Opening the door to God gives us all hope
To begin our Catholic Education Week coverage, BISHOP JOSEPH DEVINE writes on Catholic education’s commitment to all pupils, and its protection of life ethos
Pope Benedict XVI, in his Apostolic Letter Porta Fidei, in which he declared a Year of Faith, wrote: “What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the Word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”
These inspirational words of the Pope form the theme of this year’s Catholic Education Week, Opening Hearts and Minds to God. What better theme to guide reflection on the importance of Catholic education, and the task of each Scottish Catholic during this Year of Faith.
The Pope calls Christians to be credible witnesses to the Gospel in word and deed. We certainly must speak words of truth and justice, despite these sometimes being met with hostility or apathy: as the Pope reminded us in a recent tweet: “For Christians to be faithful, they can’t be afraid to go against the current.” However, we are also called to just and truthful actions which lend credibility to our words. It has often been said that young people need witnesses as well as teachers, and how much more powerful a sign if their teachers are also witnesses. This calls all educators: parents, grandparents, teachers, priests and deacons, family and peers, to practice what they preach. In this task, they are not lacking in guidance, as the Pope makes clear the form of Christian witness: ‘to be people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord.’ What a lofty and challenging goal! Is that not, however, the goal of Christian life: to listen attentively to the word of God and slowly allow it to shape our minds, hearts and attitudes? This is the work of a lifetime, but the patient and faithful participation in the liturgy, the prayerful study of scripture, the reception of the sacraments and the openness to the Holy Spirit, open the door to faith. The saints down the ages are shining examples of God’s Word enlightening mind and heart, inspiring them to heroic virtue in the midst of the ordinariness of daily living. Catholic education, by its commitment to a Faith which is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, provides continual opportunities to form minds and consciences. In the words of This is Our Faith, such education aims ‘to help all students to develop their fullest potential, preparing them for life, informing their minds and forming their characters, so that they can contribute with others, and above all with God, to the transformation of the world.’
Such witness will surely find an echo in today’s world. We hear so often about spiritual hunger of today’s men and women, truly one of the signs of the times. As the Pope encourages us, we can truly awaken ‘many to the desire for God and for true life.’ The desert of much of contemporary culture, the superficiality of the cult of celebrity, and the relentless commercialism of our greatest feast and moments of celebration, needs the refreshing water of faith. The recent Africa series showed the southwest African desert burst into bloom in response to the occasional tropical storms: those with eyes to see can discern these oases of life and colour in our midst. Many were showcased at the recent St Andrew’s Conference in Glasgow, when many young people witnessed to the transforming power of their faith, and the health of faith life in our land. Prominent among this was witness to the effects of the Caritas Award, a lasting legacy of the Pope’s visit to Scotland. Our 6th year pupils are finding within themselves great reserves of generosity, resourcefulness, commitment and faith, and finding their true place at the heart of their parish and school communities.
As Pope Benedict makes clear, the life which God’s gives us is ‘life without end.’ Eternal life begins in us when God desires and forms us from our earliest moments, and the faith journey is embarked upon in the sacrament of Baptism. God’s glory, as St Irenaeus reminds us, is in the human being fully alive. Catholic education’s commitment to the full potential of all pupils, and its pro-life insistence on the dignity of human life from conception to natural death, puts this into sharp focus. However, it also opens up the ultimate horizon: human beings are made to live in eternal happiness with God. Opening minds and hearts to this human destiny is a gift to all of humanity: opening the doors to hope, to the meaning of life, and to our participation in the Communion of Saints.
As the Nicene Creed, focus of the materials for Catholic Education Week, reminds us in its timeless message of hope: “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”