“With the experience of a good Catholic education our young people will reach out and serve others, especially the sick and the needy … [it offers] the opportunity of a life lived to the full – now – and, in the world to come, eternal life with God and all the saints”– Bishop McAreavey
Catholic Schools Week is a celebration of Catholic schools throughout Ireland, North and South. It acknowledges the tremendous contribution that our Catholic primary and post primary schools make not just to Irish society, but to the mission of the Church. This year the theme for the week, which runs from 25th January- 31st January 2015, is ‘Called to Serve.’ Today, Bishop John McAreavey, Bishop of Dromore, celebrated a special Mass in the Cathedral of Saints Patrick & Colman, Newry, Co Down, which was attended by representatives of pupils, staff and governors from the diocese’s Catholic primary and post primary schools.
Please see below the homily of Bishop McAreavey from the Mass which addressed the core values of Catholic education with particular focus on how Catholic schools seek to inculcate and develop a true spirit of service and solidarity; how Catholic teachers respond to their sense of sacred calling and generosity in the way they contribute to the holistic development of their pupils and students. During the Mass thanks was given to God for all our gifts, and prayers were offered in appreciation of how in Catholic schools we serve and embrace each other, how we reach out to those who are in most need in society, and how in doing so we fill our hearts and souls with joy.
Introduction to Mass
- Welcome to the Cathedral of Saint Patrick & Saint Colman for this Mass; all over Ireland this week, people are gathering in schools and in churches to thank God for their schools and to pray for God’s blessing on them: the study, the learning, the prayer, the relationships, the fun and sport;
- The Cathedral is for all the people of the diocese. High up near the ceiling the names of the parishes of the diocese are inscribed in mosaic: Newry, Clonallon (Warrenpoint/ Burren and Mayobridge), Kilbroney (Rostrevor), Clonduff, Drumgath, Aghaderg, Annaclone, Donaghmore, Seapatrick (Banbridge), Tullylish, Dromore, Drumgooland, Dromara, Magheradroll (Ballynahinch), Magheralin, Seagoe (Derrymacash) and Lurgan. The newer parishes, Saval and Moyraverty (Craigavon), still do not have their names in mosaic.
Who is here today?
- Pupils from 50 Primary Schools and from 14 Post-Primary Schools; some very young here at the front, some young men and women who are getting ready to leave school;
- Some parents of the pupils gathered here today;
- Principals and staff members from those schools;
- Some men and women who serve on the Boards of Governors
- Some priests who are chaplains in our schools
- Local parishioners who normally Mass in the Cathedral
- So, at Mass today we have another mosaic made up of the colours and crests of our schools; these are also on banners here today.
Why are we here?
- The clue to answering this question is here in the altar – Jesus at table with his disciples … Jesus praying with his disciples, sharing some precious time with them on the night before he died. At the end of the meal he made a special request; he said, ‘do this in memory of me’.
- Though many schools in the diocese of Dromore are represented here today, we are unites by our baptism; we are sons and daughters of the same God; we are brothers and sisters in Christ, carrying within us since our baptism – and most of us – through confirmation by the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- Today is the feast of St Thomas Aquinas, the patron saint of schools, universities and students. We ask him to join us in all we do.
- At the start of Mass, we remember that we often fall short of the love, joy, truth and justice that we should share with one another, so we ask for God’s forgiveness.
I want to talk to you about the story in the first reading at Mass today. There are three characters in the story. The first is the young boy Samuel who is in the temple as a pupil or an apprentice; the second person is an old man called Eli; the third character in the story is God. It is evening. The first time God calls, Samuel ran to Eli thinking that he had called. But the old man said, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down’. A second time God called and again Samuel runs to Eli, saying ‘here I am, you called me’. Again Eli says, ‘I did not call; go back and lie down’. This is all very puzzling and Samuel must have wondered what was going on. The reading explains why it was so puzzling; ‘Samuel did not yet know the Lord; the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him’. A third time, God called, ‘Samuel’. And when Samuel goes to Eli for the third time, the penny finally drops; Eli realizes what is happening and he says to Samuel, ’Go back and lie down, and if he calls you, say ‘speak, Lord, your servant is listening’. The fourth time God calls, ‘Samuel, Samuel’, the boy replies, ‘speak, for your servant is listening’.
