Homily by Reverend Francis Bradley to celebrate Catholic Schools Week
No matter what age we are, no matter where we come from, no matter what our fears or our hopes are, every day can be a school day; for the truth is that we never stop learning. Our minds and our souls have a great appetite to learn new things.
To illustrate this, there’s a great story told of a young mother who was going shopping on a Saturday morning. She had a little boy and with her husband away doing other things, she decided to take her son with her. She secured him in his child’s seat in the back. She had seen a magazine in the hallway of their house and found a page with a map of the world on it. She tore this up into eight or nine pieces and placed them on a tray in his lap. ‘Now’, she said, ‘ you can put this map of the world together, in the right order.’ Thinking that this would keep him occupied and distracted for the few miles of heavy traffic she had to negotiate, she set off. About two miles down the road, he leaned forward and tapped his mother on the shoulder. “Look, Mammy, I’m finished’. So she pulled over and turned around only to find that, yes, he was finished. He had a perfectly completed map of the world. She said to him, ‘But how did you manage to do this; sure, you are only three!’. He said, ‘Mammy, it was easy. There was a picture of Postman Pat on the back!’.
The story teaches us something about how we learn new things – we use the things we know and the way in which we’ve learned these things to, in turn, learn even more. Whatever our individual abilities might be, every one of us achieves greatness for we keep pushing back the horizons of our lives, achieving new vision and acquiring new skills. It’s all very exciting.
Coming here today, it’s not only you, the children and young people, who learn something lovely. Your teachers and parents who accompany you or who are back home or at work right now, your friends who are at your school or other schools, the girls and boys from your area or from other parts of the world, the school crossing patrol people and bus drivers who look after your safety, the board of governors, the priest and the cleaning and dinner people who make sure that our schools are happy and healthy places for all of us to learn and to grow – we all learn something lovely, something new. During this coming week, like every other week, we will all learn new things and grow in new ways.
But during this week, most especially we will all think of how lucky we are, how blest by God we are to be part of a Catholic school for a Catholic school is not only where we go each day and grow each day – it is a very special place of faith and learning. In other words, it is where we play and we pray, it is where we learn how to love and how to learn.
These are the very things we get from our parents for our parents are our first teachers. Our home is our first school; likewise our primary schools or national schools, our post-primary schools, all can build on the lessons we learn at home. At home, we first hear about God and we see his love for us in the way we are tenderly cared for by our parents. In turn then, we learn to care for and respect other people; we learn to love as we have been loved. Because, it is when we come to the church, as we do today, that we can put all the pieces of the jig-saw together – for in the stories we hear and tell, and in the sacraments we celebrate and receive, it is Christ, our teacher, our friend and our brother who wants to show us his great lesson of love.
If we look at how we learn, we’ll see how Christ, working in so many people, is the one from whom we can learn best. Why do I say that? Because each of us knows that we learn best where we are loved most. And Christ is the one who loves us more than anyone else. He cares for us like a parent, he explains things to us like a teacher, he blesses us like the priest, he protects us like a lollipop man or woman, he feeds us like a dinner-lady and guides us safely here and there like a bus-driver, he cleans up after us like the caretaker and cleaning staff in school, and he laughs with us like our friends in the playground.
So how does he do this? Look at the readings we’ve heard today.
Isaiah, the prophet in the Old Testament was someone who lived more than seven hundred years before Christ. He was around when the last of the Egyptian Pyramids was being built. Away back then, he could see how the word coming from God’s mouth and lips would make its home in people’s hearts. The only way for a word to make its way into our heart is if we listen. Like the rain falling from the sky which, if the ground soaks it up, will allow plants to grow and flourish, so too the word of God enables us to grow and flourish. It is the food for our souls, the bread from heaven which gives us strength and beauty.
Look at today’s Gospel. It shows how Christ taught the crowds of people who followed him, the children who laughed and giggled at his funny stories, the parents who could see in what he was doing and hear in what he was saying that he was special, he was from God. Eventually they would see that he was God. So the story he told of the farmer going out to sow made perfect sense to them.
We all like stories that make sense, don’t we! We know that God is always sowing seeds of goodness and kindness in our hearts and we do our best to allow those seeds to grow. We will experience many difficulties as we try to let goodness take root in our hearts – there are many threats to our happiness. There can be nasty things which snap at our efforts to be good – like the birds in the story who carried the seed away or sun which scorched the seedlings or the thorns which grew up too fast and choked the other good things that were growing.
But then there are great successes too. For that Gospel tells us that some seed fell into rich and deep soil and it produced so much goodness. That’s you and me – for we might think that we’re only the soil and we have to do all we can to make that soil good. But we should all remember that we are also the seed – we have been scattered here and there by God, we have to take root and grow and produce good things.
Boys and girls, young people, parents, teachers, brother priests, governors, drivers, dinner and ancillary staff – let the message of Christ in all its richness find and home in you, teach each other in all wisdom and always give thanks for who you are, and the good you can do. Take a good look at the beauty of life, the people and the places of faith and learning. And like that little boy in the back seat of his mother’s car on that Saturday morning, as you turn things over in your minds and hearts, discover, not ‘Postman Pat’ but that the face of Christ is on the flip-side of the good that you do, even the difficulties you experience.
That’s the gift of a Catholic school – it is group of good people, a place of faith and learning where we discover Christ in everything we do. Even when the world seems torn apart and confused, that is what will enable us to put it together and map a future of joy and hope for one another.