- Saint Patrick Campus, Dublin City University, 25 September 2018 7.30pm
“ We come to ask the protection of the Holy Spirit on the multiple endeavours in the field of education in this diocese in the coming year. This academic year will be an important one in Ireland. Ireland is a changing society and its long-term future will depend on the quality and versatility of its education system.
Ireland is a country marked by cultural change and in a particular way by change in the religious culture of the country.
What is the place of religious education in the growing diversity in education that is emerging in Ireland? I want to look more closely at the Gospel we have just heard and reflect on the variety of cultural situations that exist in today’s Ireland.
The original context of the reading was about how God’s kingdom can take root in people’s hearts and the cultural factors that impede that taking place. We can however apply that Gospel reflection to the ways in which today cultural factors impede the full human development of our young people that is the ultimate goal of education.
There are many dimensions of today’s culture which are troubling and which do not lead towards human maturity. How many young people today, for example, find themselves trapped in an emptiness like the seed that fell on rocky ground and enter into the complexities of life without grasping the depth of meaning and personal worth needed to attain maturity? In many cases, such emptiness leads them along the disastrous path of addiction and even into feeling that their life is no longer worth living.
Education is about values and every society has to question itself about where it roots its values. Many Irish people root their values in a particular way in the message and the person of Jesus Christ. Others find their values in non-religious ideals. A pluralist society is not one of negative confrontation but must be one where there is open, honest, respectful and searching dialogue between different viewpoints in the quest for common purpose.
Certainly, there are reasons why many people in Ireland have lost confidence in the ability of the Catholic Church to act as a moral guarantor in tomorrow’s Ireland. There are questions of trust and accountability in the way the Catholic Church addressed abuse. There are questions of closed clericalism. Pope Francis himself warned the Irish Bishops not to repeat “the attitudes of aloofness and clericalism that at times in your history have given the real image of an authoritarian, harsh and autocratic Church”.
There is, however, another side to the Church, which at the minimum fairness would require to be recognised.
A sense of community and care for the marginalised is not the monopoly of a few well-known figures in the Church, and I say that not to minimise their contribution. The history of the Catholic Church is not just the history of haughty and power-controlling prelates distant and indifferent from the lives and sufferings of ordinary lives. It is the history of “extraordinary-ordinary” figures of priests and religious. It is the story of families who have lived and transmitted what is striking and meaningful in the teaching of Jesus Christ. It is the story of great teachers who wished to share their own experience of Jesus, not as ideology, but as lived commitment to what is good and true and loving.
Removing the Catholic Church entirely from the realm of education would lead to an impoverishment of what pluralism means. Religion gives believers an integrated vision of life that todays’ splintered society needs.
I am not saying that the current situation in which one Church dominates the patronage of such a large portion of Irish education should continue. Quite the opposite. I have said on more than one occasion that it is an anachronism inherited from the past. Indeed such a near monopoly position for the Catholic Church is anything but healthy. Removing the Church entirely from the world of education, however, can be in some cases the fruit of a deliberate misreading of Irish history.
Tolerance is never the fruit of rejection of the other. Our young people need to be taught to live with respect and to appreciate what is at the roots of the values and commitment of others.
That change must begin within the Catholic community itself. The Church could well look also at the opening sentence of the Gospel reading we have just heard. Jesus is quite pragmatic. He sees that if he remains on the lakeside there is no way in which the people will hear his message. He saw that it was time to go out into the lake with his boat so that all could see him and hear him.
Many in the Catholic educational establishment have to realise that the status quo may well not be the way to ensure that the young people of today can to see, hear and appreciate the message of Jesus and understand that that message is something that enriches society without imposing itself.
I would like this evening to pay tribute those in our schools who day after day witness to the message of Jesus Christ and who in fact earn the respect and affection of children, parents and colleagues. They unassumingly continue even when they feel that they are sometimes unjustly almost harassed because of the defects of others.
Again, I am not one to deny the faults of Church leaders. I am not one who denies that in many ways the expression of Church teaching must be enriched by an intellectual process of rigorous confrontation with the fundamental message of merciful love that is the central teaching of Jesus. I am not one who feels that the Church must hold on to many of its current structures in a changing society.
I would give two examples of how we might bring out more effectively the contribution of Catholic education in the future.
The first would be a return more closely to the mission of the Church and to the charism of great founders and foundresses of religious congregations in radically reaching out to the poor. I am thinking of the work that can be done to help young people who find themselves educationally disadvantaged. I think of the inadequate response to the needs of young people on the autism spectrum. I think of those who in areas where poverty and marginalization are dominant and where lack of opportunity means that intelligent, bright talented young people never get beyond the starting posts. This is where the Church’s educational presence should be in the front line.
My second suggestion concerns the renewal of the programmes of religious education. The Grow in Love programme has evoked positive reactions – I think I can say enthusiastic reaction – in schools and in families. It is a programme that stands on its own merits educationally. Above all, it is a programme focussed on the person of Jesus revealed in the scriptures, moving away from earlier programmes that were overly focused on formulations and norms.
I am happy finally that we celebrate our annual Mass here in this Church on the Saint Patrick’s Campus of Dublin City University. In a unique way in Ireland, training is being provided here in an integrated way for future leaders in education on all levels and where future leaders in denominational education train in an atmosphere of respect and dialogue. Saint Patrick’s DCU is a place of hope and I never cease to appreciate the idealism especially of the future teachers. It is truly wonderful for me to meet these younger teachers later in many of the most disadvantaged areas of this city and diocese.
We invoke God’s blessing on the endeavours of this College, on the work of our teachers and others who form school communities, and especially on our young people who deserve only the best as they prepare for life.” ENDS
- Photographs available from John Mc Elroy Photos 087 2416985