TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Educating today and tomorrow

This will be a shorter message today because Allen and I spent the weekend on the Gold Coast, with our three daughters and their families.

They live quite close to each other and two of them have four of their children attending St. Vincent’s School, which is part of the Surfers Paradise Parish. This is a massive parish with three big churches, two primary schools and a high school. When we visit, we take the children to Mass at Sacred Heart, Clear Island Waters. The children like coming to Mass with us and I can see that they are exploring their faith with us. They are proud of being able to bless themselves and to join in the prayers and the singing. The Prep student wrote in her book on Sunday that “God is great.” I am pleased that they understand that this part of the life of their nana and pop is important, and at this stage they are keen to participate in this. Of course like most grandparents who are part of a worshipping community, I wish my own children would commit to Sunday worship and a great involvement in the life of their parish apart from sending their children to Catholic Schools.

Last week I was part of a Catholic Schools Council Working Group exploring something of Catholic Identity for discussion at our next Catholic Schools Council meeting. As part of this preparation, we explored several documents. One of those documents, which was well worth the read, was:

Educating Today and Tomorrow: A Renewing Passion (Instrumentum laboris 2014)

I provide for your consideration Section III of this document.

III. CURRENT AND FUTURE EDUCATIONAL CHALLENGES

At the heart of Catholic education there is always Jesus Christ: everything that happens in Catholic schools and universities should lead to an encounter with the living Christ. If we look at the great educational challenges that we will face soon, we must keep the memory of God made flesh in the history of mankind – in our history – alive.

Catholic schools and universities, as subjects in the contemporary Church, are a place of testimony and acceptance, where faith and spiritual accompaniment can be provided to young people who ask for it; they open their doors to all and uphold both human dignity, as well as the dissemination of knowledge, to the whole of society, irrespective of merit.

First and foremost, they are places where the transmission of knowledge is key; however, knowledge too has undergone major changes that are affecting our educational approach. As a matter of fact, we are witnessing a remarkable differentiation, privatization and even expropriation of knowledge.

Schools and universities are also living environments, where an integral education is provided, that includes religious formation. The challenge will be to make young people realize the beauty of faith in Jesus Christ and of religious freedom in a multi-religious universe. In every environment, whether it is favourable or not, Catholic educators will have to be credible witnesses.

People who work with faith, passion and professionalism cannot be forgotten; they deserve all our attention and encouragement. We should not also forget that, for the most part, this educational mission and professional commitment are principally sustained by women.

First of all, we must express the anthropology underpinning our educational vision for the 21st century in different terms: it is a philosophical anthropology that must also be an anthropology of truth, i.e. a social anthropology whereby man is seen in his relations and way of being; an anthropology of recollection and promise; an anthropology that refers to the cosmos and cares about sustainable development; and, even more, an anthropology that refers to God. The gaze of faith and hope, which is its foundation, looks at reality to discover God’s plan hidden therein. Thus, starting from a profound reflection on modern man and the contemporary world, we must redefine our vision regarding education.

The young people we are educating today will become the leaders of the 2050s. What will religion’s contribution be to educating younger generations to peace, development, fraternity in the universal human community? How are we going to educate them to faith and in faith? How will we establish the preliminary conditions to accept this gift, to educate them to gratitude, to a sense of awe, to asking themselves questions, to develop a sense of justice and consistency? How will we educate them to prayer?

Education requires a strong alliance between parents and educators to present a life that is good, rich in meaning, open to God and others as well as the world; this alliance is even more necessary, since education is a personal relationship. It is a journey that reveals the transcendental elements of faith, family, Church and ethics, highlighting their communal character.

Education is not just knowledge, but also experience: it links together knowledge and action; it works to achieve unity amongst different forms of knowledge and pursues consistency. It encompasses the affective and emotional domains, and is also endowed with an ethical dimension: knowing how to do things and what we want to do, daring to change society and the world, and serving the community.

Education is based on participation, shared intelligence and intelligence interdependence; dialogue, self-giving, example, cooperation and reciprocity are also equally important elements.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been inviting you to connect with your local Catholic Schools. We know that young people need witnesses who will accompany them in their faith. Pope Francis speaks of the ‘art of accompaniment’, in Evangelii Gaudium.

In a culture paradoxically suffering from anonymity and at the same time obsessed with the details of other people’s lives, shamelessly given over to morbid curiosity, the Church must look more closely and sympathetically at others whenever necessary. In our world, ordained ministers and other pastoral workers can make present the fragrance of Christ’s closeness and his personal gaze. The Church will have to initiate everyone – priests, religious and laity – into this “art of accompaniment” which teaches us to remove our sandals before the sacred ground of the other (cf. Ex 3:5). The pace of this accompaniment must be steady and reassuring, reflecting our closeness and our compassionate gaze which also heals, liberates and encourages growth in the Christian life. (n. 169)

People who work with faith, passion and professionalism cannot be forgotten; they deserve all our attention and encouragement. Our educational mission and professional commitment is carried out by many good teachers who need our support and who in turn need to commit to the ‘grave’ mission entrusted to them.

I feel like I am one of those who were wandering the desert, not knowing God’s hidden plan but trusting in the journey. And from the prophet Jeremiah, ‘Deep within them I will plant my law, writing it on their hearts. Then I will be their God and they shall be my people.’ (31:33)

So I humbly submit to the will of God on this journey into the unknown, trusting the hand of God in the lives of my young grandchildren who have the law of God written deeply in their hearts. I am but an instrument in their lives, and so are their parents, their teachers and the parish community. May their hearts continue to be touched.

Teresa Brierley Image
Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is the Vice Chancellor Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.

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