The first thing we have to learn from this story is that God speaks to us. God pays attention to our lives; God reaches out to reassure us and to tell us how much he loves us and to let us know how we can be happy in our lives.
At the time this story happened, people had forgotten about this, so it did not occur to Samuel that God was calling out to him. Even Eli, his teacher, is slow to grasp what is happening but finally he understands and he guides Samuel and tells him how to respond when God calls.
Later in the story of Samuel, the bible says: ‘Now the boy Samuel continued to grow both in stature and in favour with the Lord and with the people’ (1 Sm 2:26). The most important thing that happened in Samuel’s life was that God called him and that Samuel finally learnt how to respond to God’s call. God’s call shaped his whole life.
One of the great mysteries in life is that God takes an interest in each of us. He knows our name; He has a plan for each of us and He wants us to learn what that plan is and He wants us to live our lives according to that plan.
God speaks to us in many ways but one of them is through the thoughts that come to us in moments of quiet, perhaps when we are tired in the evening and ready to fall asleep. That is why it is important for us to be attentive and ready to hear what God has to say to us. This is why it is good for us to say our prayers at night, to thank God for our day, to pray for our parents, brothers and sisters and friends – and also to say sorry for anything we did wrong during the day.
When we sense that God is listening to us, a very simple way of praying is to say the prayer that Samuel learnt in the bible story, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening’.
This is an important prayer. It reminds us that, ‘yes, God speaks to me’; God knows my name and when He speaks, what pleases Him most is simply that I am paying attention, open to what God has to say to me.
When we come together at Mass, God also speaks to us through the Word of God, the readings from the bible. At times, like Samuel, we get confused or uncertain about what God wants from us. At times, like Samuel, we need older people, like our parents or our teachers, to tell us how to listen to God. I want to say to parents and teachers who are here today: you do so many things for your children and for your pupils; the most important is to help you child or your pupils to learn to talk to God and to listen to God. When you do this, you are helping them to grow into disciples who trust in Jesus and become His friends. There is no higher vocation than to lead others to God.
When we come together for Mass on an occasion like this, the power of the Holy Spirit that came down on the disciples at Pentecost is powerfully at work. My prayer today for each of us that the Holy Spirit will touch us again and rest on each one of us. My hope is that as the Holy Spirit touches us, especially when we receive Holy Communion, that we will leave the Cathedral today, sent out – like the disciples of Jesus, ‘two by two’, in the name of Jesus, ready and able to bring the healing love of Jesus as you go back to school and later as you go home to our families. When you do this, the big word in the sanctuary – EVANGELISATION (sharing the good news of God) becomes real.
I have concentrated this morning on a bible story, the story of Samuel and how he learnt to pray, how he learnt to respond when God called him. In a way, I have focused on a word in the sanctuary – VOCATION. I did this because every person here today has a special calling from God.
For Catholic Schools Week there are a lot of things that could be said about what happens in our schools. I have chosen today to focus on the spiritual mission, the faith mission of our schools, on all that is done to direct our pupils towards God, just as Eli did for Samuel. I value immensely the fact that our children and young people, with the support of their parents at home and teachers at school – under God’s grace – grow into young men and women who make the words in the sanctuary today come alive: words like LOVE, KINDNESS, JOY, TRUTH, JUSTICE, SERVING, COMING TO LOVE AND ACCEPT OUR SELVES. When these words come to life in our young people, they will leave school and will bring God’s love, forgiveness and peace into the wider world. With the experience of a good Catholic education they will reach out and serve others, especially the sick and the needy.
For these reasons, I want to say to the parents of our pupils, to our teachers, to our Boards of Governors, to our priests: BE PROUD OF OUR SCHOOLS. Let us work together to make them the best they can be. A Catholic education is our way of loving our children, preparing them for life and handing on to them all that we cherish and believe. When we do this, we open for our young people the opportunity of a life lived to the full – now – and, in the world to come, eternal life with God and all the saints.
- Bishop John McAreavey is Bishop of Dromore. This Mass was celebrated today in the Cathedral of Saints Patrick & Colman, Newry, Co Down.
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