Bishop Denis celebrated Mass in Naas Parish on Sunday 27th January to launch the beginning of Catholic Schools Week 2019 in Kildare and Leighlin.
A lot is made today of looking well, feeling good, sometimes even to the extent of pushing people beyond their limits. Operation Transformation is very much in vogue – going to the gym; wearing the fluorescent high-vis jacket on the early morning or late evening walk; playing an active sport are very much an acceptable part of life in 2019.
What about our faith, what about our religious knowledge, when did we last read a religious book or flick through a religious magazine? And Dan Browne doesn’t count! St. Paul gives us a coach session on bodybuilding – the body we are building up is the Church.
The Church at a local level is very much the Parish. There are 56 parishes in Kildare & Leighlin, Naas, Sallins, Two-Mile-House is certainly amongst the largest. And this year I am honoured to launch our Diocesan Catholic Schools Week here in Naas, Sallins and Two-Mile-House parish. A parish that accommodates 5,983 young people in its ten Catholic schools. Catholic Schools Week is not something exclusive or elite, but in fact it is the essence of inclusivicity. Our Catholic schools welcome children and young people of all faiths and none.
As a parish, as a diocese, as a faith community we all make up that single unit St. Paul speaks about, if one of us missing, well the whole operation falls asunder. I invite you to be seated now as Hilda leads the commentary on symbols that will be carried forward by pupils and students representing the ten Catholic schools in the parish …
… and now let us pray for God’s love, grace and mercy …
Catholic Schools Week has its origins across the Atlantic in 1974. It would be some years later before it hit our shores.
Catholic Schools Week is simply an opportunity to celebrate the unique contribution that both primary and post-primary schools make to our local parish. By virtue of being Catholic our school system is already committed to genuine pluralism and inclusion, respectful of the beliefs of all parents and pupils.
Here in Naas as in the many larger parishes of our diocese and elsewhere there are pupils of every creed and none attending our Catholic schools, pupils from every continent and social class. I’m told there are 2,880 Catholic Primary Schools in Ireland and 341 Catholic Post Primary Schools. Identity is important to all of us and the parish we come from gives us that sharp sense of identity. That’s why todays launch in the context of Sunday Mass here in Our Lady & St. David’s is so important.
There is serious consideration in media and elsewhere around school divestment. Divestment is welcome, when it offers real choice to parents. Here in Naas parish, there already is huge choice of patronage and that’s to be welcomed. It is in this respect we must ensure our local Catholic schools have an identity and an ethos they can celebrate and essentially that is what this week is about. Ethos is the respect and dignity that we communicate to each individual, which we believe to be God-given. That respect and dignity applies to all pupils and all members of staff. And its this respect that makes our local faith parish schools welcoming to all.
Catholic Schools are not about titles or privileges and yet uniquely the title “Excellency” appears twice in this mornings scripture – Nehemiah, a prophet in our first reading who lived around five centuries before the coming of Christ and Theophilus in our gospel from Luke. I love words and the study of them – etymology. Nehemiah is a Hebrew word meaning “Yahweh comforts” while Theophilus is Greek meaning “one who loves God” or “friend of God”.
I always feel the “Theophilus” Luke refers to, is in fact each one of us – young people attending school, our parents, our grandparents, our teachers, our friends – all who strive to know the Lord better. What Jesus had to say that day in the synagogue is our nourishment for the year ahead – Luke’s year: bringing good news to the poor; offering freedom to those in captivity and giving the blind their sight.
St. Francis of Assisi is reputed to have said “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words”. Today how that gospel message is delivered is as important as the content of what’s being delivered! While we might have great microphones, amplification and acoustics we can still miss the message if our eyes are down and our hearts are elsewhere. Words may mean different things to different folk. The delivery of the message may change. While the message itself remains always the same … bringing good news to the poor, proclaiming liberty to captives, setting the downtrodden free … that’s our challenge this Catholic Schools Week with it’s very apt theme: “Catholic Schools: Celebrating the Work of our Local Catholic Schools”. The parish of Naas, Sallins and Two-Mile-House has much to be proud of. I like to feel when I visit one of our schools I sense its faith, its ethos, its spirit as soin as I enter the building. May we all celebrate that this coming week.
 Ne.8:9 & Lk.1:4