery of an encounter with Jesus Christ which goes way beyond anything that we might have expected.
It is God himself who leads us on that journey and sets the parameters of that journey. The words of the reading from Second Corinthians remind us of God’s magnanimity and generosity towards us: “there is no limit to the blessings which God can send you”, it tells us
But these blessings are never given just for ourselves. God will fill us so abundantly with blessing that we will always have more than enough left over to give to the poor, the reading continues. The reading does not stop just reminding us of the need to give to the poor; it talks about “providing seed for the sower in order to make the harvest a larger one”. It is about not just giving, but of sharing so that the other can grow. Catholic education is about spreading and sharing the Good News as a wider service to humankind, so that the harvest of humanity can be the largest one possible and be of benefit to all. Catholic education must know no boundaries in reaching out to those whose educational needs are unmet.
The Gospel reading is that of the Beatitudes, which must become part of the fundamental logic of Catholic education; the Beatitudes become a different key to understanding life from the logic of a consumerism, celebrity culture. It is a logic which challenges us to turn away any sense of a self-centred and self-referential culture. Catholic education must produce graduates whose understanding of personal success is not focussed on possession or power, but young men and women who are capable of leadership and who are not afraid to think and dream about idealism and generosity and solidarity and then to shape their professional life around the logic of the Beatitudes.
Education in the faith is not easy in today’s world; we can feel saddened by what at times appears as a failure in our ability to win the hearts of young people. We should never give in to resignation; we should never be disheartened in the face of criticism.
Pope John XXIII, whose liturgical feast is celebrated today – the day on which we commemorate the opening of the Second Vatican Council – was a man who never lost a sense of trust in the Lord and in the Church and in the ability – under the guidance of the Spirit – to bring change and reform and renewal to the Church. His homily at the opening of the Council began with the words Gaudet Mater Ecclesia: Our Mother the Church rejoices. He spoke about the Church looking to the future without fear.
But Pope John was well aware of the fact that, at that moment, not everyone was in the mood to rejoice. I quote from one very extraordinary paragraph of that homily, which is valid still today:
“In the daily exercise of our pastoral office, we sometimes have to listen, much to our regret, to voices of persons who, though burning with zeal, are not endowed with too much sense of discretion or measure. In these modern times they can see nothing but prevarication and ruin. They say that our era, in comparison with past eras, is getting worse and they behave as though they had learned nothing from history, which is, none the less, the teacher of life… We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world was at hand.
Catholic education is about a Good News which must be communicated as Good News and lived as Good News. Our generous and idealistic young people will not be captured by a message of gloom. A message of gloom and hopelessness will never offer them the meaning and hope they seek. If we truly believe and live and communicate the message of Jesus Christ as a message of hope, then our work in education will yield a rich harvest and will generate renewal in our Church, so that despite the difficulties and challenges of living the faith in today’s world, we will realize that there are so many reasons why we can still believe today that “Our Mother the Church rejoices”: Gaudet Mater Ecclesia.
Notes to Editors
** Set up in 1974, the European Committee for Catholic Education is an international association which fosters cooperation between 26 Central, Eastern and Western European Catholic education networks : Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England & Wales, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland (Eire), Italy, Lithuania, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland and Ukraine. It is a meeting-point for the heads of these networks and also a study and information centre. It represents in about 30.500 schools and 7,5 million pupils.
Further Information: Annette O Donnell 087 8143462