Mass to launch Catholic Schools Week - Bishop Donal - Homily - 25th January 2018

Mass to launch Catholic Schools Week - Bishop Donal - Homily - 25th January 2018

Apparently at this time of the year, we are supposed to be in the middle not just of the flu but of the SAD season. It seems that the winter weather affects some people with Seasonal Affective Disorder. There are the short days and the thought of months to go till the summer.

But three days ago I saw the first crocuses sticking up their wee heads just outside the Cathedral – and I thought to myself, 'there is a nice image of what we are trying to celebrate in Catholic Schools Week'. The news and the weather might not be cheerful – but in the midst of all the gloom that some people feel, we are sticking up our little heads and saying that the tough conditions won't keep us down. Even in the winter months, we are Easter people and 'Alleluia' is our song.

So when we come to celebrate who and what we are as a family of Catholic schools in this diocese, we don't come to boast about what we have achieved or look down our noses at any other type of school or even at one another. But we do come together to ask how, like Jesus and St Paul, we can bring the joy of the Gospel into all the sad corners of people's lives – and how we can help our wonderful young people to be prepared to deal with the great opportunities and tough challenges that they face in 2018.

This year, in August, Ireland has been chosen to host the World Meeting of Families (WMOF). Tens of thousands are expected to be in Dublin - and Pope Francis hopes to be there with us for a great celebration. Since the theme of WMOF is 'The Gospel of the Family, Joy for the World' our theme for Catholic Schools Week is 'Catholic Schools: Called to be a Family of Families'.

So what do we mean by that?

Firstly, our schools were set up to support families in their irreplaceable work. Your schools don't just take children from their families, fill their heads with information and then send them home. Parents are the first and best educators of their children. Young people learn so much from what they see from the role models in their lives. That is why parents, grandparents and others relations are so important. From them, young people might not learn French verbs or how to write computer programmes. But the family is where they see what it means to be a good human being and how to cope with the realities of life. Our schools are set up to build on what has been learnt at home – and introduce young people to the wider world. As in the case of Jesus, the family is the first school of faith and love. A school can build on that but never replace it.

We know from the Gospel that Jesus was brought up in a context where many people might have thought that his family was a little on the different side. And Joseph seems to have died when Jesus was relatively young. In fact, the Gospels tell us that even his family were not sure what to make of him when he started preaching. Each of our schools aims at being a place where pupils and parents are supported so that both young people and adults can grow into the people that God dreams they can become. Our schools are at their best when schools support families and families are engaged with the school. Parents, you are partners in education – and the more you can play that role, the more your child will flourish.

Secondly, we live in a world that encourages individualism. The result is that, in our very affluent society, so many people suffer from loneliness. The Catholic school aims to be a place where young people can feel a strong sense of belonging and identity. This is not just a place for getting information but a community where young people can learn how to live and co-operate with other people. In the Body of Christ, the Church, we are invited to cherish the talents and dignity of everybody else and of ourselves. Our schools try to be places where the pupils are able to believe in their unique contribution to life – and where they can learn the skills to be active citizens, keen to serve the Common Good and not just to look after themselves. Thus our Catholic schools all over the world have been producing people who want to be citizens of the world, wherever they may go. A Catholic school is a family of families – never merely a place of cut-throat competition for exam grades.

A school that is a family of families does not just insist that there is only one form of family. For all sorts of reasons, many pupils are not able to be at home with their mum and dad. But the insistence on the word 'family' does tell us one thing that Jesus insisted on – with grace, we are capable of growing into mature adults, having long-term committed relationships, not afraid of generosity and self-sacrifice, whatever our circumstances. God wants us to blossom and flourish. We will not grow in wisdom by learning to be selfish and self-centred. Being a family of families is a call to greatness.

Thirdly, the Bible talks family language about God. We speak of the Father and Son. Jesus says that anyone who listens to God's word is his sister and brother and mother. We are spoken of as children of God. So the experience of the Catholic school is also meant to help young people experience what it means to be Church in all its variety. A Catholic school is not just teaching secular subjects and then little bits and pieces of Catholic Church teaching. All our school want to locate excellent teaching in the context of the experience of a world where we belong together. We want them to be places where we can experience the rich variety of school subjects through the eyes of people who believe that human beings can do wonderful things, that forgiveness and reconciliation are possible, that God loves the world and that we can build a beautiful world despite all its problems.

Within our family of Catholic schools, we do not need to apologise for believing that life is precious, that every child is beautiful, that belonging and community enrich individuals and the whole world, and that the family unit is an indispensable part of stable society. We do not apologise for believing that people are capable of life-long, life-giving relationships. The Bible teaches us Good News, not just about God but about who we are and what we can to speak the Gospel message that people are capable of great things. Teachers, do not be ashamed of that.

I thank all our schools for the work that they do with such generosity and dedication. The staff and governors so often go far beyond the call of duty. Our theme this year is meant to encourage you not just to see the national curriculum but to see young people who desire to experience belonging and hope. The work of our schools is all the more needed today when we hear so much bad news and fake news. I pray that our schools will continue to be Good News and to speak with pride about that Good News. And then, like the little yellow crocuses outside the Cathedral, we can speak of summer when others are just complaining about winter.

+Donal

Mass to launch Catholic Schools Week 2018

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