Tomorrow, Wednesday, 14th February, 2018, is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Liturgical Season of Lent. Over the next forty days, by means of prayer, fasting and alms-deeds, the People of God prepares to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ Jesus in its “re-presentation” in the Easter Triduum. These days are given us that, in the power of the Spirit, we might box again our inner compass, take our life bearings afresh from Christ, turn our entire lives back towards the Father. This is “the acceptable time (II Corinthians)”, the time to repent of our refusals, big and small, to love God above all for his own sake and the neighbour as ourselves for the love of God. This is the time to pray over and over again: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions (Psalm 50:1)”.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke15:11-32) is an especially apt focus for prayer and meditation in Lent when, at every turn, the liturgy urges us to come back to God. Come back from where, though? The Prodigal went “into a far country (ib 13)”. Traditional exegesis suggested that this was, in fact, the “regio dissimilitudinis”, “the land of unlikeness”. By this they meant the circumstances in which, in its desire to be god-like, to be the centre and the circumference of its own being, the human heart “idolises” itself, worshipping a concept of itself that is, in fact, a cartoon, a caricature, a distortion, a hideous disfigurement of that image and likeness of Christ in which each of us was created and in which alone we can be re-created as our own most authentic, complete and fulfilled selves.

The masters of the spiritual life insist that, on the way to God, we either go forwards or backwards. We can never stop, never take time out. We end each day of our lives either nearer to God or further from him, either more like Christ or less. These masters also recommend that we regularly consider whether we have moved nearer to, or further from, God; whether we have become more Christ-like or less. Lent is the time par excellence for a process of discernment of this kind.

In the Apology, Plato reports Socrates telling the Athenian judges that “the unexamined life is not worth living”; that, in effect, he does not want them to spare his life if that were to mean that he would have to stop philosophising, stop that unending questioning by which alone the human mind can come to the ultimate truth at the heart of things. Surely amongst the most unexamined of unexamined lives – and, therefore, in Socratic terms, at least, amongst the most worthless – would be that of her/him who purports to teach the young how to live, never reflecting themselves on the What, the Why, the Wherefore, of life. Teachers should be above all others, therefore, “reflective practitioners” and there is never a better time to start reflecting than now.

For those of us who serve in faith-based schools the very ultimate in unexaminedness – the very ultimate, therefore, in worthlessness – would be to give little if any thought to the faith on which the school is based. There is some evidence to suggest that our knowledge of, and, more importantly, our commitment to, the faith publicly espoused by Catholic schools may be neither as deep nor as strong as it should be. Unbelief of any kind amongst teachers, leaders, managers, governors, trustees, patrons, constitutes the single most dangerous threat to Catholic education in Ireland. I can answer only for myself, but answer I must, and it would be of signal benefit to faith in our schools if, this Lent, I took my courage in my hands, examined my conscience, and came clean on this with God.


Provided to CEIST by Dr. Frank Steele