Homily for Celebrating Catholic Schools Week

Homily for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Celebrating Catholic Schools Week

Jer 1:4-5, 17-19. Ps 70. 1 Cor 12:31-13:13. Lk 4:21-30

Following Jesus has always involved having preconceived notions and certainties challenged and even overthrown. In today's gospel story, Jesus' neighbours are at first impressed by his preaching in the synagogue; but then a jarring note is heard: 'This is Joseph's son, surely'. A prophet not accepted in his own land, Jesus reminds them that like the prophets of old, Elijah and Elisha, he will bring his message elsewhere. The people are enraged and filled with murderous intent. Two thousand years later the followers of Jesus are to be found in every corner of the globe, and as they try to a greater or lesser extent to live out their faith, they find that they must do so in changing and challenging circumstances.

One of the biggest challenges that Christians have always faced concerns how they will hand on the faith to their children, to the next generation. Irish Catholics have been engaged in this process for the fifteen-hundred years which have elapsed since the Gospel first arrived there. And this work is all the more important and difficult today in our secularly minded Western culture where faith is frequent, especially in an all-pervasive media, either dismissed as irrelevant or trenchantly branded as divisive, even deviant.

Church teaching is clear that the handing on of the faith is primarily the responsibility of parents - as expressed in the words of every baptismal liturgy - where they are described as the first and best of teachers of their children in the ways of faith. But parents are not alone in this role, they are assisted by the parish, and happily for us in Ireland and elsewhere, a system of Catholic schools founded for the purpose of helping parents to give their children an excellent all-round education, embracing its spiritual, academic, moral and social dimensions. Catholic education is a world wide ministry of the Church, overwhelmingly staffed by lay Catholics, and it enjoys a first-rate reputation nationally and internationally because of its distinctive awareness of the dignity of the human person, commitment to the common good and academic excellence.

Ireland's Catholic schools, north and south, were largely built up over the last century and a half and we owe a great debt of gratitude to those religious who developed  them at a time when the state showed little interest in investing in education. Then and now, these schools are called to live out a coherent, integrated vision of the meaning of life, based on a belief in God, who is love, and who calls us as a community of believers to reflect that vision in our lives.

Old certainties or assumptions about the presence and role of religious in schools who would ensure a living Catholic ethos are outmoded. Now, as the presence of priests and religious fades in our schools, it is vitally important that lay Catholics, parents and teachers, renew their commitment to the vision and work of Catholic Education. Catholic Schools Week is intended as an opportunity to encourage us to celebrate the contribution of Catholic Schools to Church and wider society, to reflect on their mission, and to commit ourselves anew to sustaining their important work.

The urgency and vibrancy of the work of Catholic education is becoming more apparent, interestingly as Ireland becomes more diverse in terms of a growing presence of peoples of other religious faiths and none. There is a developing recognition among parents of the distinctive human and spiritual outlook which Catholic schools live by and of their right to choose a Catholic education for their children, and that this right should be respected. This process is made easier by the appearance of other parallel school systems which are guided by a more secular outlook and which other parents are free to choose. And in the changing circumstances of modern Ireland, it is also important to remember that a key element of the mission of our Catholic schools is to welcome people of different cultural and religious backgrounds who choose our schools for their children because they appreciate the values which shape them. So we ask the Lord's blessing today on the pupils, students, teachers, parents, other staff, board of management members and governors who togehter make up our Catholic School communities and who contribute so generously to the work of sharing the Gospel message with the world.

(Courtesy of The Furrow)