Vigil Mass, 22.01.22, Churh of the Assumption & St Patrick, Rathangan
Throughout this pandemic we have all seen, in a very clear light, the importance of our schools and how it is that they contribute in so many ways to our children, our young people, our families, our wider society. This year Catholic Schools Week once again presents us with the opportunity to reflect on how our faith sustains us and how we, as a community, support and care for each other, as evidenced in these strange times.
I thank the myriad of people who both directly and indirectly support and contribute to our schools at every level and in every sector. A special greeting to the Principals here in Rathangan … A school is not measured by points or access to third level but on the kind of people who walk out those doors after thirteen, perhaps fourteen years of education.
The Church at a local level is very much the Parish. There are 56 parishes in Kildare & Leighlin, Rathangan is one of them. Catholic Schools Week begins tomorrow with its theme ‘Living Life to the Full’. What a great theme to come at the end of 681 days of restrictions. ‘Living life to the Full’ offers the hope of a brighter tomorrow and on reconnecting and re-engaging with the wider community as restrictions ease and the country opens up.
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 … 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 Rathangan as in the many 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 sharpens that sense of identity.
There is serious consideration in media and elsewhere around school divestment. Divestment is welcome, when it offers real choice to parents. It is in this respect we must ensure our local schools that remain Catholic have an identity and an ethos they can celebrate and essentially that is what this week is about. The late educationalist David Tuohy SJ remarked: “Catholic schools are the same as all other schools, some other schools and no other schools. All schools regardless of ethos or characteristic spirit have the same issues. We are not better, but we are distinctive. We should be and need to be”. This is exactly what captures a Catholic school. 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 Catholic schools welcoming to all.
Catholic Schools are not about titles or privileges and yet uniquely the title “Excellency” appears twice in this evenings 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 is also Sunday of the Word of God, introduced by Pope Francis as a way of celebrating and reflecting on the Word of God, alive and active in our hearts and in our homes. Focusing on the word of God is part of our great mission of mercy. 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: Living life to the Full”. The parish of Rathangan has much to be proud of. Ease of pandemic restrictions creates the opportunity again to visit schools. I like to feel when I visit one of our schools that I sense its faith, its ethos, its spirit as soon as I enter the building. May we all celebrate that this coming week.
 Ne.8:9 & Lk.1:4