- Saint Peter & Paul’s Church, Portlaoise, Co Laois in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin
Introduction to the Mass
Our fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time this year coincides with the beginning of Catholic Schools Week today. We find ourselves here in Saint Peter and Paul’s Church, Portlaoise, in a parish which has education as the cornerstone of everything it is about. I believe we are making history by launching Catholic Schools Week – not in a school environment – but in the heart of the Sunday celebration. Parish and school are hugely intertwined. It is right and is very proper that this year’s launch is taking place during the regular Sunday Mass where the parish and school become one community of faith.
Saint Matthew brings us the lesson of the Beatitudes. Two thousand years later the agenda set by the Beatitudes still challenges the norms and values of society. In each one, Jesus takes a core value of the world and turns it on its head. Some versions of Matthew use the phrase “happy” when it comes to each Beatitude, I much prefer the word “blessed”. Blessed are all of us, tuning into our Mass this Sunday morning from all over the country through this RTÉ broadcast, at the beginning of Catholic Schools Week, because the mercy of God is within our grasp and so we pray …
It was in Sweden at the end of his ecumenical trip on the Feast of All Saints that Pope Francis gifted the Church with six new Beatitudes to help us in our journey of faith. The fourth of these new Beatitudes offers us this year’s theme for Catholic Schools Week: “Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home”. The Pope was following in the illustrious example of his predecessors Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI who gave us the powerful tomes on Jesus of Nazareth and Saint Pope John Paul II who introduced us to the Luminous Mysteries – the Mysteries of Light.
Catholic Schools Week was first introduced into the United States in 1974; this is the ninth year of celebrating Catholic Schools Week here in Ireland. The week gives us the opportunity to celebrate the unique contribution that both primary and post-primary schools make to our local parish faith communities and indeed to the wider society. This contribution is a significant one. By virtue of being Catholic our school system is already committed to genuine pluralism and inclusion, respectful of the beliefs of all parents and pupils. That is why it is so important that this year’s launch is in the context of a parish. Here in Portlaoise, as in every urban parish, there are pupils attending our Catholic schools of every creed and none, from every continent and every social class. There are 2,880 Catholic primary schools in Ireland and 341 Catholic post-primary schools. Identity is important to all of us and parish gives us that sense of identity.
The Beatitudes from Saint Matthew allows us to understand Jesus the Teacher. Jesus understood his disciples only too well, they would be swayed by the crowds, they would be enticed by the Miracle Man, they would be caught up in the euphoria. So He calls a halt to their gallop and sits down to teach them. Like all students, the disciples must first learn the syllabus, cover the curriculum, the assignments will come at a later date.
This year, Catholic Schools Week allows us, through the prism of Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ – caring for our common home, to appreciate as followers of Christ we are all called to care for, watch over and protect the world that we call ‘home’. Recently I was privileged to visit Zimbabwe with Trócaire and saw at first hand the effects of climate change, drought and pollution. We don’t need to travel that far. In fact the very act of travelling that plane journey results in excessively burning fossil fuels. We have to ask ourselves “do we really need strawberries in December?” The best people to teach us lessons on the environment are our young people – “how many of our schools take their greatest pride in their Green Flags?”
The preferential option for the poor is integral to the Catholic commitment to follow Christ. Many of the Catholic schools established all over Ireland were founded with a mission to serve and educate the poor. Today we owe a huge gratitude to the religious of Ireland who responded to this need, often at enormous personal cost to the individual, to the community or to the congregation. Catholic education must still reach out to the poorest of the poor. How do we define the poor in 2017? In Matthew’s Beatitudes it is very much “the poor in spirit”. Is it today the materially poor, the culturally poor, the emotionally poor or the spiritually poor? In the shocking statistics on homelessness released by Focus Ireland just last month, it was estimated that one in three homeless people were children. Our Catholic schools need to reach out and to embrace the poorest of the poor, they have done so in the past with great results; they must do so into the future. The Beatitudes call us to work from our heart, our deepest desires – less of the head and more of the heart. Laudato Si’ challenges us “once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realise that the world is a gift that we have freely received and must share with others” (par. 159). Our young people know this and live this and that is what makes them and all of us truly “blessed” this Sunday morning. Amen.
Words of appreciation at the end of Mass
It would be remiss of me not to thank the many people who made this broadcast possible. I thank Monsignor John and his team here in Portlaoise. I thank the principals, staff, pupils, boards of management of our Catholic schools all over the country. A major objective of Catholic Schools Week is to raise public awareness of the strengths of our Catholic schools and to highlight the significant contribution the Catholic education sector makes to our country and society. I also wish to thank RTÉ for facilitating today’s broadcast with such professionalism.
This year’s theme is very much rooted in the papacy of Pope Francis and his encyclical Laudato Si’: “learning with Pope Francis to care for our common home”. Portlaoise Parish prides itself in its vibrant, inclusive Catholic education structure, something that’s replicated across many parishes throughout the country. It’s incumbent on all of us to care for our common home and often it’s the little ones amongst us who become our greatest teachers. I’m delighted to officially launch Catholic Schools Week 2017 and wish you all every blessing as you engage with everything that this week entails.
Notes for Editors
- Bishop Denis Nulty is the Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. Monsignor John Byrne is the parish priest of Portlaoise, Co Laois, in the diocese. The curates of the parish are Fathers Paddy Byrne, Eddie Lalor, Terence McGovern and Tom O’Connor. See www.portlaoiseparish.ie.
- Representatives from the following local schools attended the opening Mass for Catholic Schools Week in the Church of Saints Peter & Paul, Portlaoise today:
o Primary: Holy Family Junior and Senior Schools; Scoil Bhride; Gaelscoil; Ratheniska National School; The Heath National School; Saint Francis Special School; and The Kolbe Special School.
o Post-Primary: Scoil Críost Rí Presentation School and the Christian Brothers School
- This Mass will be broadcast on RTÉ One and RTÉ Radio 1 at 11.00am.
- Catholic Schools Week takes place from today, 29 January to 4 Februaryand special educational resources have been prepared to support students and teachers at primary and at post-primary level. #CSW2017 resources are now available in the “Resources” section of www.catholicschools.ie. A dedicated Facebook page called ‘Catholic Schools Week’ shares resources and information about local events around the country and it offers useful analysis on Catholic education.
- Laudato Si’was the number one bestseller for Veritas in 2015 selling over 15,000 copies. The papal encyclical sold over 1,500 copies in 2016. Veritas, owned by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference, is Ireland’s leading religious publisher and retailer. See www.veritas.ie.
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678 and Brenda Drumm 00353 (0) 87 310 4444